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ACC Preview #6 - Georgia Tech

More of the same or an uptick?

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Georgia Tech
Feb 12, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Jose Alvarado (10) reacts against the Louisville Cardinals in the first half at McCamish Pavilion. 
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Pastner came to Georgia Tech after the Yellow Jackets parted ways with his predecessor Brian Gregory in 2016 after five seasons and no NCAA bids.

If you recall, Pastner came from Memphis where the Tigers were fairly successful until his last two years.

There was weirdness though. Weirdness kind of follows Pastner around.

One of his Tiger stars said he’d run through a wall for him but in the same interview alleged some cringeworthy behavior by Pastner and by the time he left, Memphis wasn’t overly sorry to see him go.

In Atlanta, he’s had a bizarre situation with a former friend named Ron Bell that made for unpleasant reading and helped earn Georgia Tech four years of probation (the tournament ban was served during the Covid Year of No Postseason, so that worked out pretty damn well).

We don’t need to get into the whole business but it underscores the sense of erratic behavior that seems to follow Pastner around.

It’s strange too because he was long seen as such a wunderkid that Lute Olson brought him to Tucson as a combination walk-on and coaching apprentice. And he finished school in about 2 12 years too, which is incredibly impressive considering that playing basketball is a full-time job and Pastner was doing more than just playing. He basically had three jobs - playing basketball, student, and apprentice coach - and none of them paid!

Of course intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence are not the same things and it’s possible that Pastner’s emotional awareness lags far behind his considerable intellect.

Who knows?

As far as on the court stuff goes at best, people are picking Georgia Tech somewhere between 8th and 12th, give or take.

That could be about right but it might not.

Since Pastner showed up, the Yellow Jackets have had two notable qualities: a great defense and a poor offense.

Last year, to make things worse, they had real trouble holding on to the ball.

Theoretically, that should be a bit better this year.

Jose Alvarado is now what we said he’d be four years ago: a senior point guard, which is rare these days. He’s also pretty smart although like his teammates, he had butterfingers with 2.7 turnovers per outing.

Still, we admire him. He’s small, (6-0), tough and a winner. He’s fun to watch.

He’ll be paired with Michael DeVoe, a rarity for Tech lately in that he can really shoot. Unfortunately he also averaged 3.4 tpg, which is dreadful.

DeVoe averaged 16 ppg while Alvarado put up 14.4 to combine for 30.4 ppg. That’s a good base to build on.

Raleigh native Moses Wright, now a sturdy 6-9/233 lb., is not necessarily the most skilled big man in the world but he’s potent inside and at times dominant. He's not popping up on many draft lists but he will have an impact.

Like Alvarado and DeVoe, he tossed the ball away a lot last year, 2.6 times per game in his case.

USC transfer Jordan Usher brought some talent but like his aforementioned teammates, he’s also mistake prone, averaging 2.5 turnovers of his own.

Those four players alone averaged 11.2 turnovers last year. Toss in the departed Joseph Banks III and that goes up to 14.4 between five players.

Notre Dame, by contrast, averaged 9.8 turnovers and UVA, the current kings of ball security, bumped up to 12.3 in an off-year.

So why do we feel some optimism for Tech?

Well a couple of reasons.

First, we assume everyone has been watching video all summer and fall and addressing their weaknesses. Maturity and experience usually helps.

And second, while we don’t know as much as we’d like about him yet, we have a good feeling about freshman center Saba Gigiberia.

Gigiberia is big - 7-1 and 250 - but he looks like he could fill out a good bit more. He still seems lean.

He’s agile and obviously grew up playing the European game in the other Georgia (he came to Tech partly because his aunt lives in Atlanta). He’s not quite Chet Holmgren, but he has aspirations in that direction (and he’s a lot thicker than the reedy rising unicorn).

He’s long-armed and, according to Pastner, an excellent passer (imagine that). We can see how he would fit right in. Doesn’t mean he will, but he might.

He’s not a bad ball handler either.

Pastner also brings transfer Rodney Howard from nearby rival Georgia. At 6-10 and 241, at a minimum he provides depth and great entertainment when the Yellow Jackets play the Bulldogs for a few years. He had minimal statistical impact but then again, Tom Crean is a guard oriented coach. He might turn out okay. He’s also immediately eligible.

Back to the returnees.

Transfer Bubba Parham seemed to have left his shooting touch back at VMI last season. He shot just 35.8 percent last season. Then again, he’s just 5-10 and he stepped up a considerable level when he transferred, so it’s probably understandable.

Khalid Moore is also back but the 6-7 junior doesn’t bring much to the offense.

Kyle Sturdivant followed Usher from USC a year later but he was kind of weak in a weaker conference. We don’t know what to expect honestly. Pastner says he’s quick and a good backup for Alvarado, but he didn't excel in a weak league. Why would he in a stronger one?

Two freshmen to watch: 6-8 Jordan Meka from Cameroon and 6-2 Tristan Maxwell, a freshman point guard from Charlotte.

If he gets minutes, which we hope he does, Meka will get a lot of highlights because the guy has some serious vertical. He doesn’t look like a very refined player at this point but as they say, you can’t teach talent and he’s got his share.

Maxwell, as it turns out, is the son of Mad Max, aka long-time NBA star Vernon Maxwell. His father was his primary coach and taught his son good mechanics.

If he can shoot and hang on to the ball, Pastner may be deliriously happy.

Moving up in the ACC isn’t easy but we could see this team make a move if a few things happen: first, if they manage to cut their turnovers. That’s just basic common sense. You can’t give it up that much.

Secondly, Gigiberia needs to come through. As long as he plays defense and is steady, he’ll be an asset. If he can pass and shoot too, it’s a different team.

Finally someone else needs to emerge as a shooter. It seems like a prime opportunity for Maxwell but it could be someone who put in serious practice time over the summer. If you have DeVoe and one other shooter not named Alvarado, the rest of the team will get a lot more options and things get easier.

Pastner better hope so. His predecessor was fired after not making the tournament in his five seasons.

Well it’s Year Five for Pastner after this season, and not only has he not made the postseason, he’s under .500 overall for the Yellow Jackets.

In other words, the clock may be ticking. Time to get moving.