For Georgia Tech, opportunity looms to finally beat Duke

Georgia Tech center Rodney Howard (from left) looks on as Saba Gigiberia gets a chest bump from Jose Alvarado after hitting a three pointer against Clemson in the final minutes of a 83-65 upset victory with Bubba Parham rushing to join the celebration Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Georgia Tech center Rodney Howard (from left) looks on as Saba Gigiberia gets a chest bump from Jose Alvarado after hitting a three pointer against Clemson in the final minutes of a 83-65 upset victory with Bubba Parham rushing to join the celebration Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Is it maybe time for Georgia Tech to beat Duke?

The Blue Devils have won their past 13 games against the Yellow Jackets and their past 10 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Most staggeringly, since the start of the 1996-97 season, Duke is 37-3 against Tech.

On paper, Tuesday night’s game in Durham, N.C., may be Tech’s most opportune moment in years to steal a win in this lopsided series. The Blue Devils have lost three in a row and are 5-5. Their roster of four- and five-stars has not meshed.

“No one is real good all the time, if you’re here for a long period of time,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday on the ACC coaches videoconference. “Probably Dean Smith was the closest to doing that.”

With a record of success under Krzyzewski that is virtually unparalleled — five national championships, 12 Final Fours and 15 ACC tournament titles — Duke has come pretty close. But, the door may be slightly ajar for Tech to end its drought.

“They’re really a good team,” Krzyzewski said of the Tech. “Josh (Pastner) has done, really, a great job with them. He’s building his program. This is now more of a program team, a team that has developed over a few years.”

Krzyzewski singled out guard Jose Alvarado, saying that Alvarado and Louisville guard Carlik Jones are at a different level from other players in the league. Alvarado’s 20-point, eight-assist, six-steal game in the Jackets’ 64-62 loss at No. 8 Virginia on Saturday undoubtedly bolstered the impression.

“They’re men,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re old. They’re such good competitors. At the end of a (shot) clock, you can go to them and they’ll make something happen.”

Another advantage in Tech’s favor is that the Blue Devils won’t have their rowdy home crowd backing them, as the game will be played in a virtually empty Cameron.

“This would be the type of thing where losing three in a row and coming home, our fans would go nuts in support of these kids,” Krzyzewski said.

The hold that Duke that has had on Tech since the 1996-97 season doesn’t compare with any other conference member’s performance against the Jackets. In that time, Tech is 14-28 against North Carolina and 17-25 against N.C. State.

And, certainly, Duke has routinely taken the lunch money of most teams in the conference. Since 1996-97, the Blue Devils have won 33 of 39 against Clemson and 40 of 48 against Wake Forest.

It speaks to Duke’s perch at the top of college basketball and the Jackets’ long-term residence among the ACC’s dregs. With its 11-9 league record last season, Tech finished with a winning conference record for the first time since the 2003-04 season, when the Jackets reached the national title game. It was, not coincidentally, the last time Tech won in Cameron.

But, with a senior-dominated roster, Tech may have its best chance to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010, the sort of experienced group that Pastner envisioned to be necessary to tangle with the likes of Duke and North Carolina, the latter of whom the Jackets beat in December. Tech nearly ended its other extended losing streak against an ACC rival Saturday, coming up one play short against Virginia for its seventh loss in a row to the Cavaliers.

“They’re really good,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after the game. “They’re playing with great confidence. They play fast and they’re quick.”

As satisfying as a win over Duke would be, the Jackets are closing in on the point where it is also of great importance for their tournament chances. At 7-4, Tech isn’t close to bubble-team status and needs some significant wins to counterbalance its early-season losses to Georgia State and Mercer.

Credit: ACC

Jackets' five-game winning streak came to an end with 64-62 to the No. 13 Cavaliers at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va.

Credit: ACC

By the accounting of the NCAA’s NET rankings, the Jackets’ best win thus far is over North Carolina, ranked No. 51 after Sunday’s games, although the Tar Heels were No. 35 in KenPom going into Monday’s games. Duke was No. 90 in NET but No. 33 in KenPom. (It’s one reason why the loss to Virginia (No. 8 in NET and No. 9 in KenPom) was, while encouraging, a significant lost opportunity.)

Tech was No. 56 in NET and No. 59 in KenPom prior to Monday’s games.

For his part, Pastner offered no public signals that the time may have arrived for the Blue Devils to be plucked. Monday, he paid homage to Duke’s litany of McDonald’s All-Americans, touted forward Jalen Johnson as a lottery pick and once again hailed Krzyzewski as “probably the greatest coach to ever coach in the history of any sport.” He suggested that not putting too much stock in Duke’s .500 record.

“They’re good enough and talented enough to win the ACC,” he said. “I just think it’s a different year.”

From the perspective of his team’s historic deficiencies against Duke, Pastner had best hope so.

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