Following a short hiatus, guard Brandon Alston is available again for the Jackets (photo courtesy of Glenn Beil, USA TODAY Sports)

Georgia Tech is flirting with dipping under .500 for the first time this season on Wednesday night

This league is such a gauntlet. Only in the Atlantic Coast Conference is it a relief to play the 45th ranked team in KenPom. A team that still ranks just about middle of the pack in the ACC in every defensive category. A team that just blitzed you a mere three weeks ago.

Clemson comes to town on Wednesday sporting a modest two game winning streak (Pittsburgh and Wake). Both games were played at Littlejohn where the Tigers generally take care of business. The Tigers are a less impressive 1-4 in true road games this season though and have yet to put one in the left hand column on the road since before Christmas.

Marcquise Reed continues to put up numbers for the Tigers, averaging a career best 19.1 points per game, but he is not receiving a ton of support. Through eight league games this year, only Elijah Thomas is averaging double figures (13.5) alongside Reed, who leads the Tigers at 17.8 points per game in ACC play.

Shelton Mitchell's senior season has continued to go unexpectedly. The typically solid southpaw is averaging a pedestrian 7.3 points and 3.3 assists in over 30 minutes per game. His historic reliability from behind the arc has also fallen off. Mitchell shot 45.3% two seasons ago and 36.8% last year. This season, he has fallen all the way to 28.4% and even further in conference play to 25.9%. In fact, on the season, Clemson ranks 271st in three point field goal percentage. They are, however, one of the best rebounding teams in the country, so defensive rebounding could be a pivotal part of this contest.

Whether it be the competition or simply the performance, Haslam has Clemson's two most recent games as two of their three best performances on the season.

KenPom predicts the game at 63-62 in favor of Clemson, while Haslam has it at 62-58 in favor of the kitties as well.

It's difficult to get too confident as a Georgia Tech fan right now. The Yellow Jackets have not scored more than 61 points in any of their last six games and suffered defeat in five of those six. The solutions aren't exactly rocket science as we just played a heck of a schedule the last few weeks. That said, James Banks and Curtis Haywood II simply need to play better. In his last three games Banks is averaging 5.3 points and 4.o rebounds along with 4 fouls in 25 minutes. He has also blocked only two shots.

Haywood is just too deep in his own head right now. In his last five games he is shooting 4% from behind the arc. He is obviously a much better shooter than that and a lot of the looks have been clean. He just needs to shoot his way out of it. Something else that could be happening is that he could be hitting the wall. Don't forget that he only appeared in 15 games last season before undergoing surgery on his leg. Recovery from that surgery affected his conditioning from what we heard out of preseason practice. We are now 21 games into the season and he may be hitting that freshman wall a year late.

I honestly don't have any idea what to expect, folks. At a minimum I'm looking for continued development from our young guys and continued health from our leaders. Hopefully we get to pick up the win.

AD Gueye has notched 10+ points in 5 consecutive ACC games played (photo courtesy of FloridaToday.com

Georgia Tech wraps up a tough 8 game run against Florida State Saturday at Noon

The ACC is a treacherous beast at times. For instance, a young Notre Dame squad just had a Saturday-Monday turn around. While both games were at home, they were against arguably the two best teams in the nation, Duke and Virginia. The Irish lost both games by more than 20 points.

The Yellow Jackets aren't in the middle of a quick turn around such as that, but they are set to wrap up a tough 8 game stretch on Saturday with a trip to Tallahassee. Since January 9th, the Jackets have played four games against top 15 Kenpom teams, while 3 of the other 4 are top 45 teams. Notre Dame was the outlier at #94.

Saturday's opponent, Florida State, has the reputation as an underachiever halfway through the ACC slate while ranking #26 by Pomeroy's metrics. The Seminoles have seemingly righted the ship lately with wins at home against Clemson and on the road in Coral Gables after a three game losing streak. They sit at 15-5 (3-4) and just ahead of the Jackets in the ACC standings.

Florida State is led by longtime ACC head coach Leonard Hamilton who is in his 17th season as the Seminoles' head man. He also led Miami for 10 seasons in the 90's when the 'Canes were part of the Big East. His record at FSU is 342-213 (138-137), but in the past four seasons is 84-40 (32-27) with three postseason births, including an elite eight run last season with almost the exact same roster as this year. Since 2008-09 he has only finished outside the top 6 in the league four times. While he may be the epitome of mediocrity in the ACC, there is something to be said for being consistently competitive in the toughest basketball league in the country.

Unlike most teams in the league, FSU is a "sum of its parts" team instead of being led by one particular star. If I were to choose a player most important to their success, it would be their sixth man Fi Kabengele. The nephew of NBA Hall of Fame Center Dikembe Mutombo has been the lighthouse for FSU during league play, averaging 15.3 points and and 6.4 rebounds off the bench in just 21.3 minutes per game. While Phil Cofer has dealt with a lingering foot injury, Kabengele has seemingly taken over as the leader of this team on the court.

Terance Mann (17 ppg in 3 games against GT) and Trent Forrest make up Hamilton's starting back court and while both are talented, neither is a true point guard. On the season FSU is 244th in the nation in turnover percentage at 19.8%. They have tightened it up in league play a bit, bringing that number down to 17.6%, but that is still just middle of the pack in the ACC. Their turnover problems were somewhat acceptable during the out of conference because they were turning their opponents over at nearly 23%, but in league play that number has also fallen to mirror their own number at 17.6%.

Florida State's biggest assets are their length and athleticism combined with their depth. As mentioned before, their leading scorer comes off the bench. That is mostly due to Kabengele's inability to stay out of foul trouble (5.9 fouls per 40) as well as having a 7'4" behemoth at starting center, JM Christ Koumadje. JMCK, now a senior, only plays 16 minutes per game but has an incredible impact in the paint while on the court. His per 40 stats are 15-12-4 blocks.

Depth on the wing is not a concern for Hamilton, who has a plethora of capable players, some excelling offensively and others locking down on defense. Former McDonald's All American MJ Walker is still trying to figure it out in his sophomore season that was impacted early on by a leg injury, but the 6'5" scorer is coming off of his best game of the season, scoring 22 points (6-7 from deep) against Miami on the road. PJ Savoy is also still in Tallahassee and still hunting his shot like Adam Greentree hunts Elk.

Defensively, David Nichols, a transfer from Albany, is relentless on the ball and gives maximum effort. 6'5" Devin Vassell also gives quality defensive minutes off the bench as one of the best freshman defenders in a league this year.

Cofer, who led the team in scoring last season, missed most of the out of conference slate with a foot injury. Since his return in late December he has not been as effective, averaging just 8.4 points and 3 rebounds and notching double figures only twice in 8 games. He sat a couple of recent games due to the injury before returning for the Miami game where he scored 4 points in 19 minutes.

Perhaps the most concerning statistic for this game is Florida State's ability to rebound the ball on the offensive glass. The Seminoles are 20th in the nation at 35.6% in offensive rebounding, while Georgia Tech ranks 283rd in the nation and 13th in the ACC in giving up second chances. The interesting thing here is that Georgia Tech just held the fourth best team in the league in offensive rebounding (UNC) to just 5 OR's for the game on Tuesday. Yet another feast or famine statistic when it comes to the Yellow Jackets.

During the Josh Pastner era the Jackets have split the series with FSU 1-1, with each home team collecting a win. Dating back to the 2010-11 season however, Georgia Tech is 2-6 against the 'Noles with a 1-3 record in Tallahassee. That singular win came in February 2016. The Seminoles are also an impressive 51-7 in home games dating back to the 2015-16 season.

All in all, it doesn't look great for the good guys in this one, but after the first 25 minutes of the Duke game, who knows? FSU has not looked great since Cam Reddish hit that triple in Tallahassee, and their wins over Miami and Clemson don't look as good as the losses to Pitt and Boston College look bad. Kenpom has the game at 71-61 FSU, while Haslam has it at 71-58 FSU. I think it is too many points in both instances. I like the Jackets to cover, but Tallahassee is a tough place to play. I think this will be a squeaker.

Josh Okogie led the Jackets with 26 points in an upset of UNC in 2016

Georgia Tech returns home looking to get even in conference play.

Let's just get it out of the way. The last time the wine and cheese crowd came to Atlanta we ruined their New Years Eve. The Tar Heels were ranked #9 in the country. As of today, North Carolina is ranked #9 in the country. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

Carolina comes into this game on a bit of a hot streak. After suffering their worst loss at the Dean Dome since 2002 at the hands of Louisville, they have won three in row. One of those games was a whoopin' they laid on fellow ACC power Virginia Tech. The Heels are currently 5-1 in league and a half game back of first place. They are #1 in the league in tempo, 2nd in 3pt%, 3rd in offensive rebounding percentage and top 4 in offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage. Those numbers are of course according to Kenpom.

However, it is not the offense that is giving Roy Williams heartburn. While Carolina's defensive numbers are pretty respectable according to the metrics in league play, they aren't world beaters on that end consistently enough. They give up decent looks from deep and are susceptible to the blow-by on close-outs.

The boys in powder blue are still led by Hall of Famer Roy Williams, who is now in his 17th season in Chapel Hill. It doesn't seem that long, but maybe that is just me. He is 438-130 in his time with the wine and cheese crew and has won three NCAA titles. In those 17 seasons he failed to finish outside the top 3 in the ACC only three times and has been omitted from the NCAA tournament only once.

I picked this UNC team to win the ACC regular season title this year in the preseason. As far as rosters go, they have it all. Length, shooting, athletes, depth, size, coaching and experience.

The Tar Heels currently boast four players averaging double figures in the scoring category. Cam Johnson has taken the reigns as the programs best player and been a terror from behind the arc this season. Through his first 10 games this season he has shot a ridiculous 49% from deep. He has hit a slump recently though and regressed to 46% on the season. His production has dropped a little bit during conference play so far, but that could be attributed to fellow wing Kenny Williams finally getting it together on the offensive end.

Luke Maye came into this season with a lot of luster after averaging 16.9 and 10.1 in 2017-18 season. He is one of only two players in the ACC since 2000-01 to average 16 and 10 while shooting better than 40% from three. Many, myself included, selected him to be an All-American as well as the ACC Player of the Year. For me it was a foregone conclusion. His numbers are a bit down this year, but UNC has tremendous depth this season and that has alleviated some the load Maye has to carry. Both his minutes and usage rate are down this year compared to last season when it was basically the Berry and Maye show.

Along with the two seniors come a duo of talented freshman. Coby White, an incredible scoring guard, runs the show for the Heels and is as quick as a hiccup. Even on made baskets he will get the ball and be at the logo by the time you get turned around. It will be imperative that Georgia Tech gets back down the court and into their 1-3-1 without White running up their back. White has taken a bit of criticism this season due to not being the typical Carolina point guard. He is not Ed Cota, Ty Lawson or Joel Berry. He is going to score first and second and maybe third, but he is not incapable of making highlight passes either. White has scored 15 or more point in every game during league play with the exception of the Louisville game. He also scored 33 points in 30 minutes earlier this season against Texas.

The other freshman should be familiar to Tech fans. That is former top 5 recruit Nassir Little who is the Tar Heel's sixth man this season. It has been an interesting season for Nassir. Defensive inconsistency has led to him being a weapon off the bench instead of a fixture in the starting lineup, causing some fans questioning Coach Williams. A media member recently brought this to Roy during a press conference and the question obviously agitated Williams. In-game commentators later brought to light that it had been a tumultuous time for Little which was simply not true. It was a media fabrication.

While his defense is still not quite where it needs to be with a rating of 101 (prone to the blow-by on close-outs), his offense is starting to show up in limited minutes. In his last three games he has averaged 15.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in only 17 minutes per game. A week ago in the whoopin' of VPI, he scored a career high 23 points in just 20 minutes. He is a unique athlete that will cause match-up issues for Georgia Tech in the half court, though the Jackets just played pretty well against maybe the biggest match-up nightmare in the last 20 years so we will see.

Just because Carolina's defensive metrics as a team aren't great, they have some individual guys that play defense. Senior Kenny Williams is the Tar Heels' best perimeter defender and will no doubt find himself on Jose. While his defensive rating is not fantastic, it is also not reflective of his impact on that end on the floor. He is a good defender with good size. Jose is going to have to get crafty.

Other players of note are Garrison Brooks who is a really good rebounder and is fantastic at hedging ball screens at the top of the key, pushing guards towards half court. Brooks paired with Maye could cause major problems for the Jackets on the offensive glass. Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson (another former GT recruit) also provide quality depth this year for the Heels as both are finally living up to the prep evaluations.

Perhaps the most overlooked player is 2018 5* recruit Rechon "Leaky" Black. While he only plays about 11 minutes a game, they are typically a very good 11 minutes. The kid simply plays winning basketball. He is a 6'7" guard who can handle the ball and wreak havoc on the defensive end playing the passing lanes. Look for him to make an impact at some point during this game.

Tech will not have to deal with reserve big man Sterling Manley who has not played since December 29th due to knee soreness.

Overall, this is a scary match-up for the Jackets. Tech has been susceptible to surrendering offensive rebounds out of the zone, and this Carolina team is built to excel in that single aspect of the game. Carolina's size on the wing is another issue. Cam Johnson is actually the Tar Heel's tallest starter and he is typically going to play 22 feet from the hoop hunting clean looks.

The good guys surprised me in the most hostile environment in the league on Saturday and have always played better at home under Pastner. Similar to the Duke game, keep it close, keep it respectable. Anything can happen in the last two minutes of a five point game.

Center James Banks finishes the flush over Zion Williamson

One of the things Nick asked of me when covering the Georgia Tech v. Duke game on Saturday was a post game write-up. I wanted to do something interesting instead of the normal, hacky write-up, so I spent most of day yesterday thinking up a way to write something different and I came up with this.

This was my first experience in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

I moved to the triangle a few years ago with the thought that I would be attending games left and right. PNC is right up I-40, and Chapel Hill and Durham are about 50 miles from the house. What I didn't realize then and what I now know too well is, these people are really serious about their basketball and their ticket prices reflect that. I remember thinking I was "definitely going to Duke/UNC" a couple of years ago until I saw that tickets on Seat Geek were $4000. So when Nick approached me with the opportunity to represent the community at Cameron Indoor Stadium I immediately jumped at the chance. He made it a point to tell me multiple times to "not embarrass us." Because as you all know, I tend to get a little excited sometimes.

Here's the chronology...

Saturday morning starts out around 5am. I am an early riser anyway. The fact that I know I am going to be lost in this first time experience has me a bit "shook", so I am wide awake this morning. There is little to do at 5am, so I head upstairs and play a bit of Call of Duty to pass the time.

Around 8am, I start to get ready and finally head out a little before 9. I get about three miles down the road and it hits me.

I forgot the parking pass.

Get back to the house, print the pass and head out again. Five red lights and 20 minutes later I am about to jump from Business 70 to I-40 and my low tire pressure sensor comes on. I don't have time for this. I turn around and burn another 20 minutes getting back to the house. I jump in the company truck and, for the third time, set out for Durham.

I arrive on the Duke campus around 10:30 am. Naturally the first thing I do is go to the wrong place to pick up my press pass. The lady was nice enough and got me straightened out and had it five minutes later. It is 75 minutes before tip and the court yard is full of college students already, which is to be expected, but it is still different. Chapel Hill isn't like that.

I get through security and am trying to play it cool, but I have absolutely zero idea where I am supposed to be. There is no seat, row, or information of any kind on the pass and it was the only thing in the envelope. I ask an usher where the media room is located and he points me to the opposite corner. I make my way through some cozy corridors and end up on media row. The Crazies are already there, in full force and they are standing IN media row. Not behind it, not close to it, the seats are pushed in and the Crazies are against the backs of the chairs.

Unable to find the seat with GTSwarm on it, I ask another usher if he has any idea where I am supposed to be. He points to the media room. I go into the media room and immediately look like a Nebraska farm boy at a Boyz II Men reunion show. I don't know what to do with my hands. I'm sweating, I'm lost, these other guys are at their one millionth game, it's just work for them.

I finally see a picture on the wall with a list showing where all the members of the media are sitting. I am not on it. At closer look I am on it, in "Auxiliary Press Seating" in section 4. That is over by where I started. I make my way back to section 4 and the young lady lets me in. I go into section 4, and just go the balcony and find seat 5. I am sitting right over where the GT locker room entrance is so I thought that was pretty awesome. I got to watch Coach Reveno work out the big guys which was impressive. I was also able to watch Rev throw one down after Evan Cole put one down then looked like he was kind of feeling himself, which I found pretty comical.

Coach Rev and the big guys go to the locker room and I then watched Coach Schwartz work out the perimeter guys. They worked almost exclusively on close-outs and getting a hand up. The drill was 90% defense orientated.

As the crowd begins to fill in an older couple comes down and sits in the two seats next to me, they are obviously not media members. I begin to once again get a little nervous and sure enough a lady and her husband come down and greet the couple next to me and move to get into their seats, and to their surprise, the lady finds me in her seat. Once again, I am in the wrong place. I go and find another usher and ask her where the Auxiliary Press is supposed to be sitting and she doesn't have any idea. It is at that exact moment I look up and see the white box at the top of the stairs that I had seen Jay Williams broadcasting out of in Duke's previous game that had some younger guys with laptops in it. That was a real "Duh" moment for me.

Me: "Is that where I am supposed to be?"

Her: "Probably."

I make my way upstairs and find Seat 5 in the box with a sign in front of it "GT Swarm". Finally. There is a young man next to me from the Henderson Daily Dispatch who looks at me nervously. "How's is going?" he asks, I tell him it's going well now that I am in the correct location, to which he replies: "Yeah this is my first time in Cameron."

I immediately feel like I am with my people.

By this time, Cameron is hopping. All the students are there and they are hostile. The next 30 minutes is rather uneventful until the tip.

The Jackets come out and looked pretty overwhelmed early. Curt missed a couple of triples and then passed on another wide open look. He was obviously inside his own head. Banks was tagged for his first foul 59 seconds into the game and hit with another around the 17 minute mark. AD was the probably the only guy on the court that looked comfortable. As Duke continued to miss threes and Tech continued to hang around I felt great. My presence obviously being the differentiating factor between today's game and the previous 14 years of losing in this building. Curt hits a triple before the half and the good guys are up by a deuce heading into the locker room. All is correct in the world of Cone.

The second half starts off great, we push the lead to 38-31 and then it happens. Turnovers. Not just turnovers, live ball turnovers. Break-out inducing turnovers. Zion dunk. Zion goal interference that is inexplicably not called and he gets the "And-1" call. It was around this time that I let out my first "Oh give me a break," which was met with a chuckle from the guy next to me.

*Inner Monologue*: Nick said don't embarrass us.




My world is crumbling.

Skip ahead to near the end of the game. Teddy Valentine has realized he is reffing in Cameron instead of calling it fair, so after he taunts Pastner I decide it's time to head to the media room and get settled for the press conference.

I make my way to the concourse and hit a stairwell that dumps out into the court. I go back upstairs, hit another one and run into security who tells me: "Sir you can't be down here." I end up walking around all over CIS, twice looking to get back down to the media room. When I finally arrive it is minutes before Coach Pastner walks in. He gives his spiel, praising Tre Jones's ball hawking ability and Zion's superior athleticism. "We blocked out and he just out jumped our guys." He comments on James Banks' foul trouble and how he and AD needed to play better.

The thing that took me by surprise was when I looked at the final box score and saw that Zion had 22 and 7. I didn't follow the stats in-game, but I didn't think there was any way that was accurate. I thought GT did an exceptional job denying him and preventing him from getting the momentum shifting play until around middle of the second half.

I listened to coach use the word "survivability" about six times in seven minutes and then he was done. Also, Marvin Lewis is a much larger man than I anticipated.

All in all, with the exception of a few embarrassing moments for me personally it was a great day, Thanks to GTSwarm for making it happen. Hope you all get some laughs at my expense.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 22: James Banks III #1 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets drives to the basket against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Hank McCamish Pavilion on January 22, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

The surprising 3-3 Jackets take to the road and try to land a statement win.

Grit. This team has it. With obvious shortcomings in the talent department you cannot say that this team does not have grit, heart or as Isuro "Kamakazi" Tanaka would say: "marbles". The Jackets fought through injury and poor shooting to keep the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at bay last weekend. Now comes the real test. Duke, away.

Georgia Tech has not won at Cameron Indoor Stadium since March of 2004. They also have not beaten a ranked opponent in a true road game during the Josh Pastner era.

Things this year however have been more inspiring, if still ultimately unsuccessful. While Georgia Tech is 2-3 in true road games this season, they won at Arkansas (eh) and handled the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome, their only ACC loss in five games. The Jackets also played now #1 Tennessee pretty well in Rocky Top and were blowing the doors off St. Johns on a neutral court before eventually collapsing in such a horrific fashion that only Stephen King could truly put it into words.

Can Georgia Tech win? Sure. Could I receive my tax return before the end of February this year? Sure. Both are unlikely, but that is why you don't crown the champ in November.

Duke is led by three burger boys who are currently projected to go in the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. The most obvious is phenom Zion Williamson who came into the 2018-19 season with so much luster it seemed almost impossible for him to live up the billing. Incredibly, he has done just that. Named after the mountain that houses the holy land, Williamson has been remarkable in what will be his only season at the collegiate level, averaging 21.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He has an effective field goal percentage of 69% and is the only player in the country that averages more than 20 points, 9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 2 steals per game.

Canadian RJ Barrett, the #1 ranked player in the 2018 class, is starting to hit his stride as well. While he was not bad early in the season, he has recently discovered that nobody can stop him off the dribble when he goes left. He seemed to come to this realization during the second half of the game against Virginia when he only attempted a single triple and continuously went to the hoop. You can't argue with the results as Duke defeated the Hoos and, in my eyes, solidified themselves as the best team in the country.

The third fiddle of the trio is Cam Reddish. A 6'8" high scoring wing, Reddish came into the season projected to be Duke's best three point threat. He has had his moments from deep (game winner against FSU in Tallahassee), he has had some struggles (1-9 vs Hartford, 1-6 against UVA) and is incredibly streaky. Don't sleep on him; when he decides to play he is as good as Barrett. His motor has always been the biggest question mark.

Those three are the only Blue Devils that average double figures, but they combine to score an eye-catching 58.7 points per game. Duke will almost assuredly be without fellow freshman defensive stopper Tre Jones for this tilt. The younger brother of former Dukie Tyus Jones, Tre is currently out with an AC Joint injury. His absence from this Saturday's game can only be described as fantastic news for Jose Alvarado.

Some other players of note in Durham this year are Aussie Jack White and former five star recruit Marques Bolden. White is a big shot guy who can hit the short corner triple and finish at the rim. He is a hustle player who also possesses a good bit of talent. Bolden, a much maligned player during his career, has yet to live up to his prep potential. He was singled out by Virginia in the showdown last week and the Cavs had a lot of success getting the ball to whoever he was guarding.

Staying close is the name of the game here. Grab a carton of your favorite ice cream, a spoon and try to remain calm. You probably shouldn't expect to win, but let's try and not have a repeat of Louisville. FSU is below us in the standings and almost beat this team (Zion sat the second half) . Pitt is below us and kept it halfway respectable. Take enjoyment watching James Banks eat up Marques Bolden, hope for a moment such as Evan Cole cramming one down over Zion and pray for Jose Alvarado to get buckets and step over someone in Cameron a la Joel Berry in Chapel Hill last year.

Why not this team...