It hasn’t been easy for Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner to point his players to examples of No. 1 Virginia floundering this season for extended stretches. Visual evidence has been difficult to discover.
Georgia Tech arrives Wednesday in Charlottesville looking to play better in its third full game without starting point guard Jose Alvarado, who was lost for the season Feb. 11 when he suffered a dislocated left elbow against Duke, than the Yellow Jackets played in losses at Wake Forest and against Virginia Tech.
Of course, trying to do what only Virginia Tech has been able to accomplish this season — win in Charlottesville — will be a tall order for Georgia Tech on a night when U.Va. (24-2, 13-1) can clinch the Atlantic Coast Conference’s regular-season title with a victory.
Clemson will be in a similar situation to Georgia Tech on Wednesday night at Virginia Tech (19-8, 8-6) as the No. 15-ranked Tigers will again be without starting point guard Shelton Mitchell, who sat out Clemson’s home loss Sunday against Duke while working through concussion protocol.
Judging from what Pastner has seen of U.Va., something akin to flawlessness will be required for Georgia Tech to upset the Cavaliers, who will be playing for the first time since Feb. 13 in a 59-50 win at Miami.
“There’s not that many games they’ve struggled (in) to watch,” said Pastner, whose team has lost five consecutive games — three of which have taken place since Feb. 9, when he offered strong public denials of sexual assault allegations against him. “They’re very well-coached and they’re really, really good. For us to win the game on Wednesday, we’ll have to be near perfect on both sides of the basketball and, of course, we’re going to have to score against them. That’s easier said than done.”
Though U.Va. has been typically stout defensively all season (best in the nation in scoring defense, 52.7 points per game; third-best in field-goal percentage defense, 37.7; fifth-best in 3-point field-goal percentage defense, 29.7), the Cavaliers were on another level in the first half against Miami. U.Va. surrendered 16 points in the opening 20 minutes.
U.Va. guard De’Andre Hunter came off the bench to score 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the floor, helping the Cavaliers gain some breathing room in the second half of what had been a close game. Guard Kyle Guy (team-high 15.2 ppg), who took advantage of his time away from the court this past weekend to get engaged, chipped in with 13 points at Miami.
Georgia Tech (11-16, 4-10) has moved Josh Okogie (team-high 18.6 ppg) from scoring guard to point guard to try to adjust without Alvarado (12.1 ppg, 3 assists per game), but his recent absence has been far from the Yellow Jackets’ only on-court issue. They’re second-to-last in the ACC in scoring (65.3 ppg) and field-goal percentage (42.3), and last in 3-point shooting percentage (29.8).
U.Va. will be seeking its third ACC regular-season title in the last five seasons (also won it in the 2014 and ’15 seasons). The Cavaliers followed up the ’14 regular-season crown by also winning the ACC tournament championship.
Virginia Tech has stolen a few traits of U.Va.’s approach to improve its own defensive performance, even throwing some of the Cavaliers’ pack-line philosophy at them Feb. 11 when the Hokies upset then-No. 2 U.Va. 61-60 in overtime.
After holding U.Va. to 34.4 percent shooting from the floor, Virginia Tech limited Georgia Tech to 36.4 percent last Saturday in the Hokies’ 76-56 road win. They were the lowest shooting percentages Virginia Tech, which has employed more zone in recent weeks, has surrendered in ACC play this season.
With a 3-1 mark in its last four games, Virginia Tech heads into a critical opportunity against Clemson (20-6, 9-5) seeking what would be another NCAA tournament résumé-building win.
Going into Tuesday night’s games, Virginia Tech was 35th in advanced statistical guru Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and 55th in the Ratings Percentage Index. Clemson was 10th in the RPI and 16th in Pomeroy’s rankings. The Hokies are 3-6 against teams ranked among the top 50 in the RPI, including 2-3 against the top 25 in the RPI.
Clemson, which has lost back-to-back ACC games for the first time this season, was unable to overcome 13 turnovers Sunday in its 66-57 home loss to Duke. Tigers guards Marcquise Reed (team-high 15.6 ppg) and Gabe DeVoe (13 ppg) were a combined 4-of-24 shooting from the floor, scoring 16 points combined.
Without Mitchell (11.8 ppg), and with Reed handling the ball more in his absence, Clemson had a tough time against Duke’s zone. Clemson coach Brad Brownell, whose team has lost three consecutive times to Virginia Tech and in five of its last six trips to Cassell Coliseum, won’t be surprised to see more zone from the Hokies.
“It looks like they’re doing a little bit better job maybe of protecting the basketball,” said Brownell, who has also been without forward Donte Graham — arguably Clemson’s best player this season — since he suffered a torn ACL in late January. “I thought they really guarded well at Virginia. They played just a terrific game really on both ends. …I think their guys are really in good position (defensively) supporting each other.”
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642 or Twitter at @normwood