Your Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team, fresh off a 10-point victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Wednesday night, host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at 12 PM ET Saturday at Purcell Pavilion.
You may remember that these two teams squared off in Atlanta a little more than two weeks ago, with the Irish snagging their second ACC victory of the season in a very close 78-74 game.
Now, the Yellow Jackets travel to South Bend looking to steal one on the road, avenge the mid-January loss, and start February off right. But will they be able to? What more should we know about these guys?
To answer those questions, I spoke to our friends over at From The Rumble Seat, the one-stop shop for anything and everything Georgia Tech here at SB Nation. Rob Pensa, Patrick Sisbarro, and Reed Bakich all chipped in some fantastic answers to my questions, which were a mix of decent/serious questions and inane/ridiculously dumb ones.
So as not to blather on any more than I already have, let’s dive into their responses below!
1. What were your expectations coming into this season — has the 10-11 start been disappointing, or about what was expected? And at 57-64 (24-40 ACC), how much longer does Josh Pastner have before it’s time for Georgia Tech to move on and bring in someone fresh?
Reed Bakich: On its face the 10-11 record is definitely disappointing relative to what the expectations were for this team. Before the season I believed this team was NIT or bust for Pastner to save his job. This was prior to Tech being hit with sanctions to an extreme measure, but I don’t think anyone would suggest that was asking too much; if anything, too little.
There is talent on this roster that struggled to play together with its unquestioned leader and point guard Jose Alvarado being hurt during the non-conference portion of the season. It just so happened that Tech’s non-con schedule was as tough as it’s been in years and these two things together caused Tech to stumble out of the gate.
The team they’ve been over the last month is more or less what we believed they were capable of. They’ve been in every game since the start of 2020 and while I’d certainly like to see them win close games more often than lose them, the direction is encouraging. With all that being said and the recent sanctions, it makes sense to give Josh one more season with a senior laden roster to see what he can do.
Rob Pensa: Similar to what Reed said, the 10-11 record is definitely disappointing when looking at it in a bubble. However, in quite a few of the losses, the team has actually played well and it is hard not to consider the struggles they had without Jose Alvarado.
Really, this team probably deserves a record better than 10-11 so it’s hard to fault the team too much. There’s still time left to turn this around this season, but that time is dwindling and another season without a postseason appearance would leave a massive cloud over Josh Pastner’s future.
2. What are the major strengths and weaknesses this Yellow Jacket team has shown so far this season? Is this a typical Georgia Tech team that focuses on playing stifling defense and winning rock fights?
Reed Bakich: More or less. This team has always been solid defensively under Pastner, typically electing to play a zone and force you to hit outside shots to beat them (which you guys certainly did a LOT of a couple weeks ago). Combined with James Banks’ elite interior defense and you aren’t going to get many easy buckets on this team, they’re going to make you work.
Offensively this is actually a pretty efficient group, especially since they switched things up to focusing on a more guard-centric approach with the return of a healthy Alvarado. The two things that hurt them are that they aren’t a great 3-point shooting team outside Devoe, and they give the ball away like crazy.
3. Michael Devoe seems like the go-to guy — what does he do well, and how might the Irish be able to slow him down?
Reed Bakich: He has all the tools you’d want out of a great guard: he’s long and athletic, has the ability to get by defenders to finish at the rim and also knock down then 3-ball.
Rob Pensa: Building upon what Reed said and answering the second half of your question, I think the best way to slow Devoe down is to put him under pressure. In his one and a half years on the flats, my biggest complaint about Mike has been his lack of aggressiveness. If he does not get going early, he can sometimes become passive and not look to be the go-to scorer Tech needs him to be. Additionally, he has had some problems with turnovers this season, an area Notre Dame can look to capitalize on by guarding him tightly.
4. Besides Devoe, what other names should ND fans be ready to hear a lot on Saturday? And how is Jose Alvarado only a junior???
Reed Bakich: You’ll have to contend with an extremely long and athletic front line in Banks and Moses Wright at the rim. The fifth starter is USC transfer Jordan Usher who is slowly adapting to the team since he started getting into games in the middle of the season. I love Usher personally, he’s a slasher that loves to find open teammates — something this team has been missing for a while.
5. How do you see the season finishing out for the Yellow Jackets? Do they have a potential run in them to make some noise in the ACC — at least to get to a winning record and a potential NIT berth?
Patrick Sisbarro: I think this is certainly possible. Georgia Tech has been playing really well since the new year and having Jose Alvarado back fully healthy is a big part of that.
However, the record book doesn’t really show it. The Jackets have left a couple wins off the table in January in which they could have and should have emerged victorious. Fortunately, the games remaining against top ACC teams are few, so a winning streak somewhere down the stretch is realistic and would give GT a shot at the NIT.
6. If Josh Pastner called you up and told you that you had to play all 40 minutes on Saturday, what position would you play, what would your stat line look like, and how many alley-oops would you try to throw to Moses Wright, James Banks, etc.?
Patrick Sisbarro: Basketball...is not my strong suit. I will stick to keeping the ball in the point guard’s hands or throwing it up to the guys on my team with arms as long as CVS receipts.
I’ll play the 2 guard, meaning Mike Devoe would be out, so the shooting for GT that night would be...rough. As far as stat line, 0-0 0 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and a couple broken bones from drawing a charge.
7. Does this Georgia Tech team have any fun/ridiculous names? ND has a few decent ones, like Prentiss Hubb and Rex Pflueger and Nikola Djogo — can the Yellow Jackets top those?
Reed Bakich: As funny as those names are, the one I get a kick out of is Dane Goodwin, who literally has the most Notre Dame sounding name ever. I kid, I kid.
Tech has a Moses and a Bubba but as far as last names go, not so much.
8. How do you think this game will go, what’s your prediction for final score, and who wins?
FTRS*: The Jackets have actually been a pretty good road team, it’s their home struggles that have hurt them the most so far. The game a couple weeks ago could have gone either way and I see these teams as very evenly matched so I think the Jackets find a way to even the season series. 65-61 final.
*This response was not attributed to any single writer, so I decided to label it a group effort — one team one dream, boys!!!
Well folks, that does it for this Q&A. I want to give a huge shout-out to Rob, Patrick, and Reed for the collaboration and the great info on the Yellow Jackets, and encourage you all to head over to From The Rumble Seat to get the latest and greatest on Georgia Tech sports — including a Q&A I answered for them!
Also, if you’re looking for breaking news and great in-game tweets, follow them on Twitter for that Georgia Tech INFO.