ATLANTA, GA – There’s no sugarcoating Saturday’s ACC home opener vs. Syracuse. The Jackets laid an absolute goose egg in more ways than one can comfortably count in a 97-63 loss to the Orange.
No energy. Slow offensive execution versus the 2-3 zone. Poor scout and/or poor recognition on defense. Anemic free throw shooting. Outrebounded by 10 against a team who just ten days ago was outrebounded by the Nittany Lions of Penn State by 29.
The list goes on. Others will dissect it. I will not. At the end of the day, enough others will do it for us and we’ll end up more frustrated than McCamish Pavilion rims following a charity stripe attempt by the home team.
Speaking of charity, this post mortem will try to make lemonade out of today’s performance. To do so though, this forager requires ingredients from beyond December 7, 2019. In other words, let’s interpret this game in broader context than a single, isolated data point.
Coming in to today, Georgia Tech’s KenPom adjusted defense was ranked #24 in the country. Following today’s performance? Double it, #48 in the country. Today’s defensive performance was an aberration when compared to the Jackets’ whole body of work. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to recognize how lethargic the Jackets battled on the defensive end today. That said, effort has rarely been an issue for this squad. Put me in the corner that believes effort won’t be an issue going forward, either.
How about the offensive end? What gives? Tech shot just 38.7% from the field versus the Orange today. This is materially below a season average of 45.2% in their first six games. Mike Devoe was held to 2 of 12 from the field for 7 total points, well below his season average of 23.8% per game. This was a decidedly poor offensive performance, but it’s not a sign of things to come.
Some might say the offensive output was due to the Orange’s 2-3 zone, the likes of which teams rarely encounter. While the Jackets and Orange have engaged in several pry-your-eyes-out battles on the hardwood, there isn’t a clear pattern of performance. Prior to today, Josh Pastner was 3-1 versus Jim Boeheim. In Tech’s last game versus the 2-3 in January 2019, the closest game we have to the current roster mix of both squads, the Jackets tickled the twine at the Carrier Dome to the tune of 59.5% on their way to a 73-59 road ACC win. That performance was a role reversal and surprise to many, including Vegas.
One of the key contributors in that game was Tech point guard Jose Alvarado, unavailable today. He notched 19 points and proved to be a smooth operator inside the zone. He along with Jordan Usher are two of the most important pieces to this year’s roster, and neither were available today. At a minimum, both are certain to be a helpful, and hopefully incessant, injection of energy that this team and the fan base needs. The upside? TBD, but the evidence suggests Jose is the straw that stirs the drink, and Usher is arguably the best athlete on the team. With regards to how the full roster projects against the Orange, we get to test the theory when the Jackets pay a return visit to Syracuse in February.
Bottom line is the Jackets have to find a way to claw their way out of another year of postseason purgatory. Today’s loss is likely meaningful in a bad way for the Jackets’ NCAA tournament resume. Barring a dramatic turnaround, the Orange are destined for the ACC’s bottom tier this year. That makes today’s result a “bad loss” in the eyes of the selection committee.
Thankfully, in recent years the bubble has been littered with teams who have proven they can lose to anybody. The difference between those selected for The Dance versus those who were not often boiled down to “who did you beat?” The good news for this year’s squad is there is a lot of runway remaining to stack big wins and prove they can play with the best. Their first opportunity for a big win is one week from today, when the Jackets look to rebound (pun intended) and make a statement in the Bluegrass State against the top 10 ranked Kentucky Wildcats. Go Jackets!