Where: McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta
We got together with Robert Pensa of From the Rumble Seat, the GT sister site to STS, to talk a little basketball and football ahead of tonight’s game 2 between the Yellow Jackets and Tigers.
1. Clemson was coming out of a brutal stretch before the first meeting with GT, now the Jackets are coming off a similar stretch facing Louisville, UNC, Duke, and FSU and losing 5 of the last 6 games. What seems to be giving GT the most trouble beyond the level of competition?
RP: The Jackets are really struggling offensively right now. They haven’t cracked 60 points in any of the four most recent losses, shooting just 35% over those games. An injury has hobbled Jose Alvarado recently and foul trouble limited James Banks to just 20 minutes against FSU and 20 minutes against Duke. Banks has just 16 points over the last three games and Alvarado has just 12. With Tech already being a team that struggles mightily offensively, winning becomes nearly impossible with contributions like that from their top two scorers.
2. Clemson’s up and down stretches have largely been tied to the up and down play from Shelton Mitchell. Is there a particular player for GT who truly determines what performance the Jackets will produce on a given night?
RP: Building off of my last answer a bit, I would say that person is Jose Alvarado. Not only is he the team’s leading scorer, but the offense just looks completely different when he isn’t on the court. Going even beyond that, he brings a certain energy to the game that brings up the level of play of everyone else on the court.
3. Have the recent struggles put any additional pressure on Josh Pastner from the GT fan base or is he still enjoying a bit of honeymoon phase with folks understanding a rebuild was needed?
RP: I’d say the fanbase is a bit split. Since 1996, the Jackets have had just one season where they finished above .500 in ACC play, a pretty staggeringly bad statistic. Because of that 20+ year struggle, Tech fans are extremely tired of losing and want a coach who will come in and deliver results immediately. Lots of fans are bringing up guys like Jeff Capel and Buzz Williams as evidence of what a good coach can do even in a major rebuild and they want the same thing at Tech. All that said, there are lots of fans who are still willing to give Pastner a chance given the major rebuild situation he entered. What everyone can agree upon is that next year is a critical year for Josh. I am not sure he can survive another poor season.
4. Lastly, just because a lot of our readers are huge football fans, what are your thoughts on the new GT coaching staff on the football front? Is the move away from the triple option system something fans are excited about?
RP: First, I’ll talk about Paul Johnson. Like Pastner, he was a very divisive topic among Tech fans, probably to an even greater extreme. Some people despised the triple option and some people, like myself, loved it. What there seemed to be a little more consensus on however is that the option had probably run its course and a move away from it was not the worst idea. Because of that, Tech really needed to bring in a coach that could revitalize the fan base and re-brand the entire program and boy did they do just that. High energy doesn’t even begin to describe new head coach Geoff Collins. He lives on social media, is already showing up to local high schools in helicopters, and I think that he sleeps at Waffle House. We are now a couple months after the hire and I have yet to come across a Tech fan that is not fired up about the hire. Season ticket sales are way up and the hype is real. Now he has to deliver on the field.
Thanks to Robert for his answers. I was particular interested in the fact GT has only had one season with winning ACC record since 1996 (2004-04 when they played UConn for the National Championship). That is really unbelievable for a program which has a couple of Final Fours and some ACC titles on its resume. To read out answers to Robert’s questions, click here.