By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
Back in the late 90’s, Arizona basketball fans had a nickname for the games when head coach Lute Olsen would empty his bench in the closing minutes of a blowout.
“Josh Pastner games,” they called them. They would often be the only times that Pastner, a seldom-used walk-on with aspirations of coaching, would check into games.
For the Yellow Jackets’ head coach, Georgia Tech’s game against Virginia Tech last year may have evoked memories of those eponymous blowouts. The Jackets jumped on the Hokies from the opening tip, leading by 20 at halftime before cruising to a 76-57 win. Those same feelings may have stirred again this weekend when Georgia Tech (11-8, 7-6 ACC) demolished Miami 87-60, breaking the school record for largest margin of victory in an ACC road game.
Just don’t expect a “Josh Pastner Game” this Tuesday. The Yellow Jackets’ opponent, No. 16 Virginia Tech (14-4, 8-3 ACC) has emerged as the surprise team of the ACC, rising from a preseason 11th place pick in conference to a solidly-seeded NCAA Tournament team. The Hokies are also 5-0 at Cassell Coliseum in ACC play – and Tech is just 1-10 all-time in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech, however, hasn’t played since February 6 when the program was put on pause due to a positive COVID test. It’s hard to divine exactly how a team will play coming off a long break – Georgia Tech emerged from a 16-day layoff and drilled 16 threes in a rout of Clemson, but Louisville came back from an 18-day break this weekend and got drilled by 45 points at North Carolina.
Wherever your spot on the bench Tuesday, grab a seat. It’s likely to be a battle. Enjoy the top notes from my chart in preparation for another game with big NCAA Tournament implications for the Yellow Jackets (7 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College):
Michael Devoe drained a career-high seven three-point field goals Saturday at Miami. (photo by Sam Navarro)
So how have the Hokies improved so quickly despite their top scorer transferring in the offseason? A couple impact transfers of their own have helped, but head coach Mike Young’s offense, honed and feared across 17 years at Wofford, has started to come into its own.
Virginia Tech runs a stretchy, spacey system designed to give teams whiplash with its ball rotation. Much of it begins out of a horns set (double high post, guards in the corners) and it has a myriad of counters, backdoors and misdirection screens to keep defenses off-balance.
“Their players are more dangerous when they don’t have the basketball,” Pastner told us on GT60.
Those misdirections help free up bigs like 6-9 Keve Aluma and 6-7 Justyn Mutts for cheeky cuts and drop-off passes. Mutts, a transfer from Delaware, had 22 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in Virginia Tech’s last game versus Miami. Aluma, who followed Young from Wofford, is a skilled post who can frustrate defenders on duck-ins. They also have multiple shooters who can trigger threes quickly like Hunter Cattoor (46.6% 3pt.), Jalen Cone (34.9%) and Buford native Nahiem Alleyne (39.2%), all of whom can dissuade teams from doubling down on Aluma and Mutts.
Pastner said his team will need to stay alert, stay in a stance and make “multiple effort” plays against the Hokies. Like Notre Dame, they can’t allow a few contested threes to zap their confidence. The Yellow Jackets disoriented the Hokies with their 1-3-1 zone last year; how much may they roll out that defense Tuesday, especially with the success they had using it against Miami?
Arbitrary yet impressive stat: Jose Alvarado (16.7) and Moses Wright (16.3) could become the first pair of Yellow Jackets to average 16 points per game since Matt Harpring and Dion Glover in 1997-98.
If you add Michael Devoe (14.7) to the mix, they could become the first trio of Yellow Jackets to average at least 14 points per game since Travis Best, Malcolm Mackey and James Forrest in 1992-93.
Virginia Tech’s climb up the ACC has also coincided with an improvement on defense. Playing almost exclusively man-to-man, the Hokies rank second in the ACC in defensive efficiency in conference games (0.99 PPP).
The comparison may not go over well in the Commonwealth, but Pastner says the Hokies’ system reminds him of Virginia in the way they collapse the paint and deny angles on dribble-drives. If so, can Michael Devoe, who sank a career-high seven three-pointers against Miami but went just 1-of-9 in two combined games against Virginia, give the Jackets the kind of kickout threat they’ll need to stretch out Virginia Tech’s defense? The Hokies also foul more frequently than the Cavaliers (13th ACC free throw rate). Georgia Tech has made 25 of 27 free throws over its last two games.
Moses Wright and his foe in the post tonight, Keve Aluma, each received just one Division I scholarship offer out of high school. (photo by Sam Navarro)
“I knew that we were going to come out competing because we practiced the day before the game and we did a little up-and-down [work.] And everybody was going at each other’s necks.”
That was Moses Wright in our postgame radio interview, on when he sensed the Yellow Jackets might have a performance like the one they had in versus Miami.
With his 14 points against the Hurricanes, Wright became the first Jacket since Ben Lammers to join the 1,000-point, 500-rebound club. Can he avoid foul trouble against Aluma, who draws the most fouls per 40 minutes of any player in the ACC (5.8)?
PPG RPG FG% APG
Moses Wright 16.3 7.5 .519 2.1
Keve Aluma 15.7 7.6 .495 2.0
In addition to their stat lines, the two have similar backstories. Like Wright, Aluma only had one Division I scholarship offer out of high school – from Mike Young at Wofford.
Alleyne, the Hokies’ lone Georgia native, prepped at Mountain View High in Lawrenceville. His high school career ended in the first round of the Georgia state tournament to Kyle Sturdivant, who played at Norcross. If it’s any consolation, Alleyne scored 24 points to Sturdivant’s 21.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College. See you in Blacksburg.
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