Countdown to Tipoff: 32 Days
We have now previewed the entire non-conference schedule, meaning it’s time to get to some ACC basketball. This year, the conference has moved from an 18 game schedule to a 20 game schedule, meaning even more high profile games for the Yellow Jackets. Today, we’re taking a look at the first two ACC opponents on the schedule, NC State and Syracuse.
Setting the Stage
The Jackets will take on NC State not once, but twice this season. The first matchup comes as the first game of the season for Georgia Tech and it will be the kickoff of college basketball on the new ACC network. The game will take place on Tuesday, November 5 when Tech travels to Raleigh for a rare November in-conference battle. The second time these two teams face each other will be on Saturday, January 25 when NC State comes to Atlanta.
NC State is a team which has had fairly good success in its first two seasons under new head coach Kevin Keatts. Two seasons ago, the Wolfpack made the NCAA tournament with a 21-12 (11-7) record, falling however in the first round. Last season, they finished with a 24-11 (9-9) record, but a dreadful non-conference schedule kept them out of the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack were selected to play in the NIT and made it to the quarterfinals. This season, NC State returns a decent amount of talent, but loses leading scorer and rebounder Torin Dorn.
As mentioned above, the most important player on last year’s Wolfpack team is now gone. Senior Torin Dorn, who averaged 14 points per game, and 7.2 rebounds per game, both team highs, has graduated. The Wolfpack also lose Wyatt Walker, who was a handful on the boards, averaging nearly 2 offensive rebounds a game, despite playing just 18 minutes. Also gone is Eric Lockett, who played 16 minutes per game, scoring just over 4 points per game.
Another player who was previously expected to be a major contributor this season was Sacha Killeya-Jones. However, his NC State career ended before it ever began. The former five star who transferred from Kentucky decided to turn pro before ever suiting up for the Wolfpack.
Despite the losses mentioned above, NC State still returns plenty of talent. 70% of their scoring from a season ago returns, in addition to three transfers and four star freshman Dereon Seabron.
Point guard Markell Johnson is expected to be the leader of the Wolfpack this season after the departure of Torin Dorn. Johnson is an outstanding three point shooter, knocking down 42% of his attempts last season while also leading the team in assists with 4.2 per game.
Junior Braxton Beverly should also be a major contributor for the Wolfpack this season. He averaged nearly 10 points per game last season and like Johnson, is an excellent shooter from behind the arc, draining 76 three pointers on the season.
The biggest question for the Wolfpack will be who can replace the production of Torin Dorn in the frontcourt. Sophomore Jericole Hellems and grad transfer Pat Andree are both options to fill his role, but also expect to see NC State run some smaller lineups out there this season.
Keys for the Jackets
Hold onto the ball - The Jackets struggled a season ago with holding on to the ball, ranking 316th in the country in turnover percentage. Meanwhile, on the other side, the Wolfpack ranked inside the top 30 in forcing turnovers, despite not being a strong defensive team overall. Kevin Keatts teams have never been known for being elite defensively, but NC State is athletic and will make the Jackets pay if they do not take care of the ball.
Don’t let them get hot from deep - As mentioned above, the Wolfpack have a pair of electric three point shooters in Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly. As a team, NC State ranked just 124th in three point percentage. A season ago, Johnson hit at least four three pointers in a game eight different times. Beverly accomplished the same feat eight times as well. Let these guys heat up and the game can get away from you quickly.
Setting the Stage
The Syracuse Orange enter the 2019 season under head coach Jim Boeheim for what is to be his 44th season as head coach. On the resume is 33 NCAA tournament appearances, including five final four appearances and a national championship in 2003. The Orange have back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, making the Sweet 16 two seasons ago.
Like NC State, Tech also plays Syracuse twice this season, one of which is an early season game in the midst of the conference schedule. The Orange travel to Atlanta either Saturday, December 7 or Sunday, December 8 (the game is currently flexed to either date) and Tech returns the favor in Syracuse on Saturday, February 22.
For those who may be less familiar with college basketball, Boeheim and the orange are known for the 2-3 zone that they run, which year in and year out gives them one of the toughest defenses in college basketball.
The Orange do lose a lot of talent this season, with four out of five starters from last year departing from the team. Syracuse will be heavily dependent on a fairly inexperienced group, including a deep, but not overly talented recruiting class.
As mentioned above, Syracuse lost four of their five starters from a season ago. Gone are Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Paschal Chukwu, and Frank Howard, who accounted for 55% of the minutes, 58% of the scoring, and 50% of the rebounding for the Orange last season.
The brightest option to fill the missing production is expected to be Elijah Hughes, who was second in scoring for the Orange a season ago. Hughes should be locked into the starting lineup and Syracuse will need him to take another step forward from a season ago and become the leader for this team.
Also expected to be a major contributor is sophomore Jalen Carey. The former four star recruit played just 12 minutes per game last season, but is expected to contribute more as the starting point guard for the Orange. Expected to be playing in the backcourt alongside Carey is the head coach’s son, Buddy Boeheim. Boeheim played 17 minutes per game, but will definitely have a bigger role this season.
Other expected contributors for the Orange should be juniors Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe as well as four star freshmen Quincy Guerrier and Brycen Goodine.
Keys for the Jackets
Beat the zone - This one goes without saying whenever playing Syracuse, but if you cannot beat the zone, you do not have a chance to win the game. Beating the zone requires quick ball movement and making outside shots. The Jackets should be much improved from behind the arc this season, which should definitely help them on offense against the Orange. Additionally, Syracuse comes into the season with less length and less experience, potentially hindering the effectiveness of the zone, so much to the point that Boeheim has hinted at playing man to man defense. I’ll believe that when I see it.
Play disciplined defense - Josh Pastner’s teams at Georgia Tech have all so far been known for strong defense. With the amount of production Syracuse lost from a season ago, they are not expected to be very strong offensively. If the Jackets are able to play smart, they should be able to give Syracuse trouble offensively all game. The only way Syracuse should find success is if Tech gives them easy baskets.