The Syracuse Orange return to action tomorrow night after starting out conference play 2-0 with wins over Notre Dame and Clemson. Georgia Tech comes to the Carrier Dome in search of its second conference win.
With that in mind, we reached out to our friend Rob Pensa of From the Rumble Seat to preview the matchup.
TNIAAM: Expectations were low for Georgia Tech coming into the year. How have the losses of Josh Okogie, Tadric Jackson and Ben Lammers affected this team?
Rob Pensa: Entering the season, the biggest concern I had was who would contribute in the post with the departure of Ben Lammers. Before the Tennessee game, Texas transfer James Banks was granted a waiver to be immediately eligible to play this season, and has done a pretty great job filling the shoes left behind by Lammers. Lammers was a monster defensively, clogging up the paint and blocking 2.9 shots per game in his final two years in Atlanta. Banks has done just that as well, as he’s currently averaging 2.4 blocks per game and fills that stopper role underneath the basket.
The loss of Okogie and Jackson have been tough on the Georgia Tech offense. Tech ranks outside the top 200 in offensive efficiency (per Kenpom) and have just two players averaging in double digit scoring. This young and inexperienced Georgia Tech team has shown a lot of fight this season, with defensive effort keeping them in a lot of games. However, they are missing that go-to offensive weapon that a player like Okogie could have provided them this year.
TNIAAM: How has Jose Alvarado taken steps forward this season?
RP: I don’t think Jose has developed from last season to this season as much as some Tech fans had hoped, possibly due to the devastating injury he suffered which ended his season prematurely a year ago. His scoring is slightly up, but overall his field goal percentage is down and he is shooting just 27% from three point territory. Most importantly of all, he has an assist to turnover ratio of just 1.4, which is certainly not ideal for a guy that is expected to be a floor general for the Jackets. Now don’t get me wrong, Alvarado is still the most talented and most important player for Tech. With the departure of Okogie, Jose is seeing full attention from all defensive gameplans, which obviously makes his life more difficult. He’s the leading scorer for the Jackets and gives 110% effort every night, but somehow it still feels like it’s not enough given the high expectations that are on him.
TNIAAM: Who has emerged for the Yellow Jackets this season?
RP: As you mentioned above, Georgia Tech lost three of their top four scorers from a season ago, leaving lots of room for new guys to step up. Transfer James Banks and highly touted freshman Michael Devoe have done the most to fill the gaps left behind. Both are averaging around nine points per game and Devoe has been improving each and every game after missing much of the offseason with a foot injury. Meanwhile, senior Brandon Alston, who transferred from Lehigh before last season, has seen his scoring nearly double, averaging 10 points per game on 49% shooting.
TNIAAM: Any interesting storylines coming out of this year’s team?
RP: I think the biggest storyline is just how the Jackets are going to develop as the season goes on. This Tech team is a young group with key contributions coming from freshmen Michael Devoe and Khalid More and sophomores Jose Alvarado, Moses Wright, and Curtis Haywood. Transfer James Banks is a junior, but has only been with the team since the summer and is still figuring out his role, as well as the chemistry with his teammates. After a 13-19 season a year ago, Tech fans are starting to get antsy and do not want a similar outcome this season. This young group will need to show improvement during ACC play.
TNIAAM: GT pushed Virginia Tech to the brink earlier this week before losing 52-49. How did that game play out?
RP: In what has seemingly been the story of the last decade for Georgia Tech, this game was another one in which the Jackets showed grit and fight, but ultimately found a way to lose. The Hokies were held to 29 points below their season average and shot just 29.8% from the field (their previous worst on the season was 42.9%), however 18 Georgia Tech turnovers and a 56% performance from the free throw line gave the Hokies the win.
TNIAAM: How will GT look to attack the 2-3 zone?
RP: Obviously any time you’re playing the zone, shooting becomes critical. The Jackets roster is full of capable shooters, but most have been inconsistent so far this season. Jose Alvarado, Michael Devoe, Khalid Moore, Brandon Alston, and Curtis Haywood all are shooters and the Georgia Tech gameplan will have to revolve around getting them open looks.
TNIAAM: Who wins, what’s the final score and why?
RP: This Tech team has been nearly impossible to predict so far this season. At times they’ve looked great, and at times they’ve looked terrible. The Georgia Tech defense should keep them in most games this season and I would not be surprised to see the Jackets leaving Syracuse with a win. All that said, I have to predict a Syracuse victory, due to the talent discrepancy, as well as the home/road advantage.
Thanks to Rob for joining us again this year. Be sure to check fromtherumbleseat.com for our Q&A and to join in on the discussion in the comment below.