Don’t look now, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are 3-0 in the toughest conference in the country. In their last-second win over Syracuse the Irish did even more things that make no sense, given their situation.
Bonzie Colson was already sidelined long-term with a fractured foot, but Matt Farrell didn’t make the trip to the Carrier Dome either due to a nasty sprained ankle. That left the team without its top two scorers against Jim Boeheim’s notoriously stout zone defense. The Irish predictably had a terrible shooting night but got away with a two-point win thanks to a Rex Pflueger put back in the closing seconds. Syracuse also had a clear size advantage, yet Notre Dame out-rebounded them by 15. Oh, and Notre Dame had Austin Torres in the starting lineup. You don’t want to know what the OFD Slack channel looks like when that happens.
I can’t figure out their secret. Is Mike Brey an even better coach than we thought? Are some of his young players ready to take over the team already? Is this all just a facade that will soon give way to a losing streak? Am I totally guessing every time I write a preview article?
One thing is for sure: the Irish are playing with an edge right now. They will look to improve their win streak to six games on Wednesday night when they travel to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech for the second time this season. They will most likely have to do it without Farrell again, as he’s expected to sit out to give that ankle more time to heal.
- This is the 18th meeting between Georgia Tech and Notre Dame, with the Yellow Jackets leading the all-time series 9-8.
- Notre Dame is 1-3 all-time in ACC play on the road at McCamish Pavilion, with all three losses coming by a total of 8 points combined.
- These two teams are playing for the second time in 11 days after opening their conference schedules against each other on Dec. 31, 2017. Notre Dame won the first matchup 68 - 59.
- After rebounding woes in the beginning of the season, Notre Dame has out-rebounded each of its ACC opponents by double digits in the last three games.
- T.J. Gibbs has delivered with 20 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the two games without Colson and Farrell.
- Notre Dame leads the nation in fewest personal fouls committed per game with 12.9.
Where: McCamish Pavilion, Atlanta, Georgia
When: Wednesday, January 10, 7:00 p.m. ET
How to Watch: ESPNU national broadcast with Anish Shroff and Dino Gaudio. Also available on the Watch ESPN app.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-7, 1-1)
In their first meeting, the Yellow Jackets and the Irish both shot the ball pretty poorly from the field. One of the biggest difference makers, as it often is, was free-throws. Tech lost the game by 9 points, and they missed 11 shots from the charity stripe.
In the two games since then, the Yellow Jackets defeated a 15th ranked Miami team as well as Yale in their final non-conference matchup. Josh Okogie dominated against Miami, tallying 30 points and nine rebounds on 10-23 shooting. The real difference in that game was Georgia Tech’s defense that forced Maimi into 18 turnovers, 37.5 percent shooting and just 21.1 percent from behind-the-arc. Georgia Tech also bounced back at the line, shooting 38-51 on free throws in those two games combined.
I noted in my preview of the last matchup that the Yellow Jackets have been a tough defensive team, and in those two games they held Miami and Yale to fewer points than their average points allowed on the season. That brought their ranking to 14th in the nation in lowest two point field goal percentage yield according to Kenpom.
Georgia Tech’s playing rotation this season features four freshman and a first-year graduate transfer who have combined to start 33 games and log 49 percent of the team’s total minutes. It’s understandable that it took them a few weeks to find their rhythm, plus they endured injuries to a few of their veteran players. I honestly don’t have much more to say since these two teams just played each other. Georgia Tech seems to be hitting its stride at the right time, but they will need a miracle to salvage their non-conference losses from earlier in the season and make a tournament run.
Yellow Jacket to Watch:
Josh Okogie, G, Sophomore
Simply put, Okogie is an elite scorer. In his seven games played this year after returning from injury, Okogie has averaged 20 points per game to go along with 42.9 percent shooting from three-point range. He has scored in double figures 39 times in 44 career games, and against Miami was his third 30-point performance. The 6-foot-4, 213 pound guard is also averaging 35 minutes per game, and last season he hit a buzzer beater in Georgia Tech’s win over the Irish. Brey and company will have to keep him in check if they want to leave Atlanta still undefeated in league play.
D.J Harvey, F, Freshman
I love what Harvey has been doing now that he’s been given a spot in the starting lineup in Bonzie’s absence. He put up a career high of 17 points in his first career start against NC State, and a career high nine rebounds against Syracuse. He plays smart and has a really well-rounded game, and this time he’s getting is going to be huge for him as his career takes off next season. But right now, he needs to continue being a consistent scoring option for the Irish.
Notre Dame 65 - Georgia Tech 58
This is another tough call for me. Georgia Tech is better than their record shows, especially as of late. But I have to say the Irish are lucky they started conference play against some of the teams in the bottom half of the ACC. I just love the edge Notre Dame is playing with right now as if they are looked at the same way Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Pitt are. They have a chip on their shoulder and I can’t lose the faith yet. I’m giving them one more win against GT in another close game, even with Farrell sidelined again, before a really tough five-game stretch.