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Inside The Chart – Wake Forest

By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets

An overtime win over Duke accomplished many things Tuesday. The end of a 14-game losing streak to the Blue Devils.  Double-digit conference wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.  A bye for the ACC Tournament.

But it hasn’t clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament – at least yet.

Even after 45 minutes of nerve-chewing, life-flashing-before-your-eyes action Tuesday night, Georgia Tech (14-8, 10-6 ACC) knows the work isn’t done.  Perhaps that’s why Josh Pastner reached back four decades – and crossed into another sport altogether – to reset his team’s focus before its regular season finale.

“I used the analogy of the ‘Miracle on Ice,’” the Yellow Jackets’ head coach said, referring to Team USA’s Hockey’s upset of Russia in the semifinals of the 1980 Winter Olympic hockey tournament.

“Not everyone realizes, that was not the gold medal game. They had to win that game to get to the gold medal.  And that’s what I explained to our guys. The Duke game wasn’t the gold medal game. We had to win that game to get to the gold medal,” Pastner added.

Playing the role of Finland Friday: Wake Forest (6-14, 3-14 ACC), which has dropped six in a row but also took league-leading Florida State to overtime on the road in mid-February.  Georgia Tech hammered Wake 70-54 on Jan. 3, but the Demon Deacons had just emerged from a 33-day COVID pause.

You don’t need to believe in miracles.  Or even “modern miracles,” to borrow an oft-repeated Pastner phrase from his first year.  Just that the veteran Yellow Jackets can handle their business one last time to close out the regular season.

Enjoy the top five notes from our chart as Georgia Tech heads to Winston-Salem for its Friday finale (8 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College):

In three career games against Wake Forest, Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe have combined to average 39 points. (photo by Jaylynn Nash)

 

You wouldn’t have faulted them for burning the tapes, or at least not wanting to revisit the agony.  But yes, Georgia Tech’s coaches actually reviewed the game film of their season opener versus Georgia State in preparing for their first matchup with Wake.

The Demon Deacons, led by first-year head coach Steve Forbes, play a defensive style similar to the Panthers.  Specifically, Wake likes to keep the ball on the outer third of the floor and “ice” ball screens, a defensive coverage that tries to funnel plays toward the baseline.  Pastner cautioned his guards not to “give the ball a headache” like they did at times versus Georgia State.  By and large they obliged: led by 25 points from Jose Alvarado, the Jackets shot 65.4% from two-point range (17 of 26) against the Deacs.  Cutting hard can also prevent Wake Forest from loading the ball side.

Wake still primarily plays man-to-man, though they’ve also incorporated a randomized, 1-3-1 zone down the stretch.  Can Tech’s ball handlers make the smart, sound passes – “hit singles” – to borrow another mixed-sport Pastner-ism – and avoid the turnovers that Wake’s defense can create?  In spite of its 16-point margin of victory, Georgia Tech had a turnover rate of 20.0% against Wake Forest (14 of 70 possessions), its second-highest percentage of the season.

Also, it won’t exactly come as breaking news, but Moses Wright, who has averaged a staggering 28.7 points and 13.3 rebounds over his last three games, will command a lot of attention.  Wake Forest double-teamed Pittsburgh’s Justin Champagnie when he caught in the post on Tuesday.  Will they use that same tactic against Moses?  If so, it could lead to more touches for Alvarado and Michael Devoe, who have historically played well together against Wake Forest.  In three career games, Tech’s backcourt duo is averaging a combined 39.0 points per game against the Demon Deacons.

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One of the more unheralded stats from Tuesday’s game:  Georgia Tech outrebounded Duke by five after getting outboarded by 15 in Durham.  Tech has now won the rebounding battle in four straight games after getting outrebounded in eight of its previous nine.  Look for Wake to work the boards with 6-9 Isaiah Mucius, a plucky offensive rebounder, and 6-9 sophomore Ody Oguama, who has had double-digit rebounds in all three of Wake Forest’s wins.

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Few things inspire more dread than a team with nothing to lose bombing away from deep.

That may not have been a threat last year when Wake Forest finished 280th nationally in Three Point Rate (3pt. FGA / overall FGA).  But under Forbes, the Demon Deacons now firehose threes at an impressive rate.  Wake attempts a three on 46.9% of its field goal attempts, tied for the top percentage in the ACC.  Three different players (Jonah Antonio, Isaiah Mucius, Ishmael Massoud) have made 7 or more threes in an ACC game this year.

Wake Forest – 3pt. Rate

2019-20:  32.9%  (#280 NCAA)

2020-21:  46.9%  (#19 NCAA)

To get those shots, Wake Forest runs a 5-out motion offense featuring plenty of curls, backdoors and false action.  They also like to begin out of a horns set, where a play can fractal into many different directions.  Georgia Tech had trouble containing Mucius (21 points) in the first meeting; he’s a bouncy “face-up four” with a well-rounded game and an array of finishing moves around the rim.  Wake Forest set up both of his three-pointers on “roll and replace” action in January.  Antonio (40.4% 3pt.) whips around screens like an alpine skier, looking for quick, bang-bang threes.  Massoud gives them a floor-stretcher at the “5” if Oguama is out of the lineup.  They’re solid complements to 6-2 Daivien Williamson (12.4 ppg), Wake’s steadiest offensive player who can both shoot threes and stress defenses with stealth dribble-drives to the basket.  The Demon Deacons have also added 6-4 Ian DuBose (10.4 ppg), a thick, aggressive guard who missed the first Georgia Tech game for medical reasons.

In games that Wake Forest either won or competed well, they invariably had one player go off.  Massoud exploded for 8 of 10 threes in a win over Pittsburgh; Antonio made 7 of 8 against Florida State.  Friday’s game also marks the first time all year that Wake Forest will play a home game in front of fans.  That only underscores the need for Georgia Tech to prevent Wake Forest from going on a three spree.

Only one game stands between Jose Alvarado leading the ACC in steals for the second straight year, which would be a first for an ACC player since Chris Paul in 2004 and 2005. (photo by Matt Gentry)

 

Jose Alvarado told me he idolized Chris Paul growing up and occasionally watches mixtapes of his highlights before games.

With one last act of thievery at Joel Coliseum, Alvarado can wrap up the ACC steals title.  If so, he’ll become the first player to lead the ACC in steals in back-to-back seasons since Chris Paul did it for Wake Forest in 2004 and 2005.  It may help that Wake Forest ranks 14th in the ACC in turnover rate, coughing it up on 20.6 percent of possessions in ACC play.

In addition to steals, Alvarado can also become the first Yellow Jacket since Travis Best to claim the ACC’s free throw percentage crown (87.7%).  Remember those two late misses against Clemson?  The senior has made all 14 of his free throw attempts since.

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Cal Boyd, the father of Georgia Tech walk-on guard Coleman Boyd, played at Wake Forest from 1986-89.  As a senior, one of his teammates was freshman Derrick McQueen, the father of guard Loyal McQueen of the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team.

Both Boyd and McQueen averaged 9.1 points per game that season for the Demon Deacons.  One of their most memorable games of the year was a 110-103, four-overtime thriller against N.C. State.  It marked the last time an ACC team had played a four-overtime game until Georgia Tech’s season opener against Georgia State.

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Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well.  Join us for another high-stakes showdown starting with pregame at 7:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College.  See you in Winston-Salem.

–AD–

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