Jan. 19, 2018
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– If you, the Georgia Tech fan, just returned from overseas and know nothing, you might sound an alarm after a quick look at Thursday’s 64-48 loss to Virginia.
Your Yellow Jackets are, after all, about to quickly visit defending national champion North Carolina, and the 15th-ranked Tar Heels are really quick whereas Tech less than 40 hours earlier played a team that really, really, really is not.
The head coach would have you put on the brakes for a Tech context check.
“That’s just the ACC. The ACC is the best league in the country, so you’re going to play different styles, and it’s a gauntlet,” said Josh Pastner. “Virginia’s going to play more of a slower tempo, North Carolina is going to play a faster tempo. There’s no panic button, or anything like that.”
Even if there were a panic button, the Jackets wouldn’t have time to find it.
They’ve got to spend all their minutes preparing to play the ACC’s third-fastest offense less than 40 hours after facing the nation’s slowest.
Virginia is last in the nation in offensive possessions per game (63.4), because the Cavs drag out the shot clock to rest so they can torture opponents on defense, and to find shots so as to rank No. 29 nationally in offensive efficiency.
The Tar Heels (15-4, 4-2, ACC) drag nothing. Junior forward Luke Maye (17.8 points per game) and senior guard Joel Berry II (17.4) and their teammates go like mad almost all the time.
Their 74.8 possessions per game trail only Florida State (77.1) and Duke (76.5) in ACC pace. Tech (10-8, 3-2) averages 66.7, by the way, to rank 343 out of 351 Division I teams.
Slower is not by itself bad, obviously, or Virginia (17-1, 6-0) would not be the No. 2-ranked team in the land.
More importantly, while Tech is not likely to chase more possessions, the Jackets will surely seek to make more of their possessions.
Combine those numbers from Tech’s two preseason All-ACC players with 18 team turnovers, which the Cavs turned into a 16-2 advantage in points scored off turnovers, and you have a sketchy and non-sustainable formula.
If Tech is to resume winning ways, and give itself a chance to replicate last season’s 75-63 win over North Carolina in the ACC opener, changes must happen.
Tech doesn’t have two McDonald’s All-American high school basketball players on its roster, like North Carolina, to help erase mistakes. Pastner suggested that without Lammers and Okogie playing at a high level, the Jackets figure to struggle.
“Other teams in the league could probably turn it over 18 times and have a chance, but [with] our margin for error, we turn it over 18 times you can chalk it up as a loss. We’re not winning,” the coach said. “We’ve just got to continue to get better.
“We’ve got to be more physical. I didn’t think we were real physical [Thursday], and I thought that allowed them to get some of those turnovers. Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie have got to be better offensively.”
After the Virginia game, Pastner suggested that he’s encouraging Lammers to “shoot 30 times a game … even if he misses them all,” because the Jackets run their offense through their center.
That’s surely an exaggeration, of course, and it’s worth pointing out that Lammers struggled in November and December with a badly sprained ankle, and that he’s being deployed differently in Tech’s offense this season.
Pastner has sought to create room inside for forward Abdoulaye Gueye – whose defense and rebounding are important — to work.
That move may benefit the Jackets overall, but there’s no evidence that it’s benefitting Lammers on offense.
Still, Tech has to be better with the ball.
Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the nation by KenPom in defensive efficiency, and the Cavs had a lot to do with Tech’s offensive problems. Lammers had eight rebounds and six blocks against the Cavs, but also turned the ball over five times.
The Tar Heels are effective in different ways.
Carolina is the No. 12-ranked team in the nation in KenPom’s defensive efficiency, trailing only Virginia and No. 7 Miami in the ACC, and leading Syracuse (No. 11), Clemson (No. 13), Louisville (No. 14), Florida State (No. 32), Notre Dame (No. 38) and Georgia Tech (No. 42) in the conference.
The Tar Heels are not as stifling as Virginia with their on-the-ball defense.
Virginia, “did a good job pressuring us. They would cheat up in passing lanes. They’re very sneaky about it,” according to Lammers.
UNC relies more on athleticism. The Heels are not so sneaky. They gamble more on defense, help more aggressively, and try harder than Virginia to create turnovers rather than to cramp shots and passes.
Oh, and North Carolina leads the nation in rebounding margin (plus-11.7 a game).
The Heels are human, though. Like Tech, they lost to Wofford, and in UNC’s case that happened at home.
Maybe a quick turnaround can be good.
“Any time you lose, you want to get right back on the court and play,” Pastner said. “Everyone puts their shorts on the same way and puts their jerseys on the same way, so … this is the ACC, where every team is really good, but we’re not playing an NBA team.
“They’re all Division I college basketball teams. Anyone can beat anyone on any g