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What to watch for in Georgia Tech’s exhibition game

With experience to be gained and questions to be answered, Georgia Tech can obtain value from its sole exhibition game of the year Saturday night at McCamish Pavilion. The Yellow Jackets’ preseason contest against Florida Tech can be far more than an opportunity to run around in their new uniforms and for fans to see the new paint job on Cremins Court (and run through the new clear-bag policy).

“I’m excited for us to get going,” coach Josh Pastner said this week in advance of his third season at Tech.

With the losses of guards Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson and center Ben Lammers – players who accounted for 56 percent of the scoring and 48 percent of the rebounding of last season’s team, which finished 13-19 – Pastner has done considerable re-tooling of the offense and has new pieces to insert.

Among the chief differences will be the offensive scheme, which Pastner has described as “positionless.” While his offense has relied heavily on ball movement and cutting to the basket and will continue to do so, driving and distributing responsibilities will be distributed more widely across the five players on the floor.

“So if I get on the top (of the key) or the point guard gets on top and we run point, it gives us opportunities to get cuts and layups,” forward Evan Cole said. “It really depends on who’s hot that night.”

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That said, a lot of responsibility still will fall upon point guard Jose Alvarado. In the team’s private scrimmage against Auburn last weekend, “when Jose was in, we were good. Without Jose, we were stagnant, we struggled,” Pastner said. “We struggled in a lot of areas.”

The Jackets also intend to play at a faster pace. Running through the offense through Lammers, Tech often needed to slow the pace to give him time to get up the floor (in part because he played so many minutes). Last season, the Jackets ranked 308th in tempo at 66.5 possessions per game (per KenPom). At Memphis, Pastner’s teams ranked as high as 18th (73.6 possessions per game).

Lammers’ replacement, Abdoulaye Gueye, should help.

“The one thing for sure he does better than Ben is the way he runs, so that will help us in that area,” Lammers said.

Pastner also wants to see much improved shooting from 3-point range. Last year, the Jackets shot 31.8 percent beyond the arc, 325th nationally. Pastner said he wants five of his guards (Brandon Alston, Curtis Haywood, Shembari Phillips, Michael Devoe and Alvarado) to all shoot 43 percent of better from 3-point range, which would be astounding improvement.

“I do believe we’re going to be a better shooting team,” he said. “I know I’ve said 43 percent, and I’m sticking by that.”

Pastner also will give time to at least two of his freshmen, forwards Kristian Sjolund and Khalid Moore. Guard Michael Devoe, the highest rated of the three, is recovering from a toe injury and returned to practice only this week after six weeks on the sidelines.

“Right now, I feel 100 percent,” Devoe said Thursday. “It’s just whenever Coach is ready to put me in there.”

The game also will give a number of players an opportunity that, in live game conditions, that they’re ready for larger roles. That includes forward Moses Wright and guards Curtis Haywood, Alston and Phillips (coming off a year of sitting out after transferring from Tennessee) and post man Sylvester Ogbonda, as well as Gueye and Cole.

“I truly believe Jose is going to make a big jump,” Pastner said, speaking of his sophomores. “But we need to see Curt, Evan and Moses make a jump. Those three are big, integral parts or us.”

Tech opens its regular-season schedule Nov. 9 against Lamar at McCamish Pavilion.

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