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Next Up - Georgia Tech

It’s been awhile but Georgia Tech is now a handful again

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Georgia Tech
Jan 8, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Matthew Hurt (21) shoots against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the first half at McCamish Pavilion. 
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Duke travels to Atlanta Tuesday night for a rematch with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. In Durham, Duke won 75-68. A lot has changed since then.

First, Jalen Johnson played well in that game, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards.

Obviously he’s not available.

  • Date: 3/1
  • Time: 8:00
  • Venue: McCamish Pavilion
  • Video: ACCN

Duke got a nice game out of Matthew Hurt, who played 38 minutes, same as DJ Steward.

But fellow starters Wendell Moore and Jeremy Roach got just four points between them.

That game was where Mark Williams started to emerge. In the game prior to Georgia Tech, he had played 4, 2 and 2 minutes. Since then he’s played at least 13 and his minutes have almost increased in every game with Virginia, where he played just seven, a notable exception.

That’s on Duke’s side. Less has changed for the Yellow Jackets.

Against Syracuse, Georgia Tech started 6-9 senior Moses Wright, 6-7 senior Jordan Usher, 6-0 senior Jose Alvarado, 6-7 junior, Khalid Moore and 6-5 junior Michael Devoe. Bubba Parham, a 5-10 senior, and Kyle Sturdivant, a 6-2 sophomore, were the bench.

That’s an advantage Duke can overcome - it did in Durham - but certainly can’t replicate.

And not to take anything away from Usher, Moore, Devoe and Parham, but Wright and Alvarado are the soul of that team.

Alvarado, who is not a great athlete, nonetheless stepped in pretty much immediately at Tech and has run that team for his entire time on campus. He’s wicked smart and even though it seemed obvious to us that Duke would win in January, he kept Tech relevant. He’s pretty unbelievable. The last guy we saw who made that many correct decisions without a mistake was Jon Scheyer. Alvarado’s reactions are a bit quicker if anything.

And what can you say about Wright? We followed his story in Raleigh: barely played in high school, was signed as a project based on size and athletic potential, and look what he’s done. He’s become a very, very fine college player and he did it the old-fashioned way: several years of hard work.

Wright is essentially an inside player although he will step out and shoot a three once or twice a game, and his percentage has gone from a laughable 6.5 percent as a freshman to a respectable 37 percent this year. He’s taken between 24 and 31 three pointers and has moved from 2 made to 5 to 7 and now to 10.

But he’s going to do his damage inside.

Interestingly, against Duke he shot just 6-17 and we’d have to think that Williams had some part in that.

In Josh Pastner’s time in Atlanta, he’s made his reputation on defense but this year his offense is pretty good. He has perhaps the ACC’s finest point guard in Alvarado, and one of if not the best big men in Wright, who is very hard to stop inside.

Against Syracuse’s vaunted zone, for instance, he shot 14-25 and finished with 31 points. In his last three games he’s picked up 12, 10 and 16 rebounds and he’s had four games this season with 14 or more boards and one with 19.

So he’ll have to be dealt with and of course Alvarado, who shot 10-15 and scored 26 in Cameron, will as well.

Thing is, you can’t ignore Usher, Moore, Devoe and certainly not Parham who, you may remember, hit a big three against Duke in January.

And after a Covid pause that cost Tech a bit, the Yellow Jackets seem to be back on target.

And Duke?

Well, Matthew Hurt is in a deep and deadly groove, shooting like a smaller Dirk Nowitzki lately. Williams as we’ve discussed a lot has really changed this team immensely, giving Hurt the freedom to roam around and also not to have to guard big guys. Moore has been up and down as a shooter but not as a slasher, defender or distributor. Other than some erratic shooting, he’s become what we expected this year, which is a versatile and valuable player who can rotate in and out of different situations. He’s been great.

Duke’s freshman backcourt has had some growing pains but we hope they’ll be in form against the Yellow Jackets. Keeping up with the energetic and decisive Alvarado will take some real effort and no one did a great job in slowing him down in Cameron. And as Al McGuire famously said about Phil Ford and UNC, “cut the head off and the body dies.”

The best way to beat Tech is to disrupt Alvarado. Unfortunately that’s easier than it sounds.

And it’s not like the other four primaries are hopeless without him. All of them are effective scorers and Parham can always heat up.

And did we mention it’s Senior Day? With lots of seniors?

Georgia Tech, in the words, is not going down without a fight. Duke can certainly win this game, but it won't be easy.