After plugging away to a 10-7 record with a challenging defense and an improving offense, Georgia Tech now faces rough waters.
Point guard Jose Alvarado (groin), forward Abdoulaye Gueye (unspecified medical condition) and guard Brandon Alston (personal matter) will not play in Saturday’s 4 p.m. home game against Louisville, and it’s not clear when any will return.
Louisville is 12-5 and under the direction of new coach Chris Mack, is one of the surprise teams of the ACC. The Cardinals beat No. 13 North Carolina on the road by 21 points Saturday.
“We’re going to have to be near perfect (against Louisville), especially with us being extremely limited now with some of our guys, some of our numbers,” coach Josh Pastner said.
Alvarado, the team’s leader in minutes, points and assists, injured his groin late in the team’s loss at Clemson on Wednesday. Gueye, a strong interior defender who can score at the basket, missed the Clemson game because of his medical condition, which Pastner would not offer more information on. Pastner said it’s possible that he could miss the rest of the season. Gueye left the previous two games with cramps, which prompted the medical tests that led team doctors to sideline him.
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“He had to go see some specialists and had to see doctors,” Pastner said Friday. “If they clear him at any point, we’ll welcome him back, but until then, he’s not able to practice or play.”
Alston also missed the Clemson game with his personal situation and is not with the team, Pastner said. Alston has been an effective perimeter shooter and averages 21.4 minutes per game, fifth on the team. His 9.6 points per game are third on the team.
Without the three, Pastner will have to go much deeper into his bench. The point-guard duties likely will be handed off to freshman Michael Devoe, who is improving and is averaging 8.7 points per game. After that, without Alston, who has also handled the point, that likely means more minutes for Shembari Phillips, a transfer from Tennessee who started the first six games of the season, but whose minutes have dropped off since then.
“Everybody’s got to be ready to go,” Pastner said.
Without Gueye, whose minutes have been inconsistent but who was part of the starting lineup for the team’s upset win at Syracuse on Saturday, the backup post man behind starter James Banks is Sylvester Ogbonda, who had played in only six games this season before the Clemson game that Gueye missed.
“For us, it’s unfortunate, because he’s really turned the corner,” Pastner said of Gueye. “We have to prepare that he won’t be back for this year. I hope he’s back as soon as Tuesday (Tech’s next game, against Notre Dame), but there’s a possibility that he doesn’t come back the rest of the year.”
With Alvarado, perhaps as indispensable a player as there is on the team, Pastner did not have a timetable for his return. He said he would leave it to the medical staff. Pastner has said repeatedly that his experience with center Ben Lammers last season, who hobbled through an ankle sprain that severely limited him, has stressed to him the importance of permitting players the necessary time to fully heal.
Tech will have to rely more on its defense, which has been among the more effective in the country, and likely will have to stretch minutes for players such as Banks and Devoe, and hope for more consistent play from sophomore forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright. Sophomore guard Curtis Haywood, the team’s best 3-point shooter, will likely be called on to play and score more than his 8.3 points per game.
Freshman forward Kristian Sjolund, who was a candidate to redshirt at the start of the season and has played a total of 48 minutes, may see his playing time jump.
“As I like to say, there is no ‘Woe is me’ syndrome or anything like that,” Pastner said. “No blame game. We’ve got to find a way.”