The Yellow Jackets are coming off an important win at a struggling NC State. Now they face a team that struggled early in the season but has turned it around, a team that looked like a title contender early only to struggle in ACC play, and one of the top teams in the nation.
First, the Jackets head to Syracuse on Saturday to face a strong Orange team that is coming off of a 15 point victory over #25 Notre Dame. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim spent the first nine games of the season on the bench and the team struggled with consistency in his absence. They beat a decent UConn team, top-ten ranked Texas A&M, but then lost to mediocre Wisconsin and Georgetown as well as less than mediocre St. Johns. Their famous zone defense was not gelling as well as it has in the past and the team did not have the scoring options to make up for it. Since then, the defense has come together and they are getting enough scoring to take advantage.
Syracuse is not a very deep team. In fact, they play fewer bench minutes than any other team in the country. Where Syracuse has five players averaging over 30 minutes a game, Georgia Tech does not even have one (Marcus Georges-Hunt leads with 29.9 mpg). The Orange are able to do this because they stay out of foul trouble very well and play a very slow style of basketball. On offense, they shoot a lot of three pointers and do not work much inside. They are led by Michael Gbinjie, Trevor Cooney, and Malachi Richardson, who between them shoot over 20 three pointers a game. This is going to put a strain on the Yellow Jackets perimeter defense that has been vulnerable all season. On defense, the Orange have a ton of length and do a great job of disrupting passing lanes. The Yellow Jackets will have to do a great job of passing into the interior if they want to get offense going. Syracuse gives up A LOT of offensive rebounds, so the Jackets could get a big boost from Charles Mitchell and James White on the boards.
Next, the Jackets welcome the Duke Blue Devils to McCamish Pavilion. Duke is having an uncharacteristically poor season, and will likely come into Atlanta unranked. Duke has now lost four out of their last five games, winning only a game at NC State. A couple more losses and they could find themselves in an unusual position, on the bubble.
Like Syracuse, Duke is not a very deep team. They play more or less six players a game, unless Amile Jefferson is playing, but he should still be out. They stay out of foul trouble very well. Unlike the Orange, the Blue Devils have a fantastic offense, one of the best in the country but do not have the defense to back it up. Offensively they revolve around the perimeter, with four ball handlers and three point shooters at almost all times. This is going to make for a very interesting matchup with Georgia Tech who plays two true big men. Duke is led by Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram, two huge scoring threats that could go off. Marshall Plumlee is their only true big man, but he does not play a huge part in their offense. The Jackets are going to have to get strong offense to keep up with Duke, and once again they should get plenty of second chances against a poor defensive rebounding team.
Finally, the Jackets welcome #15 Miami to Atlanta. The Hurricanes are having one of their best seasons ever, and certainly the best since 2012-2013 when the Yellow Jackets upset them in Miami. Coach Larranaga is one of the best coaches in the ACC and has helped Miami to the top of the ACC.
Unlike Duke and Syracuse, Miami goes 9 deep in their rotation and balance very good offense with equally good defense. The Hurricanes have more offense from big men than most teams, with Tonye Jekiri especially having a great season, but they still rely mostly on guards. Angel Rodriguez is probably their most well known player, but senior Sheldon McClellan is averaging 16 points a game and has really stepped up as the team's best player. Miami is just overall a well balanced team. They don't turn the ball over, they shoot pretty well, they get to the basket, they rebound fairly well, and they have great free throw shooting. Beating them is going to require Georgia Tech to play a solid all around game. Miami does have some weaknesses. They are great at pressuring three pointers, but they allow a decent amount of penetration and their post defense is not that great. Look for Marcus Georges-Hunt to drive a lot, and all of the post players, especially Nick Jacobs, to get a lot of looks inside.
Georgia Tech is looking for two wins out of these three games to put them back in the tournament discussion, but that is going to be a tough task. Syracuse on the road is always difficult and then they play two very good teams at home. I expect Georgia Tech to pick up one game in this stretch and continue their fade from the bubble.