Previewing Saturday’s game between Georgia Tech and Wake Forest at Joel Coliseum. The game starts at 3 p.m. and will be broadcast on regional sports networks, including Fox Sports South in Atlanta.
1. This is going to be a pretty tall order. As reported earlier, forward Abdoulaye Gueye won’t play, as he’s likely out for the season with a wrist fracture. Guard Justin Moore is doubtful with an abdominal injury. Guard Josh Heath, who was ill in Wednesday’s loss to Clemson, didn’t practice Thursday and was feeling better Friday, but not all the way back.
In order, that’s the only backup to center Ben Lammers that coach Josh Pastner has significantly used (Gueye), a guard who has started 18 games and averaged 22.9 minutes (Moore) and the starting point guard (Heath).
Bear in mind, too, that coach Josh Pastner typically plays six or seven players to begin with. And Tech is shorthanded against an opponent that a) plays a slightly faster pace; b) goes deeper on the bench; c) is at home; d) has had one more day of rest and preparation.
Tech isn’t in some sort of Mission: Impossible situation, but it is going to take some serious fight for the Jackets to pull out a win.
How Josh Heath is thriving in his role for Yellow Jackets: The senior point guard is playing at the highest level of his career.
2. Wake Forest power forward John Collins has scored 20 or more points in the past five games, the longest streak in ACC play this season. He had 26 with 16 rebounds in Wake Forest’s last game, against Boston College. He’s the only player in the top 10 in scoring (17.5 points per game) and rebounding (9.2 rebounds per game) in the ACC.
The matchup between Collins and Lammers figures to be compelling, and may go a long way towards deciding the outcome.
“I think we’re both pretty solid shot blockers so I think our minds think alike, which will give us a little bit of advantage going against each other because I know how he likes to time stuff,” Collins told the Winston-Salem Journal.
If you’re wondering, ESPN rated him the No. 36 power forward in his class and the No. 17 player in the state of Florida.
3. Simply, Wake Forest runs an excellent offense. The Demon Deacons shoot well, don’t turn the ball over and move it fairly well. They’ve got an array of 3-point shooters that will challenge Tech to stretch the floor to defend them, which, obviously opens up the interior for Collins.
Wake Forest has five players who have average at least (or very nearly, in one case) three 3-point attempts per game, and all of them average 33.8 percent or better from 3-point range. That’s a lot of shooters to contest. Guard Bryant Crawford is the most frequent shooter, at 4.6 attempts (and 1.6 makes) per game. By comparison, Tech has only one player averaging three attempted 3-pointers per game, Quinton Stephens (33 for 102 in 22 games for 32.4 percent, though guard Tadric Jackson is close at 23 for 59 in 21 games.)
Wake Forest is rated 12th nationally for offensive efficiency by kenpom.com. The Jackets have played four of the top 20 – North Carolina, Virginia, Duke and Notre Dame are the others. Tech was 2-2 in those games.
Tech is rated No. 10 nationally for defensive efficiency by kenpom.com, no small achievement. The highest season-ending ranking that the Jackets achieved in coach Brian Gregory’s tenure was 32nd.
4. From a postseason perspective, this would be a pretty big win. Over the final eight regular-season games (not counting Tuesday’s game against Division II Tusculum), Tech has only two games against teams that were in the RPI top 50 going into Friday’s games, and Saturday’s game is one of them. (Wake Forest is No. 32.)
Beyond adding a win to the total, it would give a healthy boost to Tech’s RPI ranking (69th) and be another RPI top-50 win. Tech has one road win over an RPI top-50 opponent (VCU) and is 2-6 overall on the road. Performance away from home is one way that teams are judged, and the Jackets don’t measure up in that category to this point.