Amid a treacherous week, one of Georgia Tech’s obstacles in its pursuit of an NCAA tournament berth has been enlarged. Point guard Jose Alvarado, who was expected back in time from an ankle injury for the Yellow Jackets’ Dec. 14 game at No. 8 Kentucky, will be out for an additional two weeks. He is expected to return for the Dec. 31 game at Florida State.
Alvarado, who suffered a high ankle sprain in practice before the Nov. 11 game against Elon, came back to play 18 ineffective minutes against Georgia but has sat out the following two games. Starting with the Georgia game, his absence has been a factor as the Jackets lost to Georgia and Arkansas and then had difficulty defeating Bethune-Cookman on Sunday. Tech plays Nebraska on Wednesday night at home as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“He’s a good player, he’s a great leader, he does things that don’t show up in the box score, so we’ll have to figure it out without him,” coach Josh Pastner said Tuesday.
Last season, with Alvarado on the floor 83 percent of the time, Tech’s assist/turnover ratio was 433/459. Its assist-per-field-goal rate was 57 percent. (Assist/field-goal rate is an important statistic to Pastner, who finds it a good indicator of ball movement and aims for 60 percent.)
Starting with the Elon game and including the Georgia game Nov. 20, Tech has had a 45/69 assist/turnover ratio in its past four games and has assisted on 46 percent of its baskets.
Where the anticipated absence was four games, if Alvarado returns for the Florida State game, the player that Pastner has said was the team’s best in the offseason will have missed 10 games, nearly a third of the 31-game regular season.
With the extended absence, Pastner said that it puts him and his staff in a position of determining if the team needs to tweak anything to help guards Michael Devoe and Bubba Parham fill Alvarado’s shoes at the point, roles that they’re not accustomed to filling.
Alvarado can play, but is not close to 100 percent. When he tried to come back to play against Georgia, Pastner said it was “five on four” with Alvarado unable to defend effectively. Alvarado’s rehab program is conservative, but Pastner believes that having Alvarado at full health for the final 18 games of ACC play, even if it means sacrificing him for non-conference games, is the best course for Tech to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.
Pastner also is banking heavily on transfer guard Jordan Usher, who will be eligible starting with the Jackets’ Dec. 18 game against Ball State, to give the Jackets a significant jolt in energy and offense.
Pastner is hopeful that, should Tech be on the tournament bubble at season’s end, it will be understood that the team was short-handed in December without Alvarado and Usher.
“Yes, non-conference matters, and you don’t want to lose any games, but you’re really going to be judged by how you fall in line with the ACC,” Pastner said. “That’s the point of decision with Jose – how do we get him healthy for the 18 remaining games for ACC play? That’s kind of where we’re at.”
The game against Nebraska, which is 4-3 in coach Fred Hoiberg’s first season, is the middle leg of a stretch of three games in seven days, the last of which is Tech’s Saturday home game against Syracuse (originally scheduled for Sunday) in an early league game. Moreover, Tech begins its final-exam period Thursday.