Is it conceivable that the Jackets pull off a surprise season such as Pastner’s first, when they faced similar forecasts and ended the season in the NIT finals, or at least that they outperform projections? It’s not out of the question.
Most likely, 1) big man Abdoulaye Gueye would have to make huge strides in scoring consistency and avoiding foul trouble, 2) highly touted freshman guard Michael Devoe would have to be a producer on the level of Josh Okogie in his freshman season, 3) maybe guards Curtis Haywood (coming back from a season-ending shin injury) and Shembari Phillips (first season on the court after transferring from Tennessee) provide scoring punch from the perimeter, 4) one of the two sophomore forwards – Moses Wright or Evan Cole – becomes a dependable, ACC-caliber stretch-4 forward and 5) after losing defensive stalwart Ben Lammers, Pastner’s new defensive scheme gives teams as much trouble as it did two years ago.
Also, 6) it probably wouldn’t hurt if transfer James Banks, who hopes to receive immediate eligibility after transferring from Texas in part for hardship reasons, were cleared to play.
“I think we’re going to shock a lot of people this year,” Cole said. “We’re picked to be like, second to last in the ACC, and I think the big thing from last year to this year is I think we’re going to play better as a team.”
But, the more likely outcome is that the Jackets, with a roster that is loaded with seven freshmen and sophomores and will have to replace 56 percent of the scoring and 48 percent of the rebounding from last year’s team, will take their share of lumps.
Pastner does seem genuinely hopeful about what he has. Freshman forward Kristian Sjolund has shooting touch from the perimeter, is a gifted passer and has “a real chance to be really, really good,” Pastner said, although he may redshirt because of his defensive shortcomings.
Devoe showed himself to be a “high-level guy,” in Pastner’s words, in workouts before he sustained a toe injury that sidelined him for six weeks in the preseason. (He may play Friday in a limited role.) He is confident that point guard Jose Alvarado will be better, particularly on defense, after starting the first 25 games of the season before a season-ending elbow injury.
He believes Alvarado and Devoe will form as good a backcourt as there is in the ACC. Next season.
It’s part of the mantra that he has stuck on repeat, the path he envisions to get the Jackets back to the NCAA Tournament, a destination they’ve not visited since 2010: “Get old and stay old.”
“That’s going to happen in another year and two, and that’s why this is a great year for our guys because they’re going to get great opportunity to progress and improve on the floor,” Pastner said.
Pastner and the Jackets appear to be facing a year of investment. The profit may have to wait.