The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team continues its rough stretch of ACC games tonight, taking on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. The Irish have recently lost close games to ranked North Carolina Tar Heels and North Carolina State Wolfpack teams, and after this one will have to host the #3 Virginia Cavaliers and #2 Duke Blue Devils in back-to-back home games.
So, in a road game against a great defensive team in the Yellow Jackets, can the Irish grab a second ACC victory before they have to play two of the best three teams in the country?
To find out, I spoke to Robert Pensa, basketball editor over at From the Rumble Seat (SB Nation’s Georgia Tech site). Robert gave some great insight into this year’s Yellow Jackets, Josh Pastner’s future, Mike Brey doing shirtless karaoke, and much more.
Let’s dive right in and preview this game with what Robert has to say!
1. How do you feel about the Yellow Jackets’ season so far? It appears to have been a bumpy one to-date, but at the same time they’ve already managed to beat Syracuse in ACC play, something ND was not able to do. What do you expect from this GT team for the rest of the season?
Robert Pensa: ‘Bumpy’ is a good word to use.
The road victories over Arkansas and Syracuse were both unexpected and great wins. The Jackets also nearly beat a top 10 ranked Virginia Tech team. However, there’s also been games the Jackets looked terrible, including the loss to Grambling State and the most recent blowout against Louisville.
First of all, Tech needs to get healthy again. Against Louisville, the Jackets were missing Jose Alvarado, Brandon Alston, and AD Gueye. With all those guys back in the rotation, I think Tech can give almost any team a close game due to how strong their defensive play is.
Going forward for the rest of the season, I think it may be unreasonable to anticipate the Jackets playing their way onto the bubble, but they should definitely pick up at least a few more wins while gaining experience as a very young team.
2. What are your thoughts on Josh Pastner? He’s a young coach and this is only his third season, but when do you think he really needs to start winning before it’s time to think about making a change?
Robert Pensa: When Pastner arrived, he was inheriting a major rebuild. Due to that, I think he’ll be given at a minimum one more season after this one before a change is even considered.
I think a lot of the frustration from fans comes not from the lack of success, but instead from the regression from year 1 to year 2 and even year 3. In his first season, the Jackets were not expected to win one ACC game, but made it all the way to the NIT finals. Pastner followed that up with a 13-19 season and this year has not looked much better so far.
Some fans are willing to give Pastner time, but with a new athletic director and the buyouts for Brian Gregory and Paul Hewitt finally off the table, you never know what could happen if Josh doesn’t deliver a big season soon.
3. Georgia Tech is #13 in the country in field goal percentage defense, #7 in 3-point percentage defense, #23 in scoring defense, #13 in blocked shots per game, and #16 in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating. What makes the Yellow Jackets so good defensively, and who are the key guys that make that defense work?
Robert Pensa: The Jackets employ a mixture of man-to-man and zone defenses that keep offenses consistently on their toes and force them to adjust. Additionally, Tech has a lot of length on the perimeter, as well as the always scrappy Jose Alvarado.
Defense is a point of emphasis for Josh Pastner and he’ll immediately pull any players that aren’t playing with full intensity on the defensive end. I’m not sure there are any “key guys” on the Tech defense as it really is a team effort. Honestly, a lot of the defensive success can be attributed to just plain hustle and hard work.
4. Why does GT struggle so much offensively, and despite that, who are the key guys ND needs to watch out for/shut down defensively?
Robert Pensa: The Tech offense is actually not terrible when they play smart and take care of the ball. To start ACC play, the Jackets have shot fairly well.
Unfortunately, in those five games combined they have also had 79 turnovers. When the Jackets aren’t turning the ball over, they can really beat you from anywhere on the court, one of their strengths offensively. Tech shares the ball extremely well, ranking inside the top 25 in assists-to-field goal ratio.
Normally, Jose Alvarado would be the most important player to watch out for, but it sounds like he will be inactive for this game. Michael Devoe and James Banks are the next two biggest threats to keep an eye on; Devoe from the perimeter and Banks from the inside.
5. Josh Pastner vs. Mike Brey in the karaoke battle to end all karaoke battles — what song(s) does each coach sing, describe their performance/charisma/stage presence, and who ultimately wins (via applause-o-meter)?
Robert Pensa: In the battle to end all karaoke battles, 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.
6. Would you rather fight 30 Yellow Jacket-sized leprechauns or 1 Leprechaun-sized Yellow Jacket? Why?
Robert Pensa: The Leprechaun-sized Yellow Jacket has one distinct advantage over the Yellow Jacket-sized leprechauns; its stinger.
A Yellow Jacket that size has a stinger at least a foot long and I don’t want to be anywhere near that thing. I’ll take my chances with the miniature leprechauns.
7. Prediction time: who wins, what’s the score, and why?
Robert Pensa: As I’ve said to everyone all year, I’m never really sure what to expect heading into a game. This Tech team has been extremely inconsistent and things got even more difficult for them with Jose Alvarado getting injured.
I’m hoping the blowout loss against Louisville was a bit of a wake up call and Tech can potentially bounce back against a Notre Dame team that’s struggled a bit in ACC play. I’ll take the Yellow Jackets at home in a tight one.
I want to give a huge shout-out to Robert for answering all my questions and giving us a lot of good insight into the Georgia Tech team and how they will match up this evening against our Irish.
I highly encourage you all to check out Robert’s work over at From the Rumble Seat (including my answers to his questions), and implore you to follow the site on Twitter for any last-minute updates prior to the game.