Jan. 3, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
There will be no time wasted in getting a feel for how Georgia Tech will match up in ACC action, as the Yellow Jackets will face perhaps the league’s hottest team today in their conference opener.
Notre Dame (13-1, 1-0 ACC) has won nine straight games, and ranks among national leaders in several categories. The Irish lead all teams in shooting percentage (55.4), are third in the land in scoring (86.1 points per game), No. 7 in 3-point percentage (41.6) and 14th in 3-pointers made per game (9.1).
Tech (9-3) learned much about itself in playing one of the nation’s top non-conference schedules.
Head coach Brian Gregory can be pleased – at least going into the game – that while the Jackets have shot poorly from beyond the 3-point line (23.27 percent, tied for 333rd nationally), they’ve defended the long ball well. Their 3-point field goal defense rate of 28.3 percent ranks No. 28.
That may be a significant in a 2:30 p.m. game at Notre Dame.
The Irish have four double-digit scorers in a four-guard starting lineup, and three are shooting lights out from afar.
Senior Jerian Grant, the leading active career scorer in the ACC with 1,355 points, senior Pat Connaughton (third with 1,186 points) and sophomore Demetrius Jackson, are shooting the long ball at clips of 36.99, 45.24 and 46.81 percent, respectively.
“None of [the ACC games] are going to be easy,” Gregory said. “Thank[fully] our 3-point field goal defense has been good because it’s kind of evened out our 3-point shooting. We need to make big jumps in…conference play. I think the non-conference has prepared us well.
“I think our overall team defense is pretty good. We’ve done a better job of guarding the 3. We want to force 2s.”
That will be a chore because the Irish spread the court so well. Grant is scoring at a 17.4-point clip, Jackson at 14.4, and Connaughton at 14.0.
Connaughton, at just 6-feet-5, is playing “power forward” in many situations for Notre Dame after serving chiefly as a shooting guard last season, when the Irish and Jackets split games.
He’s quite a “stretch” forward. Connaughton is the leading active career rebounder in the ACC with 656, and averaging 8.2 boards per game. Plus, Notre Dame’s lone “big” starter, 6-10 junior Zach Auguste, averages 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Cox is likely to return to the starting lineup after being replaced in a Dec. 30 win over Charlotte by Sampson after missing two practices with a thigh bruise.
The Jackets probably will need to win on the boards to stick around.
There will be more work to do than that.
“They’re a great transition team; they move the ball really well . . . that’s [going to be] one of the keys to winning, great transition defense,” said Tech junior swing man Marcus Georges-Hunt, who scored a career-high 25 points and grabbed seven rebounds against Charlotte.
“They play four guards. They call can shoot, and they’re all pretty great with the ball. Some of our bigs are going to end up guarding guards on switches. Communication is big.”
Junior Chris Bolden also moved into the starting lineup against Charlotte, bumping Georges-Hunt into Quinton Stephens’ small forward spot.
“Chris has played pretty well,” Gregory said. “I’ve said it for four years, the starters are irrelevant.”
The Jackets hope to improve shooting the long ball.
They’ll enter the game with a Real Time RPI of 36 having played the 36th strongest schedule to date. Notre Dame’s Real Time RPI is 74 with a strength of schedule of 273.
Maybe the Jackets will unearth a few 3-pointers themselves in this “new” season.
Tech has been good on 47 of 202 so far, making just nine more than Connaughton (38-of-84).
At 32.7 percent, Stephens leads Tech in trey percentage, although he missed all six of his long balls against Charlotte. The Jackets made 3-of-19 overall.
While they would like to continue some trends, the Jackets want to start some others anew.
Georges-Hunt leads Tech in scoring (12.9, ahead of Mitchell at 10.3) yet has made just 4-of-28 3-pointers (14.3 percent). In his first two seasons on The Flats, he shot 33.3 and 34.1 percent while making 32 and 29.
“I look at this as a new season. Percentages don’t have any meaning . . . “ he said. “I don’t even know what my shooting percentage is; that’s the least of my worries right now. Whatever I have to do, whatever coach asks me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Gregory’s first request: defend.
“There’s not a real weak spot in [Notre Dame’s offensive game,” the coach said. “You have to be at the top of your game on the defensive end.”