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Taking a second look at Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech

A secondary review of Georgia Tech’s 76-56 loss to Virginia Tech Saturday. The “Five observations” story can be found here.

The rather unlikely reality of Georgia Tech’s slide through the ACC schedule is that the Yellow Jackets are actually playing a little better offensively than they did a year ago.

By a number of statistics – offensive efficiency, effective efficiency, turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage – Tech has improved or isn’t far behind last year’s rates in ACC games.

The problem, as anyone who has seen this team play in recent games, is how the Jackets have defended, primarily from 3-point range. Last year, Tech opponents shot 34.9 percent from 3-point range in ACC play. This season, it’s 38.6 percent, and it’s far worse in Tech’s last seven games. In that stretch, in which the Jackets are 1-6, Tech opponents have shot 47.3 percent from beyond the arc.

Virginia Tech bagged 50 percent of its 3-point tries on Saturday, the third time in the Jackets’ past four games that an opponent made at least half of its 3-point attempts.

At least nine Jackets opponents this season have had one of their four best 3-point shooting percentage games against Tech.

To a degree, it’s not a huge surprise. Tech isn’t defending the 3 very well. Shots are often either open or defenders are late in challenging. But I’m not positive that is how the past seven opponents are connecting at an absurd rate. (To put it in perspective, the best 3-point shooting team in Division I makes 43.3 percent of its 3-pointers.)

One thing I remember about Tech’s defense last season is being almost mystified at how Tech opponents didn’t shoot better because it seemed like they missed a lot of open 3-point shots. It was often explained as Tech’s mix of defenses throwing shooters off rhythm, which may well have been the case. Having watched it, I’m not sure there wasn’t a degree of chance that continually favored the Jackets in the same way that it seems to have swung the other way this season.

Further, it would seem that if Tech’s defense was so poor, it would be reflected more broadly than only in the 3-point defense. However, the Jackets have defended fairly well inside the arc. A year ago, Tech’s ACC opponents shot 44.2 percent on 2-point shots, which was first in the league. Tech recently held five opponents in a row to 44.2 percent or under – Clemson, Syracuse, Boston College, Louisville and Duke. (Results more recent than that, it should be noted, did not hew to this pattern. Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, taking advantage of advantageous transition opportunities and the absence of point guard Jose Alvarado, shot 47.6 and 54.1 percent inside the arc, respectively.)

Further, the Jackets are forcing turnovers and recording blocks and steals at similar rates compared to last season.

Also, Tech was defending the arc well prior to the past seven games in ACC play.

This isn’t to say that Tech is defending just as well as last season.

There are problems, undoubtedly. Transition defense in the past two games has been lacking as the Jackets have gone heavy to the offensive glass. Center Ben Lammers is not as effective challenging shooters in the post. Opponents are driving to the basket too easily.

But maybe the differences aren’t as great as the last stretch of games would suggest.

Tech will try again Wednesday in Charlottesville, Va., against No. 1 Virginia. As things would have it this season, the Cavaliers are coming off their open date. Virginia can clinch the top seed in the ACC Tournament with a win.

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About the Author

Ken Sugiura covers Georgia Tech sports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.