The Syracuse Orange (15-6, 4-4) have traveled down to Atlanta where it will take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-11, 3-5) from McCamish Pavilion tonight at 8 pm. There’s probably some clever tie in between the Peach State, oranges, yellow jackets and Jim Boeheim’s jacket that someone much wittier than I could intertwine with the FX television series Atlanta, but I’ll leave that alone for now.
With the matchup in mind, we brought on Robert Pensa (From The Rumble Seat) for some Q&A. Let’s dive in.
TNIAAM: Georgia Tech is on a four game slide in the ACC. What’s happened recently?
Robert Pensa: To be honest, it has just been a brutal stretch of games. The recent four game stretch included #2 UVA, #19 UNC, #20 Clemson, and Florida State. Other than the Virginia game, the Jackets have been pretty competitive in all four of those games. Against UNC, Tech shot much better than the Tar Heels, but were eventually done in by nineteen UNC offensive rebounds. Against Clemson, the Jackets were once again the better shooting team, but allowed the Tigers to have a 10-21 night from behind the arc. That’s life in the ACC though, right?
TNIAAM: You guys are a fairly good defensive team, what do you do well on that end?
RP: The Jackets are constantly switching defenses, which keeps teams on their toes. While they will sometimes play man to man, Tech most often utilizes a mixture of zone defenses that give teams fits. They have a ton of length on the perimeter between Okogie and AD Gueye, and they have Ben Lammers, one of the nation’s top shot blockers backing them up underneath the basket. Josh Pastner preaches hustle and while Tech doesn’t force a ton of turnovers, they don’t allow any easy shots and make you work for every look you get. Given the frequency of the zone defense, the Jackets have been most vulnerable against teams that are hitting their threes (see Clemson).
TNIAAM: Okogie and Jackson do the heavy lifting on offense. What do those two bring to the game?
RP: Both players are extremely aggressive and are tremendous at attacking the basket. Tadric Jackson has significantly improved his field goal percentage each season and this has been his best year yet. He is shooting 55% this year on two point attempts, but conversely, he’s shooting just 23% on three point attempts, an area which would definitely be his biggest weakness. After a great start to the season, Tadric has struggled a bit recently, scoring in double digits in just three of his last eight games. Tech desperately needs his production to return, given the struggles of this offense.
Josh Okogie does it all offensively, but what really sets up him apart for me is his ability to draw contact. He is among the best in the nation and drawing fouls and that gets him to the line for double digit free throw attempts nearly every night. When he does get there, he’s shooting over 80%. Since his very first game at Tech, Okogie has had a solid pull up jumper and has been great attacking the basket, but where he has shown the most improvement over the past year is from behind the arc. After shooting just 31% on three pointers in non-conference last year, he bumped that up to 43% in conference play, a number that has carried over to this season. Give him space and he’ll hit the open jumper. Play him tight and he’ll blow right by you. He is nearly a lock for 20 a night at this point and is by far the Jackets most lethal and consistent player.
TNIAAM: Ben Lammers killed Syracuse last season. Can we expect more of that in this game?
RP: Unfortunately, Lammers has struggled quite a bit this season, in large part due to an ankle injury he suffered in just the third game of the year. Ben started the season with a monster 24 and 10 game against UCLA and followed it up with a 19 and 13 game against Bethune Cookman. Since the injury, he has averaged just 11 and 8, shooting well below his 52% field goal percentage from a season ago. Watching him play, he looks a step slower and his lethal mid-range jumper has clearly been impacted from not having the ankle 100%. Despite his struggles, he is still able to impact the game defensively and is still a vital part of the offense, which often runs through him at the top of the key.
TNIAAM: Has Jose Alvarado’s scoring output been a surprise this season?
RP: While Alvarado was only rated as a three-star recruit, those who watched him in high school knew the Jackets were getting a special player. “He’d rather win than breathe” was a quote thrown around a lot and I’m not sure it was an exaggeration. No one on the court works harder than him and even in his short time in Atlanta, he has already improved drastically. It has been years since the Jackets have had a “true” point guard, but Alvarado is exactly that. He gets his teammates involved, he can get to the basket, he can shoot the three ball, he is a steals machine and he is shooting 80% from the line. No stage is too big for him and Georgia Tech fans are extremely excited for the next four years of Jose running the point.
TNIAAM: How can Syracuse have success against Tech?
RP: This is an interesting question since teams have beaten the Jackets in so many different ways the last few games. Virginia was able to do it defensively, North Carolina did it on the boards, Florida State did it near the rim, and Clemson did it behind the arc. That said, I will say the two easiest ways are through defense and three-point shooting. The Jackets have the 165th ranked offense in the conference and while it has been getting better recently, Tech has really struggled to score at times. On offense, you have to hit your threes. While the Jackets have the nations 36th best two-point defense, they rank all the way down at 213th in three-point defense. A vintage Syracuse zone effort combined with a strong night with the deep ball would go a long way towards an Orange victory.
TNIAAM: Lastly, who wins, final score and why?
RP: Under Josh Pastner, Tech has been significantly better at home than on the road, which makes it tough for me to predict a Yellow Jacket loss. Additionally, this is a team that I truly believe is more talented than their record makes them out to be. I think it may ultimately come down to what level of energy the team has for this one. Will the four game losing streak have spirits down or will Pastner and the staff have them fired up for another sold out home game? I’ll go with a 65-60 Yellow Jacket victory.
Thanks Robert! Be sure to check fromtherumbleseat.com for our answers as well. Remember, the game won’t tip until 8 tonight so you’ll be showing up to work an added hour of sleep debt on Thursday.
As always, leave your thoughts in the comment section below.