The mantra that Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner has been intoning – that the Yellow Jackets are improving, particularly since returning from Christmas break – has evidence to provide belief. The Yellow Jackets beat No. 15 Miami last Wednesday and followed it up with a win over Yale this past Saturday.
“I can tell you since post-Christmas, we have improved and gotten better,” said Pastner, a message that he has repeated to media with numbing frequency.
A disbelieving sort could attribute it to Miami playing a really sloppy game and Yale being a so-so team in the Ivy League. While a win over Notre Dame on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPNU) at McCamish Pavilion would come with its own made-to-order rationalization (stars Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell are both out with injuries), it would still provide additional credence that the Jackets are on the way back from a messy trip through the non-conference schedule.
“They’re still really, really good,” Pastner said Tuesday of the Irish, ranked No. 25 in the coaches poll.
Notre Dame defeated Tech 68-59 on December 30 in South Bend, Ind., benefiting from Tech’s 7-for-18 shooting from the free-throw line and its inability to score a single second-chance point on nine offensive rebounds. Saturday, without Colson and Farrell, the Irish went on the road to beat Syracuse by a humble 51-49 score. The Irish grabbed 21 offensive rebounds to the Orange’s 19 defensive rebounds, uncommon dominance.
“They were playing volleyball with the ball against Syracuse,” Pastner said.
After stumbling through the non-conference schedule at 7-6, it’s a little hard to know how to approach Tech’s run through the 18-game ACC schedule. The league’s teams appears more evenly matched than in years past. Boston College and N.C. State have already beaten Duke, and the Wolfpack and Eagles had 10 losses between them after this weekend’s games.
North Carolina took a home loss to the same Wofford team that beat the Jackets in Spartanburg, S.C. Notre Dame’s loss of Colson for an extended stretch figures to be damaging.
There may be room for Tech, despite its ungainly 8-7 overall record, to pick up some wins and make its presence felt in the league race.
The Jackets are defending better and taking care of the ball more consistently. Guard Josh Okogie’s form continues to improve as he returns from his dislocated finger. Forward Abdoulaye Gueye’s improvement has been an encouraging development. Point guard Jose Alvarado has given the team needed boosts of energy and scoring.
If center Ben Lammers can recover the form that won him ACC defensive player of the year honors a year ago, Tech could indeed lift off, ugly non-conference résumé and all.
But, for the improvement to mean anything, it means winning games like Wednesday’s, a home matchup against a team without its two best players. Tech has another opportunity Saturday at Pitt, probably the weakest team in the ACC.
“They definitely won’t beat themselves,” guard Jose Alvarado said of the Irish. “We’re going to have to beat them, come out playing aggressively with energy and pace.”