Game 20: Georgia Tech (8-11, 3-6) vs NC State (14-5, 5-3)
How to Watch: 4 PM ET on ACC Network Extra
Line: NCSU -1
Check out Backing the Pack for more on NC State
After a run of hard luck losses, the Yellow Jackets return to McCamish Pavilion to face a team they narrowly defeated earlier this season. Tech took down NC State 82-81 on opening night but their fortunes have flipped recently with three straight defeats by five or less. On Wednesday, they led for the majority of the night on the road against an extremely talented Lousiville team but a second half Cardinals surge ultimately did them in. It was an all too familiar situation for a fan base that is accustomed to this team fighting hard and playing well for large stretches of games but seeing poor late game execution lead to more losses than wins. Coach Pastner echoed these sentiments after the game saying that this is a “way better team than where [they] started the beginning of the year...unfortunately, in sports, it’s a scoreboard game and it’s a win/loss game.”
There’s a good chance the Jackets find themselves in another nail biter today as an unbelievable six of their last eight meetings against the Wolfpack have been decided by three or less with the Jackets actually winning the last three of those games including the one point win earlier this season. However, the Pack played that game shorthanded, without two of their three leading scorers in Markell Johnson and DJ Funderburk. CJ Bryce, their surprise leading scorer for this season, carried the loaded, hitting a barrage of contested shots to keep the game close. It wasn’t until Pastner moved Khalid Moore onto Bryce late in the game that his effectiveness began to drop. I’ll be interested to see if Moore, whose minutes have been drastically reduced since the implementation of Jordan Usher into the lineup, sees an increased role to try and lock down Bryce. The game script for this first meeting between the two teams was a familiar one for Tech as they outshot their opponent but were hampered by turnovers. Little did we know then that this pattern would continue all season. As much as this team has improved overall, the inability to correct the turnover issue has really held them back.
The statistical profile on NC State is an interesting one. While they’ve been a solid team through the first half of the season, their resume is starting to feel a bit like last year’s. While they haven’t had any bad losses to teams outside of the KenPom top 100, they also haven’t too many marquee wins with just one in the top 45 and have feasted on some of the weaker ACC teams during their current 4-1 stretch. The Pack are an excellent offensive team, ranking 15th in the nation in adjusted efficiency aided by a low turnover %. Perhaps the Jackets could learn a thing or two from watching them play. Individually, while it’s been a bit of down year for Johnson from a shooting and scoring perspective, he is the head of the snake who has adopted a ball distributing role with an elite assist rate. He is surrounded by a number of solid wing players with Bryce leading the way. On the interior, Funderburk is a go to finisher and Manny Bates is a rim protector who plays his role to a tee, averaging 2.9 blocks per game off the bench. Unsurprisingly, he owns the best block rate in the nation.
I think the keys to this game for the Jackets today are twofold. First, they need to maximize possessions against a team that is very efficient on offense. If they turn the ball over at will it is going to be very difficult to have a chance because they facing a team that is much stronger than it was during the last meeting. The also need to get more out of their bench, an area that has been a weakness and gave them zero points in the Louisville game. Just a few points could be the difference in a game that is expected to be tight.
*Statistical profile courtesy of KenPom
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