The last time these two teams met, the Irish dispatched a banged-up Yellow Jackets team on New Year’s Eve Eve 68-59, led by BONZIE COLSON’s 22 points and 17 rebounds.
This time around in Atlanta, Georgia Tech appears to be back in full health, having just defeated the then-15th-ranked Miami Hurricanes last week. Meanwhile, ND hopes to get its third win in a row without BONZIE COLSON — who is out for 8+ weeks with a foot fracture — and Matt Farrell, who sprained his ankle last week against NC State and is out indefinitely.
To understand how this shorthanded Irish team now stacks up against the Yellow Jackets, I spoke with Robert Pensa over at From the Rumble Seat to learn about Georgia Tech’s season to date, how they now match up against the Irish, and whether or not Maui Brey would beat Josh Pastner in a karaoke contest (spoiler: the answer is YES).
Let’s dive right in.
1. It’s been a bumpy year so far for the Yellow Jackets, but the team picked up a huge win last Wednesday against Miami. What’s been causing the struggles, and what clicked in the victory over the #15 (at the time) Hurricanes?
Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong in November and December, did go wrong.
Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie were both suspended to start the season. On top of the suspension, Okogie suffered a dislocated finger that kept him out until December 17th, even after being eligible to return. Despite not yet missing a game, Ben Lammers has been nursing an ankle injury since the third game of the season and was not 100% for virtually all of non-conference play.
Additionally, assistant coach Darryl Labarrie, the main man behind the Georgia Tech defense, has also been suspended and Tech has needed time to adjust without him.
The last couple weeks, the Jackets have finally been able to play and practice together and are fully healthy for the first time all season.
2. Do you think this team has any chance of turning the momentum from the Miami win into an ACC season that earns them an NCAA Tournament bid? What are this GaTech team’s overall strengths and weaknesses?
As much as I would love to say yes, it’s hard for Tech fans to get excited about ACC play given the Jackets’ recent history.
A stat that amazes me every time is that Tech has yet to finish above .500 in the ACC since the 2004 season, a season in which Tech played for the national championship. In fact, they’ve only done it twice since 1990.
With a 7-6 non-conference record, a tournament berth would require the Jackets to do something they’ve done only a handful of times over the last few decades, which I’m certainly not ready to predict this early in ACC play.
3. Josh Okogie is a great scorer, and Tadric Jackson has been a thorn in Notre Dame’s side for a couple years now. What do they both do well, and what weaknesses do they have, if any?
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. His career-high FG% is fueled by a nearly 60% conversion rate on two point attempts this year. Conversely, he’s shooting just 23% on three point attempts, an area which would definitely be his biggest weakness.
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 at 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 almost 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.
4. Ben Lammers is a fantastic big man, but his stats have dropped juuuuust a bit, across the board, in his senior season. Is that mostly due to having more help built up around him now, or has he had some struggles in the early going this season? What do you expect from him against ND without Colson for him to worry about?
There’s no question that the struggles for Ben Lammers are real. However, as I mentioned earlier, I think much of it can be attributed to injury.
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 getting injured in the following game, he has averaged just 11 and 8, shooting just 42% over that span, well below his 52% 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%. On top of the injury, I’m sure there is an element of teams being more prepared to play him. Being one of the biggest surprises in the country last season meant teams did not have a game plan to defend him, especially early in the year. This season, he has been the main focus of every coaches game plan, particularly with Okogie and Jackson out to start the year.
Hopefully, having Colson out of the game allows Ben some additional rest on the defensive side, which he can parlay towards a productive night offensively.
5. Jose Alvarado is having a very strong freshman season. Did Yellow Jacket fans expect him to come in and contribute so much so fast? What does he bring to the table as part of Georgia Tech’s Big 4?
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 85% 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.
6. The Yellow Jackets aren’t known for their scoring, but are a top-25 defensive team in terms of points allowed. What makes them tough in terms of limiting scoring, and how will they try to shut down an offense already missing its two best scorers?
While Tech will sometimes play man-to-man, they mostly utilize a mixture of zone defenses that give teams fits, especially when they are unable to shoot well from behind the arc.
They have a ton of length on the perimeter between Okogie and AD Gueye, and they have Ben Lammers, possibly the nation’s best shot blocker 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. Without their best two scorers, an already difficult task of scoring inside on the Jackets just became that much more difficult for the Fighting Irish. In order to pull out the win, Notre Dame will most likely need to have a big day from behind the arc.
7. Josh Pastner vs. Mike Brey in both a dance-off and a karaoke contest -- what one song would those coaches choose for each competition, and who would win each?
Great question. As far as the dance-off goes, Brey may as well not even step on stage given the moves that we know Josh Pastner has (see below).
I’ll just leave it at that.
When it is time for karaoke, I would expect Mike Brey comes onto the stage in his shirtless Maui attire, ukulele in hand, where he sings a moving rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Pastner counters with a Kidz Bop version of “Call Me Maybe,” but it’s not enough to top Brey.
8. Gimme your prediction: who wins the game, what’s the score, and why?
I have to go with Tech in this one for a few reasons.
The first one is fairly obvious. Notre Dame will be missing their two best players on Wednesday, two players who have been particularly successful against the Jackets. The last three times these teams have met, Colson and Farrell have combined for 51% of Notre Dame’s points. That’s a lot of scoring to make up and I’m just not sure where I see it coming from.
Additionally, the Jackets are coming off a week in which they played really strong basketball and I expect that trend to continue. After the Miami win, there seemed to be a different level of energy the team was playing with and that should continue on Wednesday.
Finally, the Jackets have been REALLY good at home since Josh Pastner was hired. In 10 ACC home games, Tech is 8-2 with a trio of top 15 wins. I think Josh Pastner and the Jackets make that mark 9-2 on Wednesday with a low scoring 59-53 win.
I want to give Robert a big shout-out for answering all my questions with fantastic information and detail, and encourage you all to check out his interview of yours truly over on From the Rumble Seat.
Also be sure to follow From the Rumble Seat on Twitter for any and all Yellow Jacket takes and updates prior to, during, and after tomorrow night’s game.