On Saturday, Georgia Tech got a signature win over then #4 Virginia, finishing a brutal stretch to start ACC play. Despite their 1-2 record, the Yellow Jackets have played well to start off the conference season and find themselves looking at a three game stretch that could put them into conversation for the NCAA tournament. On Wednesday, Tech heads to South Bend to face Notre Dame. Then they head home this Saturday to face Virginia Tech and then Louisville on Saturday the 23rd.
Notre Dame is a bit of an unknown right now. They are loved by the computer models (KenPom has them at 29), have some great players (Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson are some of the best in the ACC), and one of the best offenses in the country, but have a resume that is lackluster. They come in with 5 losses (Monmouth, Alabama, Indiana, Virginia, Pittsburgh) and only one good win, against Iowa on a neutral court. Notre Dame came into the season with high expectations and they have not played themselves out of a chance at a great season. Notre Dame does not play very fast, but they have an extremely efficient offense that is going to give the Jackets fits. The Fighting Irish get scoring from both inside and out and they have a very balanced attack with five players averaging over 10 points a game. I expect the Jackets to especially struggle with Demetrius Jackson, one of the best perimeter scorers in the ACC. Notre Dame balances it's potent offense with one of the worst defenses in the ACC. This is looking like another game where the pressure is going to be on the offense to score almost every time down the floor. If the offensive rebounding and defense is as strong as it was against Virginia, this team has a good chance to win this game.
Georgia Tech was not the only team to beat the Cavaliers at home this week. The Virginia Tech Hokies also beat Virginia last week in a huge upset. The Hokies are now 2-1 in ACC play and with a strong conference run have an outside chance at the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately for them right now, their Virginia win is their only impressive win (an overtime win at home over an NC State team that seems to falling apart is not that good) and they have been blown out by almost every other solid team they have played. Virginia Tech is pretty average both offensively and defensively, but they are fantastic at drawing fouls. They are led by juniors Zach LeDay and Seth Allen. In past years the Yellow Jackets have struggled to get out of the ACC basement in large part because of their performance against other cellar dwellers. They need to hold serve against teams like Virginia Tech at home if they are going to move up to the middle of the conference. Keys to this game are to avoid unnecessary fouls on driving Hokies and take advantage of a weak defensive rebounding team to get second possessions.
16th ranked Louisville has had an interesting season so far. Before their loss at Clemson yesterday their only losses had been close road defeats against top teams (Michigan State and Kentucky). However, due to a ridiculously easy schedule, Louisville's best non-conference win was against either Grand Canyon or North Florida. Although none of their non-conference wins was against a very good team, each of their non-conference wins was by at least 20 points, they absolutely dominated these teams. On top of that, the beginning of their conference schedule is very easy. Of their first seven games, only Pittsburgh looks to be a major player in the ACC. Louisville has a good offense and one of the best defenses in the country. Like Georgia Tech, Louisville relies heavily on transfers. Guards Trey Lewis (from Cleveland State) and Damion Lee (from Drexel) lead the Cardinals offensively, but are their only really major threats. Defensively, Rick Pitino's teams are known for their vicious full court press and this year's team is no different. The only real weakness for the Cardinals defensively is that they foul quite a bit. This Cardinals team really matches up well with Georgia Tech. Much of their offensive production comes from quick guards and the Jackets allow fast perimeter players to penetrate way too easily. Their defense forces a lot of turnovers due to their pressure and the Jackets struggle against point guards.
This stretch is going to determine a lot of perception for Georgia Tech the rest of the season. Going 3-0 would put the conference on notice and make the Jackets a likely tournament team. 0-3 would mean more of the same for Tech and leave the team fighting for the 12th seed instead of the 13th for the ACC tournament. The most likely possibilities are 2-1 and 1-2. A 2-1 stretch would leave the team at 3-3 in the ACC following a very tough opening couple of weeks and would show teams that Georgia Tech is a dangerous team to play and put the Jackets in the tournament conversation. If the Jackets go 1-2, they will be hard pressed to turn it around from 2-4 to make it to .500 in ACC play and a chance at the tournament. These upcoming games will determine the direction of the team for the rest of the season.