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...

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.

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.