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Preview: Georgia Tech @ Wake Forest

The surprise Yellow Jackets pay the Demon Deacons a visit in Winston-Salem

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets come into Winston-Salem currently sitting at 13-9 (5-5) to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 13-9 (4-6). Both teams are squarely on the NCAA Bubble Watch and this game is important for each team, but for slightly different reasons.

The game takes place at the LJVM in Winston-Salem on Saturday at 3PM. It will air on FSCarolinas/RSN/WatchESPN/ACC Network (I go to a lot of the games so I have no idea what channel they want us to use to describe it).

For the Yellow Jackets it is another chance to pick up a top 50 road win. Using KenPom’s rankings, Tech already has four A-Tier wins (top 50), and this would be the fifth of the season. To compare, Wake currently is 0-8 in Tier A games.

It is definitely a “gain-ground” game for Tech, and a “lose-ground” game for Wake Forest. If we are using the expected 8-10 as the bare minimum for getting into the NCAA Tournament, then this is one that the Deacs have to win.

What Josh Pastner has done in his first year at Georgia Tech is nothing short of remarkable, and if the voting for ACC Coach of the Year took place today then I would almost certainly pick him as the favorite.

Freshman Josh Okogie and junior Ben Lammers have led a feisty defensive Jackets team to exceed pretty much any expectations held for the team this season.

They are ranked 10th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and a pretty woeful 221st offensively. The defense relies on limiting teams to low shooting percentages and keeping them off the foul line.

Lammers jams up the the middle with a 9.4% block rate (29th nationally), and will be an incredibly interesting matchup with sophomore sensation John Collins.

Okogie is probably second in line for ACC Rookie of the Year, only behind Dennis Smith, Jr. He has two 30+ point games, including a recent 35 point effort in a 78-56 win over nationally ranked Florida State. In that game he became the first ACC player in 7 years to record at least 35 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists.

The Jackets enjoy a slower pace of play, averaging 67.8 possessions per game (238th nationally), compared to the Demon Deacons’ 70.6 (93rd nationally).

When Wake Forest has the ball and Tech is on defense it will be a sight to see. Wake ranks 12th nationally in offensive efficiency compared to Tech’s 10th place ranking. That is effectively a Sweet 16 type matchup on that side of the court, but unfortunately for both teams, the other side is a travesty.

One thing that Georgia Tech does not do well is rebound the ball defensively. This generates a lot of second chances, and that is something that most teams do not want with John Collins, Doral Moore, and Dinos Mitoglou inside.

Tech ranks 221st nationally compared to Wake’s 148th ranked defense. The Yellow Jackets are especially woeful at shooting the basketball, ranking 301st in effective field goal%, shooting 46% from 2’s and 34% from 3’s.

While Tech isn’t good at shooting, they at least know this, as they rank 350th in 3PA/FGA, as just 22% of their shot attempts are from behind the three-point line.

The biggest key in this game is going to be whether or not John Collins can stay on the court against Ben Lammers. I expect both teams to go inside early and often to try to establish their front court as the dominant sector.

Lammers is only called for 2.9 fouls per 40 minutes, and as a result plays 87% of the team’s minutes (compare that to 62% for Collins). In will be vital for Collins to be on the court for at least 30+ minutes, and try to frustrate Lammers with his plethora of moves inside.

Overall I think the home court advantage for Wake Forest will prove to be the deciding factor. I don’t know that this is a great matchup for Wake because Tech has a lot of strengths in areas that Wake is also good in, but ultimately I believe Tech will fail to convert on shots (even if they are open), which will provide the Deacs with enough breathing room to outscore the Jackets.

This may be closer than Wake fans want, but I’ll take the Deacs 78-73 to keep stay on track for the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year.