[​IMG]
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...

[​IMG]
PG Jose Alvarado (groin) is one of three Tech players sidelined for Saturday's match-up vs. Louisville

Georgia Tech returns home on Saturday afternoon for the first time in ten days for a showdown with one of the most surprising teams in the country, the Louisville Cardinals. The game tips at 4:00 pm and will be broadcast on ACCNE (Fox Sports South or watchESPN).

Coming into the year many, including myself, didn't expect much from Louisville in Chris Mack's inaugural season. Now halfway through the tilt, those misgivings seem to have been misplaced. While former five star recruit V.J. King has not developed into his "potential", Louisville has been fortunate to see some of its other recruits grow up quickly and benefit from experienced grad transfers.

As mentioned, Louisville is led by former Xavier head coach Chris Mack. So far the Cardinals are 12-5, rank 22nd in Kenpom and own wins over Vermont, Michigan State, Seton Hall, Lipscomb and UNC in Chapel Hill in historic fashion.

Mack is well known for his successful time at Xavier where he is the all time winningest coach at 215 notches on the good side of the column. In nine seasons in Cincinnati, he led the Musketeers to eight tournament appearances and advanced to the sweet 16 or better five times, including the 2013-14 Final Four. Like his Xavier teams, Louisville will play up-tempo (top 15), they will get to the line (9th in free throws made) and they have lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 85 ppg in league play.

Like so many of his Xavier teams, Mack's Louisville Cardinals feature a big, high scoring wing this year in sophomore Jordan Nwora. Nwora is averaging 18.1 points (5th in the league), 8.1 rebounds (6th in the league) and is also off a career game against Boston College in which he poured in 32 points. He has a "bull in the china shop" type game. While it isn't always pretty, so far this season it has been very effective.

Other big time contributors are 6'5" swing man Dwayne Sutton and former Southern point guard Christen Cunningham. Sutton is Mr. Steady and may be the most deadly player on the roster outside of Nwora. Over his last 8 games he is averaging 12.8 points, 8 rebounds and 2.9 assists. Certainly not numbers that are going to blow you away, but when a play needs to be made, he's more than likely going to be the one that makes it. Cunningham, a grad transfer, has been one of the few players in the country who's been successful "transferring up". While players like Joe Cremo and Matt Mooney have underwhelmed in power 6 play, Cunningham has become a leader for an ACC squad and has even played better in conference play, averaging 13.3 points, 5.8 assists and 3.3 rebounds through four games.

Kwhan Fore is another grad transfer who recently joined the starting lineup. The former Richmond Spider is an athletic guard who doesn't score a ton but is one of the better defenders in the ACC. He would have likely matched against Jose Alvarado in this game and instead may be assigned to give Mike Devoe fits.

Former UConn big man Steven Enoch has come into his own this year after two disappointing seasons in Storrs. He is averaging 9 points and 5 boards off of the bench.

Malik Williams, a former five star recruit, has also come along lately. Over the course of his career (49 games) he averaged 5 points and 3.4 rebounds, but in ACC play this season he is averaging 10.3 points and 6 rebounds. He is getting better every game.

Then there is Ryan McMahon who will drill triples (37.4%) all day long if you forget about him. Darius Perry and King can also hurt you if they decide to play on any particular day.

Rattling all that off I can't help but think: "Why did I predict these guys to finish 12th in the league this season?"

So, as you may have gathered, they have size, shooting, scoring, defense and coaching. They just beat North Carolina worse than anyone has in Chapel Hill since 2002.

The most interesting thing here is that Kenpom only favors the Cardinals by 2 while Haslametrics also favors them by a deuce. Clearly, the computers are starting to buy into the Georgia Tech defense. The one thing that Louisville doesn't do particularly well is turn people over. They rank 299th in the country in opponents turnover percentage.

Unfortunately I don't think this a great match-up for the Jackets, though sometimes Pastner pulls things out at home. Louisville is going to play man-to-man, which GT struggled against at Clemson, but the Cardinels won't be as tenacious or get away with assault in McCamish. Louisville played a bit of zone against Boston College the other night and quickly went back to man.

I disagree with the metrics on this one. I just don't know if we have the fire power the keep up. Tech is also a bit dinged up at the moment. If we keep it to single digits I would be really impressed.

[​IMG]
MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 01: James Banks III #1 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets celebrates with Michael Devoe #0 against the St. John's Red Storm during the HoopHall Miami Invitational at American Airlines Arena on December 1, 2018 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

At 10-6 (2-1), some might consider Georgia Tech to be the surprise of the ACC. They are a couple of free throws and layups away from being 11-5 (3-0). Coming off of an impressive win at the Carrier Dome, Josh Pastner's feisty bunch head to Clemson on Wednesday. Littlejohn Coliseum has not been friendly to Georgia Tech over the years, the last win coming in 2005.

The Tigers are led by longtime coach Brad Brownell, who has a shiny new contract extension. He is 159-119 overall and 67-76 in league play during his tenure.

Clemson 10-6 (0-3) came into the season with high expectations after a sweet 16 appearance in 2017-18. They eventually fell in the dance to Kansas but were impressive in the loss. Gabe Devoe and D'onte Grantham are long gone, but Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Eli Thomas remain. Reed, an all-ACC guard is a stud both offensively and defensively, playing the passing lanes aggressively leading to easy buckets. Thomas, who suffered a foot injury in the preseason, came into the season a little out of shape but has still been effective. He is averaging a career high in points at 13.2, but his rebounding and block numbers are both down from last year.

Shelton Mitchell has been the most disappointing of the trio. The historically steady guard is posting lower than expected numbers across the board following a very productive junior campaign. In conference play so far he's averaged just 7.0 points and 2.0 assists in over 28 minutes per game. His 29% from deep and 24% overall are by far career lows.

While the Tigers' Kenpom number is still a respectable 47, their best wins are Lipscomb at home and Georgia on a neutral floor. Those are not exactly needle movers, though Lipscomb is a tournament team. The biggest difference from last year to this year can be boiled down to turnovers and shooting. Clemson's turnover rate is nearly 21%, up from 17.5% last year, ranking 269th in the nation. Last season, the Tigers shot 36.6% from deep; this year only 30.6%.

If you look at individual match-ups, you would give Clemson the edge all day. Reed, Thomas and Mitchell are household names to any ACC fan who pays attention, but the on-court performance hasn't quite been there this year. Combine that with the fact that Brad Brownell never knows what he will get out of sophomore forward Aamir Simms and it is difficult to trust the Tigers regardless of venue. In their three conference losses this year they have averaged a dreadful 54.7 ppg.

I'm going with the good guys here. Georgia Tech is long past due to get a win at Littlejohn. Jose Alvarado and Mike Devoe have been very good lately outside of Devoe's shooting woes. Coach Pastner shortened the rotation against Syracuse and the results were impressive. Trusting a Tech team on the road is always shaky, especially after they just landed a big road win, but I like our coaching and I like our guards. Keep the rotation short, don't let Reed take over the game and we get out of town with a W.

[​IMG]
Georgia Tech freshman forward Khalid Moore (photo courtesy of ramblinwreck.com)

Finals week has concluded and it is time to get back to business on the court for Coach Pastner's Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Coach's crew will get back into the swing of things on Monday evening against Big South opponent Gardner-Webb.

The Runnin' Bulldogs out of Boiling Springs, NC come into Monday night's game with a 7-5 record and winners of 5 in a row. Two of those wins are a against non-D1 opponents, while the other three are against teams that rate 328 or worse in KenPom.

Gardner-Webb is led by sixth year head coach Tim Craft. This is Coach Craft's first stint as a Division 1 coach and he has compiled a record of 95-83. He was an assistant coach at the program under Rick Scruggs in the early 2000's as well. He has served as an assistant at Auburn and East Carolina (not ECU). He is the program's third head coach since they joined D-1 in 2002-03, and he was preceded by current Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann.

Gardner-Webb is led by two dynamic scoring guards, senior David Efianayi and freshman Jose Perez. Efianayi owns over 1,300 career points and is currently on pace to set a career high for triples made in a season. He is averaging 17.2 points per game and shooting 42% from three on the season. In his last three contests however, he is only connecting at a 31% clip. He has scored in double figures every game this season and has had 20 or more five times.

Perez, a 6'5 wing out of the Bronx, is also averaging 17.2 points per game. He has been named the Big South freshman of the week twice and recorded Gardner-Webb's first triple double in nearly 20 years earlier this season. He had exactly one scholarship offer out of high school that I could find. Over his last five games, Perez is averaging 18.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 steals and shooting 53% from behind the arc. Regardless of competition, that is really impressive.

A couple of additional players that should be mentioned are Nate Johnson and DJ Laster. Johnson, a 6'4 RS sophomore guard, is averaging 11.3 points per game. He has kind of burst onto the scene this year. He is shooting 42.6% from three and has an effective field goal percentage of 63% on the season.

Laster, an undersized forward, also averages double figures at 11.6 points per game, he is also good for about 5 rebounds. He is the only player on the roster taller than 6'6 that plays more than 12 minutes per game.

Gardner-Webb is an interesting team. While their numbers have certainly been impacted by the level of competition they have played, they have also played VCU, VPI and Furman. They are currently 291st in the country in tempo (KenPom) while being a top 50 team in points per game at 82.2. They do not have one particular player who dominates on the glass, but they are a very good rebounding team, ranking 23rd in nation in total rebounds.

This game will again give Georgia Tech an opportunity to flex their perimeter defense muscles as the Bulldogs rank 27th in triples made and 29th in the country at 39%

Make no mistake, Craft will have this team ready to play and Georgia Tech has a long history of playing poorly after finals week. During his time in Boiling Springs his program is 1-3 against the ACC. The win was on a neutral court against Clemson in 2014-15. He also owns a win at Purdue (same season) and a win at Nebraska in 2016. This year they lost to Furman on the road by only two points in overtime.

To make a long story short, this is not a team the Yellow Jackets can afford to take lightly.

[​IMG]
KNOXVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 13: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Michael Devoe (0) takes a shot over Tennessee Volunteers guard Jordan Bowden (23) during a college basketball game between the Tennessee Volunteers and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on November 13, 2018, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Coach Josh Pastner's Jackets remain on the road this week. After dropping a game to Northwestern in the ACC/B1G challenge, they head down to Florida to play an undefeated St. John's squad on Saturday. The contest is being called the Air Force Reserve Hoop Hall Miami Invitational and tips at noon EST on ESPNU.

St. John's is one of 17 remaining undefeated teams in the NCAA and is currently ranked 46th by KenPom. This game will mark the first time St. John's has played outside of the NY/NJ area this year. The Red Storm currently rank 245th in strength of schedule and their highest rated opponent, according to KenPom, is Rutgers. Despite the poor schedule and their ability to score in bulk (83 points per game), their average margin of victory is only 11.5 points.

The Red Storm are led by dynamic junior point guard Shamorie Ponds who averages 2o points, 5.2 assists, 3.3 assists per game. Going back to 1992-93, he is the only St. Johns player to have a season of 550 points, 100 assists, 65 steals and less than 10o turnovers. He has done it twice. He is joined this year by high scoring Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron, who was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Heron is currently averaging 18.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. He is also shooting 43.5% (23 attempts) on the young season. As a team St. John's shoots an impressive 38% from three. LJ Figueroa, a budding star for Coach Chris Mullin, shoots 54% from deep on the season.

As mentioned, St. John's is coached by former Red Storm superstar Chris Mullin. As a player, Mullin appeared in 125 games, averaged 19.5 points and won the Big East Player of the Year award for three straight seasons. His coaching acumen thus far has been a bit underwhelming, having yet to lead his alma mater to an above .500 season in his first three tries. His record coming into the 2017-18 season was 38-60.

This is an interesting match-up for Georgia Tech. The Johnnies are a live by the three, die by the three team and the Jackets currently rank 14th in the nation in three point percentage against at 25.7%. The good guys only give up 59 points per game, good for 16th in the nation. The contrast in styles is one of the most intriguing parts of this contest. St. Johns is 56th in adjusted tempo (KenPom), while Georgia Tech is currently 190th.

The KenPom metric currently gives St. Johns a 73-70 edge. If Georgia Tech can maintain their defensive intensity and put together a complete game on the road they have a chance. The Red Storm have yet to really play anyone of consequence, while the Jackets have played two opponents inside the top 50 (Kenpom) and both on the road. The Jackets hold the edge as far as being battle tested.

Georgia Tech needs to defend and they need to shoot it. Stop me when this sounds familiar. It is always a grab bag when this program goes on the road. I guess we will just have to see what we see.