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ACC Preview # 7 - Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets are coming off an ACC championship but lost two major stars. So now what?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 02 Duke at Georgia Tech
ATLANTA, GA MARCH 02: Duke forward Wendell Moore Jr. (0) defends against Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe (0) during the NCAA basketball game between the Duke Blue Devils and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on March 2nd, 2021 at Hank McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, GA.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Georgia Tech announced a three-year extension for coach Josh Pastner on Wednesday and after last year, it’s hard to argue.

Pastner built his ACC championship team around big man Moses Wright and point guard Jose Alvarado and that fact deserves some perspective and praise.

It’s not like Alvarado was a nobody. He was a promising high school player and we thought he’d do well, but we’re not sure anyone expected the kind of relentless brilliance we saw last season. Alvarado became a superb leader and defender. Any coach would have been thrilled to have him.

As for Wright, he came out of Raleigh and only played one season for Enloe, his senior year, being home schooled prior to that.

He was, basically, a nobody, a classic sleeper for a coach who saw his potential.

Pastner did and nurtured it and Wright turned into a terrific force who was ACC Player of the Year last season. Pastner and his staff get full credit for developing those two into wonderful college players and consider this as well: neither was drafted.

We don’t say that to insult them but to praise Pastner. He did a terrific job with both.

Now going into his sixth season, it’s probably a good thing for Pastner that his team won the ACC Championship last season.

Prior to that, other than his first season, when he won 21 games in Atlanta, Pastner hasn’t topped 17 wins. And somewhat lost in the glamour of last year’s superb finish was a four-overtime season-opening loss to Georgia State.

The Yellow Jackets got it together but it wasn’t like everyone expected a great team. Toss in a probation and the poor judgement he showed to let a guy like Ron Bell get close to his program and he may have tested his school’s patience.

How is this season looking? Let’s break down the roster first.

Gone

  • Moses Wright
  • Jose Alvarado
  • David Didenko 6-9
  • Malachi Rice -6-0 SR
  • Shaheed Medlock 6-5
  • Niko Broadway 6-3

You can toss out Rice, Medlock and Broadway: they played in a combined six games. Maybe they were useful in practice, but even that’s a maybe. Didenko got in five but didn’t do much damage.

Wright and Alvarado are huge losses though.

Alvarado played 37.1 mpg. Basically if he could, Pastner kept him on the floor; he was the indispensable man. His immense desire and winning charisma rubbed off on everyone. He’s one of those guys that carries innate authority because he plays so hard and intelligently. If it were up to us, we’d retire his jersey. Like yesterday.

Wright was a dominant inside player and it was hard for most ACC teams to match him. He’s a very athletic and powerful player. Really only UNC, Virginia and Wake Forest kept him in check.

Both guys are major losses and may be irreplaceable this season.

Returning

  • Jordan Usher 6-7 senior
  • Bubba Parham 5-10 senior
  • Michael DeVoe -6-5 senior
  • Khalid Moore 6-7 senior
  • Kyle Sturdivant 6-2 junior
  • Rodney Howard 6-10 junior
  • Jordan Meka 6-8 Sophomore
  • Tristan Maxwell, 6-2 sophomore
  • Saba Gigiberia, 7-1 sophomore

Of these guys, we saw good stuff from Usher, Parham, DeVoe and Moore.

Usher came in as a transfer from Southern Cal who came back home. He had a reputation as someone who maybe wasn’t very focused offensively. Our belief is that that’s an area where Alvarado really helped. A great point guard can discipline the offense and, given the intense respect he got, we’re pretty sure Usher did what he said.

Will that carry over now that he’s gone? Time will tell. And Wright covered up a lot of things for his teammates too, particularly on rebounding and defense.

Usher is an athletic player but he doesn’t shoot particular well although his overall field goal percentage is up. But he's a poor three point shooter. He’s not a bad slasher though.

Parham is another transfer, from VMI, and while he’s a better shooter, he’s pretty scrawny for an ACC player. He’s just 5-10 and 160 and shooting is his strength, or was at VMI. At VMI, he topped out at almost 40 percent on threes. ACC players are a different challenge though: at Tech he hasn’t gotten over 33 percent. However, he was notably better all-around last season than he was in his first year in Atlanta.

DeVoe is probably Pastner’s most dangerous returning weapon. He’s an excellent three point shooter who was the ACC Tournament MVP this past March. He’s an excellent three point shooter and can fill-in at point guard too. He’s a big key for the Yellow Jackets.

Sturdivant was a rotation player who could build a bigger role.

As for Wright, the candidates to replace him are Rodney Howard, the 6-10 transfer from Georgia, and Saba Gigiberia, who played minimally last year.

Howard is probably ahead. He averaged 7.7 mpg and got some backup minutes. Gigiberia got about half as many minutes.

It’s possible that Meka could take over too. He only played one game last year due to a back injury so who knows? He was a solid rebounder and defender in high school.

For some reason, Georgia Tech lists him as a sophomore despite his limited play last year.

Tristan Maxwell’s dad, Vernon, was a long-time NBA player and a noted tough guy. Maxwell only got in one game last season so we have nothing to go on. Again, like Meka, we don’t understand why he didn’t get a redshirt year. Maybe the site wasn’t correctly updated.

Transfer

  • Deivon Smith, Mississippi State

Smith has a tough gig: he has to follow Alvarado. And Alvarado was the reason he picked the Yellow Jackets.

Well, one of them: he likes the way Tech developed Alvarado, Wright and DeVoe. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this about how he sees himself: “I’ve seen flashes of myself, stuff I do, stuff all point guards should do – defense, plays hard, hits open shots, gets his teammates involved. But I feel like I can do the same thing (as Alvarado) with a little bit more athleticism.”

And here’s his new coach with a bit of cold water: “Deivon, he’s an elite athlete, especially at his position. I think the key is going to be we’re going to need a great job of developing his skill to match his athleticism. I think that’s going to be important.”

Translation: you have a ways to go to match Alvarado, kid.

Freshmen

  • *Dallan “Deebo” Coleman 6-6
  • *Miles Kelly 6-4
  • *Jalon Moore 6-6
  • Jermontae Hill, 6-6

Coleman is a Top 35 recruit and the highest rated kid Pastner has brought in but as Alvarado and Wright proved, yet again, ratings mean less than hard work and desire.

That said, he should be good and should help right away. Here’s what ESPN’s Adam Finkelstein said: “He’s a skilled scorer and shot-maker with deep range and very good size on the perimeter. He plays with the ball in his hands quite a bit in high school, and while he’s probably more of a wing initially at Georgia Tech, the potential is definitely there for him to play multiple positions down the road.”

Kelly is a Top 100 recruit who moved up the rankings fast (and late). Okay, maybe he was a late bloomer, but the pandemic made it especially hard for guys like him to get noticed. Pastner never even saw him in person. He could be really good and obviously Pastner is a believer. But there’s still a lot of mystery. But he could be a monster.

Moore may take a little longer to establish himself on offense but he’s a versatile defender and that may get him in the rotation.

Finally, Hill is a walk-on but he got some significant offers from the likes of Boston College, St. John’s, Florida, Florida State and Kansas State. Apparently the Georgia native really wanted to go to Tech. He sounds better than your average walk-on.

So Pastner now has a really nice group of midsize, athletic players and don’t forget Parham. Assuming Smith can handle point and someone can defend the paint, the Yellow Jackets may not slip as much as we thought they would. Pastner is probably feeling reasonably good and some of the freshmen could really erupt.

Finally, keep this in mind.

Remember how people used to complain that Tech couldn’t recruit Georgia?

Well no more: eight players are from the Peach State and Howard played his high school ball there.

Georgia has a ton of talented players most years and if Pastner can keep them home, that should help a lot.