The Tigers are coming off a huge road win at Pittsburgh and desperately need to combine it with a home win against GT before heading on the road to face Florida State. KenPom gives the Tigers an 80% in this one, but the Jackets already beat the Tigers in Atlanta this season. To help us preview this big game, Robert Pensa joined us.
Well, few teams are hotter than the Yellow Jackets right now and Josh Pastner is looking like a strong ACC coach of the year candidate in year one. What is more surprising is that he’s done it with a roster replacing 5 seniors who were major contributors the year before, most notably Marcus Georges-Hunt. What has been the biggest factor in this turnaround?
Honestly it has been coaching. The emergence of Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie have been huge, but I don't think any Tech fan would say this team is even close to last year's team in talent level. During Brian Gregory's tenure, Jacket fans saw nothing close to the level of ball movement and cutting that we are seeing on offense and I can personally tell you it's been a joy to watch.
Defensively, the whole team has completely bought in and the 1-3-1 zone defense has been giving teams fits on the perimeter thanks to the Jackets length. It bears mentioning that all the credit for coaching doesn't lie solely with Coach Pastner because he put together a really impressive assistant staff. For example, assistant Eric Reveno is widely known as one of the best big man coaches in the country and deserves a ton of credit for the maturation of Ben Lammers.
Like many of Clemson’s opponents in January, GT shot it very, very well in the first meeting. Was that more of an outlier game or do Jacket fans expect more firepower from the outside now than earlier in the season?
The Jackets offense is very unique in that we have the largest point distribution gap between 3-point FGs and 2-point FGs in the conference. The Jackets get just 19.7% of their points from behind the arc (last in the ACC), while they get 58.7% of their points on 2-point FGs (first in the ACC). The Jackets have some capable three point shooters, but the offensive philosophy is to push the tempo and attack the basket.
In the first matchup, Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie were able to get easy field goals around the rim and ended up combining to go for 36 points on 13-27 shooting. Protect the rim and the Jackets offense becomes much more limited.
The ACC is brutal this season from top to bottom, but the GT schedule looks favorable down the stretch with only one currently ranked opponent on the docket. What are the expectations for the team at this stage of the season?
Quite honestly, one of the things that makes the Jackets 5-4 start most shocking to Tech fans is the schedule we've been able to do it against. Like you said, the schedule down the stretch looks much more manageable, leaving many Tech fans salivating at what this team might be able to accomplish. That said, I think we're all trying to temper expectations, maybe because it's almost unfathomable to comprehend what this team has been able to do so far.
Ben Lammers absolutely dominated the Tigers inside in the first game. What type of thing has given him problems this season, if anything?
The progression Lammers has made in his offensive skill game this year has been incredible. He is showing a ton of finesse around the basket. At this point in his career, his biggest weakness is his strength, as he still needs to bulk up a bit. Against Virginia, 6'11", 247 pound Jack Salt was consistently able to prevent Lammers from getting position in the post and he was never able to get into a groove, finishing with just seven points.
Clemson is absolutely desperate for a win on Wednesday and GT hasn’t been as effective on the road as at home, which is the case for most teams. How do you think the Jackets will fare this time around?
The Jackets certainly have been noticeably better at home this year, but they still have road wins at NC State and more notably VCU. In recent history, the Jackets have struggled playing at Clemson, but new team, new coach, so who knows there. I really do not know what is going to happen Wednesday night, but if the Jackets are able to pick up one win out of their next two games (@Clemson, @Wake), I think Tech fans will be happy.