A look ahead at Georgia Tech’s Sunday matchup with No. 21 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. The 6 p.m. game will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was full of compliments for Georgia Tech at his news conference this week. He called center Ben Lammers “an amazing rim protector, I think the best in the league. If he doesn’t block it, he’s got you thinking about it.”
He mentioned that the Yellow Jackets do a nice job posting up their guards, notably Tadric Jackson, who scored 25 points in 26 minutes on 11-for-19 shooting in Tech’s upset win at McCamish Pavilion in January.
“Jackson crushed us off the bench last time,” he said.
He also doled out kind words to coach Josh Pastner.
“I thought Brian (Gregory) did a heck of a job with them and always gave them a chance to win,” he said. “Josh has done a magnificent job with this group, changing it up completely how they play defensively and offensively.”
He went on to say that no team has changed up what it does at both ends of the court more than Tech has. His comments about Tech’s mixing up defenses and its high-post offense are difficult to prepare for and it followed comments other coaches have made about the challenge of getting ready to play for Tech.
Being difficult to prepare for was part of the design of Tech’s schemes, Pastner said.
“We spent a lot of time and thought process on that, thinking through that and that was part of what we needed to do,” he said.
Mike Bobinski looks back at the hiring of Josh Pastner: Why he thought hiring a coach on the hot seat in Memphis was a good idea
Watch out for:
A player to be mindful of is Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia. In the first game between the two teams, Vasturia was 1-for-7 from the field for five points. It was his second-lowest scoring game of the season and just one of six single-digit scoring games this season. Brey called it probably “the poorest Steve has played in two years.”
Vasturia is averaging 14 points per game this season. Interesting to note that he scored a total of 13 points in two games against Tech last season on 6-for-19 shooting. In reality, neither of Notre Dame’s two other key players, guard Matt Farrell and forward Bonzie Colson, were at their best against Tech. This is going to be a really tough game, I suspect.
“I think our guys will be motivated because they were so stung by how they lost in Atlanta,” Brey said.
What this game means
This would, obviously, be a huge win for Tech’s NCAA tournament aspirations. At 16-12, the Jackets need two things – wins in general and quality road wins in specific. This, obviously, would add to both. Tech is 1-6 away from McCamish and has won only one road game of note – against VCU, which, by the way, has done Tech a favor by getting into the RPI top 25 (the Rams are 25th as of Sunday morning) to give the Jackets (at least for now) four wins over RPI top-25 teams.
Further, a win Sunday would be worth about a 16-slot jump in RPI, to about 80. If you’re wondering, the loss at Virginia Tech cost the Jackets a similar bounce. I think they’d be on the safe side of the bubble had they managed to pull off a win in Blacksburg, Va. (But, if we’re going to play that game, it’s also worth remembering that Tech would probably have lost to North Carolina A&T, which is next to last in RPI, if not for Kellen McCormick’s four 3-pointers. Looking back at this season, that might have been part of the strangest swing of the season. Tech nearly lost to arguably the very worst team in Division I and then three days later beat a national championship contender going away.)
Pastner said he thinks that if Tech beats either Notre Dame (RPI: 23) or Syracuse (76) in the Carrier Dome next Saturday, then Tech is in. I’m not positive; I kind of think the Jackets would also need to beat Pitt at home Tuesday (another short rest game. Pitt played Saturday).
For now, though, Tech is still in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s “last four in,” last updated on Thursday.
It has been said before, but the Tech-Notre Dame series has delivered some of the Jackets’ most dramatic games since the Irish came into the ACC in 2013-14, and you can certainly start with the most recent two, the January 28 game won at the buzzer on Josh Okogie’s layup and the Feb. 2016 game won on Marcus Georges-Hunt’s last-second basket.
All seven have been decided by eight points or fewer, and four of the seven have been decided by three points or fewer and another went to double overtime.
Why Josh Pastner wants Georgia Tech to be like Notre Dame: “I’m hoping we can really build kind of like what he did.”
Speaking of the Tech-Notre Dame series…
Unrelated to Sunday’s game, but I heard a story Saturday worth repeating. I had the pleasure of speaking with Tech hall of famer Jim Thorne for a story I am working on, and he related to me his experience of traveling to South Bend, Ind., to play Notre Dame in Jan. 1969.
The team was to fly into Chicago and then fly a second leg to South Bend on a smaller plane. However, a snowstorm canceled the second leg of the flight. Further, Tech was flying on the day of the game. So, Thorne recounted, the team piled into rental cars and drove behind snowplows down the Indiana turnpike to get to Notre Dame.
The delay forced the team to miss its pre-game meal, so, Thorne said, players “ended up getting hamburgers at McDonald’s or some place.” It perhaps is not a surprise that, up against such circumstances, Tech lost 71-52 in what was the first season of what is now known as the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center.