Georgia Tech lineup could be limited again for Notre Dame

Georgia Tech may have to attempt victory without three key players for a second consecutive game, this time at home against Notre Dame on Tuesday evening.

Guards Jose Alvarado and Brandon Alston and forward Abdoulaye Gueye, who average a combined 28.8 points per game, are uncertain to play as the Jackets prepare for their sixth ACC game of the season. Monday evening, coach Josh Pastner gave a glimmer of hope for Alvarado and Gueye, saying in a text message that he would evaluate them in the Tuesday shootaround to see if they are able to play.

“Everything will be determined and evaluated (Tuesday) at shootaround if they are able to fully participate,” he wrote in a text.

Alvarado, the team’s leader in minutes, points and assists, has missed the past two games with a groin injury suffered last Wednesday against Clemson. Tech head coach Josh Pastner said Monday that he is considered doubtful to questionable to play against the Irish.

“If he doesn’t play Tuesday, he’ll hopefully be ready by Saturday (when Tech will be at No. 2 Duke), and I think if he takes off this whole week, he’ll be ready to go next week for sure, I would assume,” Pastner said.

Alston, the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.6 points per game, has not been with the team as he deals with what Pastner called a personal matter. He has missed the past two games. Pastner said he hoped to hear more information later Monday or Tuesday morning about Gueye’s availability. He has been sidelined from any physical activity upon the judgment of the team’s medical staff as a result of tests performed after he left back-to-back games with muscle cramps. Pastner called it a “day-by-day” matter.

Tech did not handle the absence of Gueye and Alston well against Clemson, losing 72-60, or of all three against Louisville, a 79-51 loss at home to the Cardinals. The 28-point margin of defeat was the largest Tech has withstood at home in Pastner’s three seasons.

“I felt like we really missed his toughness out there (Saturday),” center James Banks said of Alvarado after the Louisville game. “He’s a grinding, smash mouth guy. You think he’s a smaller guard, but he’s one of our more tough guys. He’s a leader on the floor.”

Pastner compared the loss to Louisville to the Jackets’ struggles last season after Alvarado suffered a season-ending elbow injury in mid-February. Tech lost the next two games by a combined 37 points before steadying themselves, finishing out the final four regular-season games 2-2. Going into the Notre Dame game, Tech is 10-8 overall and 2-3 in the ACC.

“You don’t have your starting quarterback, you’re going to have a little bit of a struggle,” Pastner said.

Pastner said that freshman guard Michael Devoe, given the principal ball-handling duties against Louisville and also having to play for the first time without Alvarado, did not meet the challenge well. Devoe had eight points, just below his season average, but did not have any rebounds for the first time in a game this season. Rebounding from guards on defense is a high priority for Pastner and an indication of effort and attention. Pastner kept him on the floor for only eight minutes in the second half.

“Sometimes, the best motivator is the bench,” Pastner said.

Not having Alvarado affected his play, according to Pastner, who said that Devoe was “wobbly on the ropes and didn’t know how to get back off. He needed another guy to tag him and push him back in. Jose’s got that fire with him. He just makes Mike a better player.”

Without their leader in Alvarado, an interior scorer and agile defender in Gueye and a sixth man in Alston, Pastner has been trying to figure out the best approach with the players he has. He threw out the possibility of entirely abandoning a transition game to slow down the tempo or sending all five players back on defense whenever the Jackets attempt a field goal to prevent fast-break scores by Notre Dame.

Pastner has also toyed with different lineup combinations, such as playing big forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright together with Banks.

“We’ve got to figure it out,” Pastner said.

Notre Dame is 11-7 overall and 1-4 in ACC play. The Irish know about losing key players and depending on young players. Notre Dame lost two players who were in the starting five for the season opener to season-ending injuries. Of the six Irish players with the most minutes played this season, three are freshmen and a fourth is a sophomore. It’s an unlikely reliance upon young players for a team that Pastner has used as a template in his oft-cited plan to develop young players and win with them as juniors and seniors.

Tuesday’s game may represent Tech’s best chance to win in the next two weeks. After playing Notre Dame, the Jackets will play at No. 2 Duke (win probability, according to KenPom: 3 percent) on Saturday and then will have No. 11 North Carolina at home next Tuesday (24 percent) followed by a road trip to Florida State on Feb. 2 (19 percent).