As the leader of a team that thus far has labored to break 70 points against ACC competition, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner faces problems that go well beyond a shortage of productivity out of his post players.
But it’s nevertheless an area that the Yellow Jackets need to find answers for as their season --wobbling with three losses in their past four games -- advances.
Tech, which plays at Notre Dame Tuesday night in a matchup of teams at or near the bottom of the ACC standings, has received inconsistent scoring help from post players Rodney Howard and Ja’von Franklin.
On the ACC coaches teleconference Monday, Pastner said that the Jackets need more from the whole team, but that “we need our frontcourt guys to continue to produce.”
Howard, a returning starter, has had moments this season, though mostly against lesser competition. Before Tuesday’s game, he was averaging 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in 18.2 minutes of play. In the Jackets’ 75-64 loss at Florida State on Saturday, Howard scored no points (taking two shots) with four rebounds and two assists in 30 minutes of action. Franklin is averaging 7.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in 21.7 minutes per game.
“Rodney’s improved in a lot of areas – his ability to shoot the jumper – but we need him more on the glass,” Pastner said. “We need to throw it to him more at times, as well, too.”
Indeed, Tech would do well to get Howard more attempts. While he typically needs help to get his shots, either off screen-and-rolls or guard penetration, Howard’s 63.0 field-goal percentage is easily the highest on the team. However, his 54 field-goal attempts are eighth on the roster.
“I thought Rodney was really good against Miami just directing traffic, doing a lot of really good things,” Pastner said. “I thought he was really good defensively in a lot of areas. I thought Florida State, just how they played, their style is just unique and we weren’t able to really do some things within our offense because of how they play and what they do.”
Pastner’s best teams have had post players who could challenge shots at the rim at the bottom of the Jackets’ 1-3-1 zone defense, aggressively rebound and also be a threat on the offensive end. Moses Wright (2021 ACC player of the year) and Ben Lammers (2017 ACC defensive player of the year) were the best examples, and James Banks (two-time All-ACC defensive team) more than held his own.
With the three post players that he’s used this season – freshman Cyril Martynov is a developmental player – Pastner has aspects of those past Jackets but just not in one body. Franklin is the team’s best shot blocker and offensive rebounder, but at 6-foot-7 doesn’t have the height to defend the post that Howard (6-11) does. Howard has improved as a scorer, developing a jump shot from the free-throw line, but has been inconsistent with his scoring and rebounding. Jordan Meka is probably the team’s best post defender, but his offensive game needs expanding and he has challenges av avoiding fouling.
Howard and Franklin can handle playing the high-post position in Tech’s Princeton offense but aren’t quite flourishing in it.
It wasn’t as though Pastner didn’t see this coming. In the offseason, he and his staff actively pursued two post players in the transfer portal who were interested enough in Tech to take official visits. However, Hayden Brown (from The Citadel) picked South Carolina and Ryan Young (Northwestern) went with Duke. Coming off the bench for the Blue Devils, Young is averaging 8.3 points and 6.9 rebounds while shooting 73.9% from the field in 21.9 minutes per game.
At South Carolina, Brown is averaging 11.2 points and 5.1 rebounds (while shooting 42.0% from the field) in 30.8 minutes per game.
Against Notre Dame, Tech may find an opponent vulnerable to interior scoring from Howard or Franklin. The Fighting Irish are allowing opponents to shoot 52.9% on two-point field goal attempts, 288th in Division I (KenPom) as of Monday. The rate in ACC play was 58.1%, last in the conference. (At 54.4%, the Jackets aren’t doing much better in that category.)
The Jackets will likely need some sort of uptick for their fortunes to turn. Notre Dame (8-8, 0-5) started the season 5-0, but has lost its first five league games for only the second time since joining the ACC prior to the 2013-14 season. The Irish, however, are 8-0 against the Jackets at Purcell Pavilion as ACC colleagues, including a 34-point win there last season. It tied for the second most decisive loss of Pastner’s Tech tenure.
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