Sprinkled into Georgia Tech’s seven-game losing streak are reasons to believe that the Yellow Jackets can stop the slide before the regular season ends Saturday.
Aside from his two games playing at point guard, Josh Okogie has been on a tear, and might have recorded the first triple-double of his career Saturday against Clemson if not for foul trouble. Tech’s offensive efficiency, per KenPom, was the third highest allowed by the Tigers this season.
The Jackets turned the ball over six times against Virginia, the fewest that a Cavaliers opponent has committed this season. Recently elevated into the starting lineup, freshman forwards Evan Cole and Moses Wright have found ways to contribute after largely sitting on the bench for most of the ACC season. Center Ben Lammers’ ankle is healthier and he has played more assertively in the past two games.
“We’ve gotten better,” coach Josh Pastner said. “Unfortunately, the wins haven’t validated us getting better in some areas, but we have gotten better.”
Tech will try to keep the streak from reaching eight Thursday night against N.C. State at McCamish Pavilion. It won’t be an easy task. The Wolfpack do a lot of things that can attack Tech’s weaknesses. N.C. State can hit from 3-point range (50.4 percent in their past five games), and the Jackets have had consistent difficulty defending that shot (opponents have made 48 percent of their 3-point tries in the seven-game losing streak).
The Wolfpack play at a fast pace and lead the ACC in forcing turnovers (13.8 per game) in league games. The Jackets prefer a slower tempo and have lost the ball on 19 percent of their possessions (KenPom) in conference games, third from last in the league.
Tech has had difficulty stopping penetration. N.C. State guard Markell Johnson leads the ACC in assists at 8.7 per game.
“(Allerik) Freeman and (Torin) Dorn can really put in on the floor and get by you,” Pastner said. “They’re just a really, really good basketball team and we’re going to have to play really, really well.”
That said, it will be N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts’ first look at Tech’s unorthodox schemes. The Wolfpack do not defend well inside the arc, where Tech is stronger. It would be an upset for Tech to beat N.C. State, but not a monumental one.
If not N.C. State, could the Jackets beat Wake Forest? The Demon Deacons gave Tech one of its worst losses of the season, a 79-62 defeat that was the Jackets’ first without point guard Jose Alvarado after his season-ending elbow injury. Wake Forest shredded Tech’s defense, making 9 of 17 from 3-point range and raiding the Jackets in transition.
Further, Wake Forest has its open date this week and will have had a week’s worth of rest and preparation when it plays the Jackets, who will be playing less than 48 hours after playing N.C. State.
Wake Forest has won just once on the road in ACC play (Pittsburgh, where Tech got its only road win). It seems an even match. To sate the curiosity of the self-loathing Tech fan, a nine-game losing streak would be the Jackets’ longest since they lost all 14 ACC games in 1980-81, coach Dwane Morrison’s last season at Tech.
Interestingly, the N.C. State game will have no bearing on Tech’s seeding in the ACC Tournament, which begins Tuesday in Brooklyn, N.Y.
If Tech beats Wake Forest, the Jackets will be the No. 13 seed and play No. 12 seed Boston College at noon at the Barclays Center. If Tech loses, the Jackets will be the No. 14 seed and play the No. 11 seed. The No. 11 seed likely will be either Syracuse or Notre Dame – they are tied for 10th at 7-9 going into Wednesday’s games – although Florida State at 8-8 and possibly Louisville (9-7) could drop to No. 11.
The 12-13 winner plays the No. 5 seed, which entering Wednesday’s games was Clemson. The 11-14 winner plays the No. 6 seed, which was Miami as of Wednesday afternoon.