If you’ve looked away from replays of Clemson’s 44-16 win over Alabama for a moment, you know Clemson is hosting Georgia Tech in the most important basketball game of the season. Here’s the set-up:
Time: 9:00pm EST
Location: Littlejohn Coliseum
TV: Raycom / Watch ESPN App
Clemson enters the contest with an 0-3 ACC record. That’s a bit misleading because those losses have come at Duke, at Syracuse, at vs. Virginia, but nonetheless the Tigers are behind the eight-ball. Getting Georgia Tech at home is theoretically one of the easier games on the schedule and after the slow start, it has become an absolute must win. Unfortunately, they just earned a road win at Syracuse so it could be dicey.
To help us preview this contest, we connected with Rob Pensa of From the Rumble Seat. We hope your enjoy this special Q&A basketball preview.
STS: Georgia Tech, coming off 13-19 season, started 8-5 with some bad losses in non-conference play. Now that ACC play has started, they’re 2-1. Is their strong start a product of Wake Forest being bad and a fluke win at Syracuse or has something clicked that makes them dangerous as they head to Clemson?
Rob: I think it’s probably a combination of both. The Jackets have been incredibly inconsistent this season, but definitely have their moments where they can be a strong team. The 8-5 non-conference start included both a road win at Arkansas and a home loss to Gardner Webb, exhibiting this lack of consistency. Tech ranks inside the top 10 in the nation defensively, which can keep them in the game against pretty much any opponent if they come focused and ready to play.
STS: We’d become accustomed to seeing Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers as the key players for GT these past few years. With their departures, sophomore PG Jose Alvarado has become the team’s centerpiece and leads the team in scoring and assists. Who else has emerged as a key contributor to fill the void?
Rob: Texas transfer James Banks has probably been the most important player for the Jackets outside of Alvarado. Banks is the team’s second leading scorer and the team’s leading rebounder. He also adds 2.5 blocks per game, clogging up the paint just as Lammers did for the last few seasons. Freshman Michael Devoe, a highly touted recruit has come on for the Jackets recently and seems to be improving each and every game, especially on the defensive end of the floor. Brandon Alston is having a sneaky good senior year for the Jackets, averaging nearly 10 points per game on 48% shooting from the field.
STS: The Yellow Jacket offense ranks outside the top 200, which isn’t shocking given the losses we just discussed. Clemson’s defense has been very good with the exception of defending the three-point shot. How do you see GT attacking the Tiger defense?
Rob: The Tech offense is actually not terrible when they play smart and take care of the ball. In three games to start ACC play, the Jackets have shot 56%, 45%, and 60% respectively. Unfortunately, in those three games combined they have also had 51 turnovers, keeping all three games closer than they should have been. The Clemson defense is pretty good at forcing turnovers so hopefully the Tech coaches have made turnovers an emphasis in practice or else it could be the same story again. When the Jackets aren’t turning the ball over, they can really beat you from anywhere on the court. Tech shares the ball extremely well, ranking inside the top 25 in assists to field goal ratio.
STS: Georgia Tech ranks 11th in defensive efficiency. That’s a 50 spot jump from last season (though we’re only three games into conference play)! What makes this defense so tough and what’s the best way to attack it?
Rob: The Jackets employ a mixture of man-to-man and zone defenses that keep offenses consistently on their toes and forcing them to adjust. Additionally, Tech has a lot of length on the perimeter, as well as the always scrappy Jose Alvarado. Defense is a point of emphasis for Josh Pastner and he’ll immediately pull any players that aren’t playing with full intensity on the defensive end. Honestly, a lot of the defensive success can be attributed to just plain hustle and hard work.
STS: After Josh Pastner’s surprise 21-win first season, the Yellow Jackets have gone just 23-25 in his season and half since then. Is there still student and alumni interest? Is it waning? This was expected to be a rebuilding year with all the departures. If it plays out as such, will many be clamoring for a new coach?
Rob: I think there’s a mixed bag when it comes to how people feel about Pastner. The luster from his Coach of the Year title two seasons ago has definitely worn off for most, but there are still plenty who understand how difficult a rebuild this was and think he deserves more time. For many, the biggest issues are not related to on-court performance, but actually on the recruiting trail, where Pastner has yet to establish a fence around Georgia and pull in a big time local recruit. Next season will most likely be the make or break year for Pastner, both on and off the court. He will finally need to deliver a big recruiting class and fans will be looking for victories with a team full of upperclassmen.
STS: Clemson is 0-6 against teams ranked in KenPom’s top 42 and 10-0 against teams ranked below that mark. Georgia Tech ranks 63rd, but is coming off an impressive win at Syracuse (where Clemson has already lost). How do you handicap Wednesday’s 9pm contest in Littlejohn Coliseum?
Rob: Tough to say given the inconsistent play Georgia Tech has exhibited all season. To be completely honest, I was not expecting a road win at Syracuse and Tech kept the game much closer than expected against top 10 Virginia Tech. Clemson is desperate for a win and with the home advantage, I think they squeak out a close victory, though a Tech win would also not be surprising.
A big thank you to Rob for collaborating with us on this article. Please head over to From the Rumble Seat to read what our writer, Calvin Craft, had to saw about this big game.