As we move towards tip-off of Georgia Tech-Clemson, scheduled for 9 p.m. (ESPN nationally, ACC Network in the region, WATL in Atlanta)…
1. I think Tech is positioned well. The Yellow Jackets obviously will have fatigue issues to deal with, but I think getting the first win out of the way is a considerable advantage for Tech. Being able to stay past the first day was of considerable importance to center Daniel Miller, for instance.
I would think a lot of the tension over not having accomplished anything in the tournament is gone. It might be one of those house money situations. Further, the Jackets shouldn’t need any more motivation, but they’ve lost nine games in a row to a team that they must think is not that much better than they are, if at all.
2. That said, the Tigers aren’t schlubs. They were 10-8 in the ACC and are probably on the NCAA tournament bubble. They are extremely efficient on defense, ranking 18th nationally in adjusted points per possession by kenpom.com.
“They’ve got all the pieces,” Gregory said. “They’re big, they’re hard to score on and they’re efficient on offense. They defend you well, they rebound the ball well, they have one of the premier players in the league in K.J. McDaniels.”
3. Perhaps the most important player for Tech will be forward Marcus Georges-Hunt, who will likely be the principal defender on McDaniels, who was named both the ACC player of the year and the conference defensive player of the year. Georges-Hunt may not need to score much, but he’ll have to do a lot of work on the other end. Worth nothing – McDaniels’ only game when he scored in single digits was in the first game against Tech, when he was 3-for-14 for eight points. I’m not going to say Georges-Hunt was solely responsible for that, but I’d think he played a part.
4. I think Gregory is a huge fan of point guard Rod Hall. He mentions him whenever Tech has played them. He described him after the Boston College game as “hard-nosed,” which is pretty high up there on the Gregory list of traits. (I’d guess “tough” is at the top.)
To that end, I think he thinks Corey Heyward could become a player similar to Hall over the course of his career. As a freshman, Hall played 519 minutes with 117 points, 39 rebounds, 34 assists and 28 turnovers.
Heyward’s numbers in 500 minutes – 28 points, 49 rebounds, 45 assists, 24 turnovers. A huge discrepancy in scoring, but Heyward is better (though not by much over 500 minutes) in the three other statistics.
This season, Hall, a junior, is averaging 9.6 points, 4.0 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.6 turnovers.
Heyward, obviously, is not much of a scoring threat. That said, he’s not asked to be much of one and he is also still a little more than a year removed from his second ACL tear. He’s shown flashes of burst to the basket, has obvious strength and can knock down an open 3-pointer. I imagine it’s hard to foresee Heyward developing into a solid ACC starting point guard, and perhaps he won’t, but probably the same could have been said about Daniel Miller becoming an All-ACC center when he was a freshman.
5. For whatever you can draw from the first two games, Tech proved it is capable of competing with the Tigers. The game went down to the final minute in the first loss, at Clemson Feb.4, and the Jackets led by nine early in the second half before turnovers and poorly executed defensive coverages gave the Tigers the opportunity to take the game. Tech was completely outplayed by a team that was at a much higher level of energy and players were bickering with each other as the meltdown ensued. It might have been the low point of the season.
Thursday’s game, I feel quite confident saying, is going to be ugly. It’s how games are when Tech and Clemson play.
“You have to play extremely hard, and you’ve got to have great toughness because that’s how they’re a tough team,” Gregory said.
6. Take this for what it’s worth: Clemson shot 47.7 percent and 47.4 percent in its final two regular-season games, a win over Miami and a loss to Pittsburgh. The Tigers were second-to-last in the ACC in league games in field-goal percentage at 40.2 percent. However, Miami and Pittsburgh both shot 50 percent, seven percentage points better than Clemson’s ACC season average for defensive field-goal percentage.
7. Tech is given a 35.6 percent chance of beating Clemson by teamrankings.com. But the Jackets’ chances of winning the ACC title have skyrocketed from prior to the tournament, from .11 percent to .18 percent.