It’s coming down to the wire.
There are only four games left in the regular season. With Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament chances on the line, Georgia Tech makes up half of SU’s remaining schedule.
The first of two times the Orange and the Yellow Jackets will meet is this Sunday in Atlanta. Here are three crucial elements to this weekend’s game:
Georgia Tech is Unpredictable
A wavering season doesn’t at all mean a team is on a cold streak.
More, it means that Syracuse doesn’t know which Georgia Tech team will show up this weekend.
The Yellow Jackets have been on a rollercoaster ride this season: they have been beaten by seven unranked teams, yet they also beat three top-15 teams. Meanwhile, they own a mere 6-7 record in ACC play.
In December, Georgia Tech played #9 North Carolina and won 75-63. Just one game later, the Yellow Jackets fell by almost their score, 110-57, to #8 Duke.
Georgia Tech also beat #6 Florida State the game before Syracuse did; both were surprise upsets.
Basically, Syracuse will have to be ready for anything in Hank McCamish Pavilion. The Orange haven’t been having a season for the records this year either, so SU will have to play like this is already the tournament: a strong offense and an improving defense.
With tougher opponents in #12 Duke and #8 Louisville as the other two remaining games beside the two against the Yellow Jackets, the Orange cannot afford to assume Sunday’s game will be easy and let it slip away due to lax playing.
Georgia Tech has Players to Watch Out For
While Georgia Tech doesn’t have the strongest résumé as a whole, individual players on the team have skills to boast about — and Syracuse has to pay attention to them this weekend.
Quinton Stephens is the Yellow Jackets leading three-point shooter. The Orange need to keep an eye on him beyond the arc, where he has hit 40 threes this year. However, SU doesn’t need to watch him too closely to the point where it stops guarding others on the court — Stephens only averages ten points per game.
Stephens is also sharp on defense, though. He has 34 steals on the season. He and Josh Heath average over two steals per game.
Josh Okogie (15.4 PPG), Ben Lammers (14.7 PPG), and Tadric Jackson (11.1 PPG) are Georgia Tech’s top scorers, but together they only average 28.5 minutes per game.
Their playing time is split among a rotation of eight different players that all average about the same time on the court, four of which average only 4.6 points per game. This means that Syracuse will be playing against the Yellow Jacket’s top scorers for as much time as they will be playing Georgia Tech’s players who don’t score much at all. This could provide some breaks for the Orange.
Lammers and Stephens lead Georgia Tech in rebounds with 245 and 202 respectively. In 24 of the Yellow Jackets’ 27 games this season, Either Lammers or Stephens, or both, led their team in rebounds. Lammers is tied for second in the ACC (and ranks 35th in the NCAA) in rebounds while Stephens ranks seventh in the conference. Josh Okogie ranks 32nd in the ACC.
Lammers gets more offensive rebounds than Stephens, while they both average close to the same amount of defensive rebounds per game. Syracuse will have to make sure to keep the ball out of their hands when they are on the court so Georgia Tech does not get too many second-chance points.
If the Orange can keep these players’ strengths in mind and remember them when the players are on the court, SU can properly defend against painful Yellow Jackets’ stings.
Syracuse Needs to Learn from This Game
With new coaching this year, the Yellow Jackets have been playing a new scheme. Syracuse cannot look back to last year to find pointers on how to play this revised team.
So, the Orange will have watch and learn throughout this game.
However, that’s not all.
These two teams play again in two weeks, on March 4. These two games against Georgia Tech could determine the Orange’s postseason hopes. The two games left in the regular season that are not against Georgia Tech are against ranked opponents in #12 Duke and #8 Louisville (again).
Whether Syracuse wins or loses this weekend, the Orange needs to learn from how the game goes down so that it can rise up in the second match and close the season strong.
Keeping the ideas discusses here in mind during the games is a good start.
Published: David Edelstein