For the first time since 1979, Georgia Tech’s first year in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets will begin the season with a league game. They’ll be at N.C. State Tuesday night for a season that begins with heightened expectations (relatively speaking).
Here are five things to know regarding Tuesday and beyond in coach Josh Pastner’s fourth season at Tech.
Taking care of the ball
Tech turned the ball over a total of 41 times in its two exhibition games, one against Division II Georgia College and the other against Alabama. Anything close to that total against N.C. State will most likely surrender any shot at winning. The Jackets averaged 14.3 turnovers per game last year, 294th in Division I.
There were mitigating factors. Pastner substituted freely to take looks at different combinations of players. Point guard Jose Alvarado played 43 out of 80 minutes, leaving the Jackets without their primary ballhandler for nearly half of the time, although Alvarado had six turnovers himself. Guard Michael Devoe was held out of the first game as he recovered from a toe injury and likely had some rust in the second, when he had five turnovers.
Still, Tech had managed exhibitions in previous seasons with far fewer miscues. Center James Banks said that he thought players were trying to be too unselfish in setting up players for teammates.
“I think we’ve been able to clean a lot of that stuff up,” he said. “Guys are going to be better in the forthcoming games.”
Aiming at the tournament
In September, Tech was banned by the NCAA from the postseason for one year (including the ACC tournament) for recruiting violations, but the school has appealed that ruling, along with two other restrictions on scholarships and recruiting. Penalties under appeal are not enforced until the appeals process is over (and if the penalties are upheld), and the strong likelihood is that the appeals process will not be completed until after the season, meaning Tech will likely be eligible this March.
Pastner has spoken frequently about his intentions to lead the Jackets to the NCAA tournament this season, which would be Tech’s first appearance since 2010, a longer drought than all but three power-conference schools. He arranged a home-and-home with No. 2 Kentucky (the Jackets go to Lexington, Ky., Dec. 14) with impressing the selection committee in mind. After a 14-18 finish last season, Tech expects help from two transfers, sharpshooting guard Bubba Parham (VMI) and high-motor guard Jordan Usher. Parham can play immediately, while Usher will be eligible Dec. 18.
The analytics site KenPom projects Tech to finish 14-15. Given the strength of the schedule —Tech plays 12 games against KenPom top 50 teams, six on the road — each opportunity to secure a win will be precious, starting with Tuesday.
20-game league schedule
The explanation for opening the season with a conference game, as is the case for a lot of decisions regarding scheduling, is money and television. The ACC will debut a 20-game league schedule, up from 18 games, a move made in part to provide more inventory for the fledgling ACC Network. In order to fit them in, league games will be played in two windows during the non-conference portion of the season — seven Tuesday or Wednesday as season openers, and seven more during the Dec. 6-8 weekend. (Tech plays Syracuse Dec. 7 at home.)
Of those 14 games, 10 will be broadcast on the ACC Network, a move that ESPN certainly hopes will increase pressure on cable providers (namely Comcast, the only major provider that has not reached a deal with ESPN for the new channel) to come to an agreement to pick it up.
Pastner said that the ACC will not open next season with league games.
“Part of (the format with season-opening league games) was the ACC Network,” he said. “Maybe all of it.”
An ACC all-defensive team member last season, Banks is expected to provide shot blocking and rebounding on defense and an expanded role on offense.
“Everybody’s been working incredibly hard this offseason, adding things into their bag,” Banks said. “They’ve been working on their conditioning, on their strength, just getting overall better. Hopefully we can showcase that (Tuesday).”
Also significant is how Banks’ backups in the post, Evan Cole and Moses Wright, will fare. Both are power forwards not used to playing the post — Wright figures to start at forward — but the lack of a true center on the roster besides Banks has necessitated it. With Tech spread out in a zone, it’s critical for both to be able to defend the rim when Banks is out.
Cole “has been accepting the role of backup to James and ever since, he’s just been killing it, honestly,” Wright said.
Quotes to note
Pastner: “I think we’re the most talented (team in his tenure), but we’ve got to go produce. We’ve got to get it done on the floor.”
Banks: “I think that this year, if we’re clicking on all cylinders and we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be able to get some quality wins this year and shock a lot of people.”
Wright: “We’ve got to start and finish games better way better than we did. Because some games we’d come out slow and just get punched in the mouth first and then we’d have to dig ourselves out of a hole. But other games, we’d come out swinging first and we didn’t have a solid ending and let the team come back in.”
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