Syracuse Basketball returns home for its final two regular season games of the season. The Orange (16-13, 9-9) are still trying to surpass last season’s win total of 16. The ‘Cuse a chance to accomplish that tonight against Georgia Tech (12-17, 4-14).
Now, if you aren’t following the daily musings of college basketball this might seem like an easy win, but it’s not. Yes, Syracuse has won four of the last five meetings but think of last year. The ‘Cuse barely snuck past Georgia Tech late in the season but emerged with a tough 74-73 overtime win in the Dome.
One year later both of these teams are quite different; however, the theme remains the same. Josh Pastner, Yellow Jackets Head Coach, always has his teams in much better position to compete in the second half of the year. The Ramblin’ Wreck have won three of their last four games and overall are having their best month of the season right now.
Tech has a 4-4 record in February which is the most wins its claimed since November when it won four. However, those four early season wins came against Clayton State, Georgia State (by 2), Northern Illinois, and North Alabama.
In the past four weeks, the Yellow Jackets have erased the 1-7 January from their heads and topped Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Florida Tech, and Louisville. They’ve also lost by single digits in each of the four losses to Louisville, NC State, Wake Forest, and Pitt.
So what’s changed since Syracuse plastered Georgia Tech 80-63 in its own barn last month? Well a couple things.
There is legitimately a six-man rotation right now for Georgia Tech. Perhaps it’s a product of injury issues but perhaps it’s a case of this grouping simply being the best six on the team. Essentially, the Yellow Jackets have opted to play small ball. The lineup includes Ja’Von Franklin (F), Lance Terry (G), Kyle Sturdivant (G), Deebo Coleman (G), and Miles Kelly (G), with Jalon Moore (F) coming in off the bench.
Deivon Smith, Tristan Maxwell, and Rodney Howard were all guys that had roles for this team back in January but not so much anymore. Smith was the starting point guard against Syracuse last month and Howard had a double-double against the ‘Cuse in the Dome last year. The Michigan native has essentially been a healthy scratch lately and is just not playing. Maxwell has dealt with injuries his entire career and it seems like he’s being hampered with another.
So Georgia Tech is playing an extremely tight group of guys and as a result is getting more offense but is also giving up a ton of size. Franklin is the tallest guy on the floor and he’s only 6’7″.
2. Emergence of Ja’Von Franklin
Some of you at home might be like who? Yeah, this might be the hottest forward in the ACC as of late. The South Alabama transfer went through a lull where he failed to score 10 or more points in six of the eight games in January. A struggle against Syracuse is included in there. Franklin managed just 2 points and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes against the ‘Cuse one month ago.
Fast forward one month later and Franklin has completely turned things around. The forward is now 3rd on the team in scoring, has tallied 10 or more points in seven straight games, and has recorded a double-double of four of his last five outings.
Most recently, Franklin poured in a Georgia Tech career-high 21 points with 13 rebounds in an 83-67 win over Louisville. The JUCO product has flipped the switch on his Yellow Jackets career and could perhaps cause this zone some issues in the paint.
3. Prolific Offense
A Josh Pastner-ism is “we gotta get to 70.” What he means by that is, we need to score 70 points in a game to be successful. That rings true this year and for his tenure in Atlanta. Georgia Tech is 9-2 this season when scoring 70 or more points and 76-20 in Pastner’s time in ATL.
The Yellow Jackets have scored 70 or more points five times this month and are 4-1 in such games. The lone loss came in a 71-70 defeat at Wake Forest. Syracuse has lost each of its last three games by an average scoring margin of 19 points and all three teams have posted more than 70 points.
4. Better Conditioning
Kyle Sturdivant and Ja’Von Franklin had a lot to say after Saturday’s Senior Day win over Louisville. One thing they said that stuck out was that the team has really focused more on its conditioning lately. The two said that’s been a big focus in practice because they want to be able to run with opponents better. That seems like a big focus too because the rotation is down to just six men as we already mentioned.
So look, Georgia Tech is just 12-17 and 4-4 in the ACC. Yes, the Orange blew them out by 17 in Atlanta last month so this looks like an easy win. However, a lot has changed since mid-January and this team is as hot as any in the conference and perhaps this is just another stop in their quest for a surprising run in the ACC Tournament. Syracuse better be very careful and tread lightly tonight.