Next up for Duke is Georgia Tech. Josh Pastner is now in his third season and it’s been a mixed bag, which is not entirely his fault.
His first season, Pastner won 21 games and made the NIT which was not a bad start. In his second, there were a number of controversies, some (unfounded) personal accusations which were later proven to be utterly false, significant injuries and some erratic results on the court.
Tech finished last season just 13-19 and this year, with limited talent, the Yellow Jackets are 9-5 to date.
Despite not having a ton of talent, Pastner has stressed defense and stolen some games.
Georgia Tech beat Syracuse at Syracuse 73-59, which was shocking given how easily the Yellow Jackets abused Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone, and took Notre Dame in South Bend 63-61.
It’s worth noting that Tech also nearly beat St. John’s (losing by three) and Virginia Tech (also a loss by just three).
Tactical success reminds one that for most of his life he’s been seen as a basketball prodigy. When he walked on at Arizona it was specifically because of his immense promise as a coach. Lute Olson said as much at the time. Everyone was intrigued by the kid.
Shoot, he had already coached AAU ball and was doing his own recruiting newsletter, “Josh Pastner Scouting Report,” when he was just 13.
He was mentored as an (official) assistant by Olson at Arizona before taking a job with John Calipari at Memphis and when Cal moved to Kentucky, he was the natural choice to take the job.
He was just 31.
He had some real success at Memphis, winning at least 24 games for five seasons and topping out with a 31-win season.
The last two seasons saw his program deteriorate and fan interest began to flag. By the time he took the Georgia Tech job, Memphis was willing to waive his buyout clause just to get him out.
There has never been a question of his intelligence or talent. He finished Arizona in five semesters, sometimes taking 33 credit hours per semester (that in addition to basketball). If his peers were being recruited as players, Pastner was seen as a coach from the time he entered puberty. When you think about it, that’s Bobby Fischer territory. No one has done that.
Perhaps like Fischer though, Pastner’s intellect matured before other aspects of his personality.
His final years at Memphis were marked by transfers and uncertainty. One player was quoted as saying that Pastner talked to him during practice about an allegedly deteriorating relationship with his A.D. If that’s true, we’d assume the-now 41-year old Pastner wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Last year, a “friend” named Ron Bell turned in Tech players for allegedly traveling on his dime which costs the university some suspensions and some embarrassment. That was nothing compared to the allegations Bell made against Pastner: he accused him of multiple things including sexually assaulting his girlfriend Jennifer Pendley. According to Sports Illustrated, Pastner “masturbated in front of her during a hotel room encounter and then tried to force her to perform oral sex.“
It sounded like crap then and later, when confronted with evidence that it was a setup, the couple admitted it was all lies.
It had to have affected Pastner and it wouldn’t surprise us if it affected his team. Certainly the turmoil that surrounded the team last year did.
Last year Pastner had Ben Lammers, who became a fine shot blocking center, and Josh Okogie, who was not highly regarded in high school but who emerged as an NBA level player in his two years at Tech and was drafted last summer in the first round by Minnesota.
This year he has less options.
We think Jose Alvarado is a winning point guard and exactly the kind of guy you’d love to have as a senior to run your team.
Unfortunately this year he’s the best offensive option and nearly the second best rebounder.
Keep in mind that he’s a 6-0 point guard who, despite his many strengths, is not an elite athlete.
James Banks, a 6-8 transfer from Texas, has helped. He’s capable offensively and has had games with 20, 22 and 24 points. But he only got 6.8 mpg at Texas. There’s a reason why he left, in other words.
Brandon Alston is a 6-5 senior who’s reasonably athletic but also not offensively gifted.
There just aren’t many options for Pastner so he has wisely focused on stopping people and there Tech is not too bad.
The Yellow Jackets allow just 63.5 ppg, which is third in the ACC behind only Virginia and Syracuse.
Well aware of his team’s limitations, Pastner has had to be creative and flexible. He’s moved players in and out of the lineup for specific situations. Against Syracuse for instance, he started 6-9 Abdoulaye Gueye at guard which makes sense since Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 puts an emphasis on long defenders.
What will he do against Duke?
Well certainly he’ll try to control the pace and keep Duke from running. That’s somewhat complicated by Tech’s turnovers. The Yellow Jackets average about 15 per game and had 22 against Syracuse and that was their most impressive win.
Duke feasts on turnovers and when you get Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish out on the break, not only are you going to get scored on, you’re going to push Cameron over the edge.
And then there’s Tre Jones.
There’s still no word on his return although the public comments have been optimistic and it’s not expected to be a long wait.
If he plays Saturday and puts pressure on the ball as he’s capable of, Tech will have a serious problem.
Of course they have a serious challenge without him.
Basically in order to have a chance at beating Duke, Georgia Tech has to hold the Blue Devils to about 22-25 points under their average of 88.6 ppg.
That won't be easy. Texas Tech held Duke to 69 points, Virginia to 72 and Pitt to 79.
That’s as well as anyone has done.
And it’s not like you can double team both Williamson and Barrett.
Basketball is a funny game because if you can get a handful of guys on the same page emotionally, and things start moving your way, anything can happen.
For Tech to pull off the upset, they’d have to be completely united and emotionally amped and Duke would have to cooperate. It’s certainly possible - the Yellow Jackets were brilliant at Syracuse and Pastner surely can see ways of doing it - but it’s a longshot.
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