Boston College on Wednesday, Georgia Tech on Saturday. The ACC office gave Virginia a little bit of a break — or at least, what should be a little bit of a break — before a tough stretch of games that begins on Tuesday on the road at Notre Dame, followed by at Villanova, before coming home to host a good Virginia Tech team.
The “break” allows the Cavaliers to get a bit of rest for some of the regulars and work on tightening up the defense a bit. Against Boston College, London Perrantes played just 20 minutes, Marial Shayok played just 18, and Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall played 25 each, which meant more minutes for some of the younger guys (25 for Kyle Guy and 23 for Ty Jerome). And they held BC to just 0.84 points per possession and won another conference road game.
Coming back home to face Georgia Tech may not be quite as easy as facing BC, though obviously being at home is nice. GT has beaten UNC and Clemson and won at NC State. They also gave the Hokies a game in Blacksburg on Wednesday before falling by a single point, and won on the road against VCU. On the other hand, they lost by 53 at Duke. KenPom ranks Georgia Tech 103rd in the nation, whereas BC is at 168th.
Last year’s Jackets team was a veteran unit with four seniors and a junior in the starting lineup. The only remaining guy from that unit is PF Quinton Stephens, who, while 6’9”, weighs in at under 200 pounds. He’s a stretch-four, but is just a 31% shooter from 3 point range (32% this year), yet takes almost half of his shots from 3 point range. Stephens is a good defender and he’s strong on the defensive glass. In last year’s matchup, the Jackets upset the Hoos, led by Stephens going 4-4 from downtown for 16 points. Despite being the elder statesman, Stephens is a role player.
Instead, the team this year is led by junior big man Ben Lammers and freshman wing Josh Okogie. In the Jackets’ win over UNC, Okogie led the way with 26 points, and Lammers had a double-double (11 and 11). They beat UNC with defense (aided by poor shooting from the Heels), holding UNC to just 0.81 points per possession (the Heels average almost 1.2 points per possession on the season).
Lammers leads the team at just under 15 points per game, with Okogie not far behind him (14.6). Lammers is a true big man who can score in the post, but he can also face up and hit a mid-range jumper and he’s strong on the pick-n-roll. He leads the team at almost 10 rebounds per game and is also a tremendous shot blocker with 8 blocks the other night against the Hokies. When Jack Salt is in the game, look for a lot of pick-n-roll, because he’s not strong enough to consistently get position inside against Salt. If the Hoos go small with Wilkins or Diakite on him, he’ll go inside. He’s got too much height for Wilkins to play him inside, but the Hoos will use the post trap in those cases. Lammers isn’t a bad passer from the post, but he’s likely never faced a post trap like what the Hoos can throw at him.
Okogie grew up in Nigeria, but moved to Georgia to play high school basketball after impressing at international tournaments and camps. He’s strong and athletic, but he has a tendency to disappear for stretches. He’s a good on-ball defender, but at times gets lost in team defense. His overall basketball IQ is lacking. In other words, he’s still very raw, but he's gifted.
Running things for the Jackets is senior Josh Heath, the son of former USF coach Stan Heath, where he began his career. When Stan was fired from USF -- he’s currently an assistant at BC — Josh transferred to GT. He has never proven to be much of a scorer, though he’s up to almost 6 points per game. He’s 6/16 from 3 this year (38%), but he’s just a 29% shooter for his career. He’s not a whole lot better inside either. He is a good distributor though, and is very good in transition, not that the Jackets get much in transition. Heath was suspended for the first four games of the season, but since then has averaged almost 30 minutes per game and yet he’s sixth on the team in field goals attempted.
Backing up both backcourt spots is freshman Justin Moore. Moore is similar to Heath in that he’s a pass-first PG who isn’t much of a shooter (1/6 on the season from downtown and just 47% from the FT line). But he’s bigger and stronger and has shown to be pretty good in the screen-n-roll. He can get to the rim and finish inside. He’s long (6’4”) but lean (160ish) and can be overpowered by bigger players. He’s not as quick as Heath but his length makes up for some of his disadvantages. GT head coach Josh Pastner will at times use Moore and Heath together in the backcourt, with Moore guarding the SGs. That duo can cause some problems defensively, but also hurts GT offensively.
The last piece of the team is junior Tadric Jackson. Jackson is a wing who is both the best outside shooter (41%, though he’s just 26% career) and best overall scorer for the Jackets. He’s not the biggest of wings, at 6’2” 209, and he doesn’t do much other than score, but he’s a lefty who can either get to and above the rim, or stop and pop. But scoring is something that Georgia Tech lacks at times, so Jackson’s ability to put the ball in the hoop is invaluable. He averages just 10 points per game, but also plays just 20 minutes per game. He’s also a terrible FT shooter at just over 50%.
The Jackets are a pretty decent defensive team, with a pair of shot-blockers inside (they are 3rd in the nation in shot block percentage). But for some reason, they struggle on the offensive glass. In their win over UNC, the Heels rebounded 40% of their own misses. The Hoos aren’t as good on the offensive glass as they’ve been in the past couple of years, but much of that has been by design. If Tony decides to let Isaiah Wilkins and Mamadi Diakite loose on the offensive glass, they could be a big boost for this game.
As we know, the Hoos have largely been winning with the 3 point shot this year. GT’s defense is geared to stop inside scoring. So the Hoos may find some open shots. The Jackets, on the other hand, do not shoot the 3. They take fewer of their shots from 3 than anybody in the nation other than Evansville, just over 21% of their shots compared to the national average of about 36%. The Hoos’ defense is one of the best in the nation at preventing inside scoring. Unlike the Jackets they don’t do it with shot blocking, although the Hoos rank 21st in shot blocking percentage. The Hoos do it with spacing and rotations and ball denial. If the Jackets can’t consistently get the ball inside, they are going to struggle scoring. Last year’s upset was almost entirely due to 8/15 shooting from 3 point land, which is something the Jackets are capable of — they won at N.C. State last week by shooting 10/16. However, barring a similar insane performance from outside, this isn’t a game the Hoos should struggle with.
Game tips off at John Paul Jones Arena at 2:00 p.m. The game will be televised on the ACC Network.