Jan. 7, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
It will be plenty cold outside during Georgia Tech’s ACC home opener, but it will be warm inside the paint tonight in McCamish Pavilion as the Yellow Jackets’ second conference game will bring a big change from their first.
Where Notre Dame was one of the nation’s top 3-point shooting teams, and Tech neutralized many Irish strengths before falling 83-76 in double overtime Saturday, the Orange don’t shoot the long ball well.
They instead rely heavily on their inside game, and center Rakeem Christmas is quite often the main man in the middle.
The 6-foot-9, 250-pounder from Philadelphia looks like the most improved player in the ACC. Second in the league in scoring and fourth in rebounding, Christmas, 23, is playing like a new man.
His scoring averages in four seasons at Syracuse: 2.8/5.1/5.8/17.3. His per-game rebounding numbers: 2.9/4.6/5.1/8.9. He’s also blocking 2.3 shots per game.
Syracuse (10-4, 1-0 ACC) is shooting just 29 percent from beyond the 3-point line, ranking 309th nationally. Notre Dame was a top 10 3-point shooting team before the Jackets limited the Irish to 4-of-19.
Tech (9-4, 0-1) will turn inward tonight with the goal of repeating last season’s 67-62 upset win at No. 7 Syracuse, and it will take a village. Christmas, Chris McCullough, Tyler Roberson and others populate the paint for the Orange.
“It’s what the ACC is all about. There are no easy games, or get-well games,” said Tech head coach Brian Gregory. “They’re a tremendous offensive rebounding team so you have to do a good job on the glass.
“The guy who has made tremendous improvement is their center . . . between his junior and senior year. That’s a testament to him and the coaching staff.”
The Jackets led much of regulation at Notre Dame, but while their perimeter defense was superb most of the way, they were outscored 54-40 in the paint.
Tech has struggled at times against zone defenses, and they’ll see plenty tonight. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim may be the game’s leading advocate; the Orange are famous for it.
“They’re great in their zone,” said junior swingman Marcus Georges-Hunt. “You have to attack the gaps, knock down shots. On the defensive side, communication with my teammates [will be key].”
The Jackets have had more issues shooting the 3-pointer than Syracuse, making just 23.9 percent.
Tech, though, has often made up for shooting weaknesses with rebounding. Ditto Syracuse.
Both these teams hit the boards with passion. The Jackets out-rebounded Notre Dame 46-31, and they rank No. 4 nationally in rebounding margin (+11 per game).
Syracuse is No. 43 (+6.3) in rebounding margin.
Look for banging bodies tonight.
“I feel like we’re a really, really good rebounding team,” said junior guard Chris Bolden. “They’re going to know that, and they’re going to come in here and try to out-tough us. That’s who we are; that’s our identity. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”