The Syracuse Orange (16-11, 8-6) are set to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (15-11, 6-7) tomorrow at 6:30 pm EST. With that in mind, we caught up with Robert Pensa over at From the Rumble Seat. You know the drill by now.
TNIAAM: You guys have some unbelievable wins in the conference. What the heck?
RP: Every Georgia Tech fan is saying the same thing! Coming into the season, I can promise you no one expected this level of success and even the most optimistic fans were predicting only a few conference wins. The fact that this team has taken down 3 ranked teams is a huge testament to what the coaching staff has been able to do and how well the team is playing as a unit. It also has to be noted how much this team has improved as the season has gone on, which has directly led to the results we are seeing in ACC play. Non-Tech fans might not realize the Jackets had to go to overtime in their exhibition game against Division II Shorter College and almost lost to North Carolina A&T, who have yet to register a Division I win this year. Those results fueled the team to get better and noticeable improvement has been seen from game to game.
TNIAAM: How is this team better than years past?
RP: Although it has not necessarily translated to the stat sheet, the offensive system this staff runs is night and day from the system that Brian Gregory and his staff ran. There is much more movement, cuts, and off-ball screens than Tech fans saw in any of the sets ran in years past. Additionally, this team pushes the ball up the court with far more urgency and tempo than we saw before. The combination of these two factors has prevented the massive scoring droughts that the Jackets experienced in years past where they would go five or even ten minutes without a field goal. Brian Gregory’s teams were noted for being great defensive teams, but the defense seems to have taken even another step up under Josh Pastner. The Jackets currently rank tenth in the country in defensive efficiency, holding almost every ACC opponent under their season average FG percentage. It really is hard to point to a specific area where the Jackets are much better than years past, as it is more of a combination of factors.
TNIAAM: How is Josh Pastner received amongst the fan base?
RP: While many questioned the hire originally, I do not think you will find any fans who are not fully on board at this point. The belief of a large percentage of Tech fans was that Pastner looked like another Paul Hewitt, a great recruiter who would bring in talent, but would not be able to win with it. The results this year have shattered that theory as the Jackets have been able to have great success with a group of largely unheralded recruits with minimal experience playing in the ACC. Pastner brings an unbelievable work ethic that trickles down to his whole staff and his players and the future on the flats appears very bright with him at the helm.
TNIAAM: What do you think your chances are of making the tournament?
RP: I definitely think the Jackets will be right on the bubble and it is going to come down to what the selection committee ends up valuing. Tech has picked up some huge wins and does not have any really bad losses, but because of a weak non-conference schedule, they are going to end the season with a very low RPI, potentially historically low if they were to get into the field. At a minimum, I think the Jackets need to get to .500 in the conference and we will see what happens from there. Any additional wins, whether in the regular season or ACC tournament could really boost their resume and increase their chances even further.
TNIAAM: Who should we look out for against the 2-3 zone?
RP: I expect everything to run through Ben Lammers in the high post. The Jackets really do not like to shoot three-pointers and have the largest disparity in the ACC between percentage of points from 2-pointers and 3-pointers. Normally that would spell disaster against the vaunted Syracuse zone, but given the skillset Lammers has, the Jackets should be able to attack the zone from a different angle. Ben has shown a drastic improvement this year on the mid-range jumper and teams who have laid off him around the top of the key have paid the price. The other skillset Lammers has really shown off this year is his passing ability. He could easily be considered one of the best passers on the team and has been very effective finding cutters or the open man cross-court. Whenever he touches the ball on Sunday, he will be sure to draw Syracuse defenders, which will hopefully open up space for cutters and the occasional spot-up jumper.
TNIAAM: What are the keys to the game for both teams?
RP: The biggest key in this one will be how well the Jackets can attack the zone. Like I mentioned above, the Jackets are definitely not a three-point shooting team and if they try to rely on that to beat the zone, it may be a long night for the Tech offense. I would look for Syracuse to pack the zone is as much as possible and prevent the Jackets from getting inside. Tech will also look to run as much as possible and get easy transition baskets before Syracuse is able to set up their defense.
TNIAAM: Ultimate prediction time. Who wins and why?
RP: I think the Jackets win this one, simply because of how effective they have been at home, especially in conference play, where their only loss came at the hands of Louisville. The fans have made a huge difference this year and Sunday night will be another sellout. I think the home atmosphere gives the Jackets the edge in a critical game to keep their tournament hopes alive.
Thanks Robert! Orange Nation, be sure to head over the www.fromtherumbleseat.com. What are your thoughts on the game? Opine in the comment section below.