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Game Preview: Wake Forest vs Georgia Tech

Can the Deacs finally exorcise the road demons?

William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

Just when things appeared to be taking a severe downturn, Wake Forest flipped the switch with a 29-point home victory over Syracuse. In doing so, the Deacs also reignited the NCAA Tournament conversation.

Torvik currently puts Wake Forest’s odds of making the “Dance” at 59.1%. In regards to the ACC, the site has the Deacs at a 68% chance of finishing the season in the top four and earning the elusive double-bye, as well as an 11.2% shot of winning the conference tournament and the autobid.

To accomplish these feats — earning a double-bye and reaching the NCAA Tournament — the Deacs must turn the tide on a troubling trend of losing conference games on the road. Since defeating Boston College in Chestnut Hill on Jan. 2, Wake Forest has lost its last four conference games away from Joel Coliseum. In the past three, the Deacs led at halftime, only to falter in disastrous fashion.

The path is still there for the Deacons, but the margin for error is small. In my opinion, not all wins are of equal importance. Though a victory at Georgia Tech likely won’t move the needle a great deal, it would get that road weight off Wake Forest’s back. Additionally, a loss would have a harsh impact on the team’s resume.

Wake Forest changed the vibes Saturday night. It can keep the good times rolling on Tuesday.

Game Info

Teams: Wake Forest (14-7, 6-4 ACC), Georgia Tech (10-12, 3-8 ACC)

Date: Tuesday Feb. 6

Time: 7pm

Location: McCamish Pavilion; Atlanta, GA

Broadcast: ESPNU; Anish Shroff and Dan Bonner

History

After dropping both games to the Yellow Jackets in his first season with Wake Forest, Steve Forbes has won the past two, including a one-point home victory at the Joel last year that needed a pair of made Tyree Appleby free throws with two seconds remaining.

The Metrics

Georgia Tech trails Wake Forest by a large margin in both NET (41 to 125) and KenPom (31 to 126).

Though boasting an offense that just cracks the top 100 in KenPom, the Yellow Jackets’ defense lags well behind, right around the D-1 average. The team’s effective field goal percentage is 49.3, good for No. 237 in college basketball. The Yellow Jackets don’t shoot well from either two or three-point range, but struggle even more from the free-throw line, where its team 68.1 average is 300th in the nation.

Georgia Tech seldom causes turnovers, but uses its height to an advantage, pulling down offensive boards at a high rate, as well as recording blocks.

The Games

Q1: 3-3

Q2: 3-6

Q3: 1-2

Q4: 3-1

Best Wins: Home victories over North Carolina and Duke (Dec. 2 and Jan. 30 respectively)

Most Troubling Loss: 75-68 defeat to Notre Dame (Jan. 9, Home)

The Lineup

Georgia Tech has a strong set of four scorers that each average double-digit points. Those four — the first mentioned below — give you a little bit of everything. The team has some serious three-point shooters, a solid forward and a ball-handler/distributor. The Yellow Jackets also utilize one of the longer benches in the conference, as seen in the depth pieces section.

The Starters

G Naithan George

As a freshman, George has started 18 of the 19 games he’s played in for the Yellow Jackets. Averaging 29 minutes per game, the Ontario native is also adding roughly 10 points on 41% shooting. George isn’t afraid to take threes; 71 of his 160 shots have come from deep, which he’s making at a 29.6% clip.

Additionally, George leads the squad with 96 assists. In the Yellow Jackets’ past two games, the 6’3” guard has averaged 17 points, and he rattled off 20 in the team’s January upset of Clemson.

G Miles Kelly

An everyday starter, the junior leads the Yellow Jackets in points per game with 14.5 while averaging nearly 32 minutes. Kelly is a high-volume shooter, leading the team in attempts by a healthy amount. Though, his field goal percentage is 36.7%, not exactly a strong point. A touch under half of Kelly’s shots are from three, of which he’s hit 30%.

At 6’6”, Kelly averages six rebounds per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a shade below one, and he sits one foul below a tie for the team-high. For a guard, his 69% free-throw clip is well on the low end.

G Kowacie Reeves Jr.

Like Kelly, Reeves is another everyday starter for Georgia Tech, averaging 31 minutes and 11.3 points per game. The 6’7” guard profiles as a three-point savant; he makes 41% of his shots from behind the arc. Over 50% of his shot attempts are from deep.

F Baye Ndongo

Ndongo had 12-straight games of 10+ points before scoring seven combined in the Yellow Jackets’ past two contests against NC State and North Carolina. The 6’9” freshman is making 59% of his shots from the field, averaging 12.3 points. Ndongo leads the team in rebounds with 8.1 per game, but also tops fouls and turnovers.

C Ebenezer Dowuona

Following three years at NC State, Dowuona transferred down south, where he has started 12 games for the Yellow Jackets. Despite the high start count, he averages just under 10 minutes and doesn’t provide any threat of scoring. It’ll be interesting to see what Damon Stoudamire does with this spot.

The Depth Pieces

G Kyle Sturdivant

Sturdivant is a key sixth-man for the Yellow Jackets, averaging 19.5 minutes and 8.7 points per game despite having not started. The 6’3” senior is a solid shooter from two-point range and can hit some threes. He’s also a strong ball distributor. Sturdivant scored 18 in Georgia Tech’s win over North Carolina.

G Deebo Coleman

Coleman gives Stoudamire 20 minutes per game to go with 6.5 points. He, for the most part, appears to be a three-point specialist — 80 of his 123 shots are from deep. In ACC play, he hasn’t been a huge scoring factor yet, but he did rattle off 24 early in non-conference play.

F Tyzhaun Claude

At 6’7” Claude is an offensive rebound machine; he’s recorded at least two in the past seven games, and has gone as high as five. He plays 18 minutes per game off the bench.

F Tafara Gapare

In 15.8 minutes per game, Gapare is good for a block or two, but can be a liability with fouls.

F Ibrahima Sacko

Profiles a bit like the Keller/Marsh situation, plays some games, but not every one. Averages 10 minutes, and can steal a few for a starter when needed.

Essex’s Take, Keys to the Game

I hate to attach a high-level of import to one game, it is a 20-game conference schedule after all. But this feels like one Wake Forest needs to have, right? A week ago, I said the Deacs needed to win three of their next four to feel good. Well, they’ve already dropped one, so by that metric, Georgia Tech certainly seems like a must win.

Wake Forest couldn’t get it done against a team that hadn’t won a conference game at home yet in Pittsburgh. Now, it faces a team that has taken down North Carolina and Duke in its home gym. But, Georgia Tech is also a team that dropped a home match to Notre Dame and lost by 24 at Virginia Tech. They’re not an especially good team, but one that can put together a formula to win games it shouldn’t.

As stated before, Wake Forest must flip the switch. It can’t blow another second-half lead on the road. It can’t really afford to lose a game it shouldn’t. The Deacs must go down to Atlanta and take one. Here’s how they get it done.

Make it rain from three

There’s a caveat here, which is ball movement. Against Georgia Tech, the threes don’t seemingly just pop up. The Yellow Jackets don’t sag on defense. The opportunities are opening with ball movement. But, if you make that happen, the chances will certainly be there. Virginia Tech got up 27 attempts from deep just over a week ago. The Hokies made 44% of them. In Georgia Tech’s most recent loss, NC State took an astounding 31 threes.

Take those opportunities and, with the way the Deacs shot from three Saturday night, good things will happen.

Hello Andrew Carr

From the film I’ve watched, I’m not highly sold on Georgia Tech’s interior defense, especially that of Baye Ndongo. Robbie Beran was able to score 14 for Virginia Tech, Lynn Kidd 18. Wake Forest is going to have a size advantage with both Efton Reid and Carr, but especially the latter. Establishing the paint could be an avenue for high-percentage shots.

Calm, cool, collected Cam

Saturday night featured the revitalization of Cam Hildreth’s game. I give him a lot of credit, he’s playing through what appears to be a tedious wrist injury. But, against Syracuse, Hildreth did the right things. He didn’t push himself or try to play hero ball. He took the shots when they came, and seemed far more comfortable in the process.

Wake Forest needs Hildreth on the court, but they need the right version of him. There is certainly evidence now that that can happen, especially with him shedding the wrist brace late.

Hit first, don’t be hit last

In Georgia Tech’s victory over North Carolina, the Yellow Jackets were able to keep it close. They had hope. Wake Forest cannot give them any Tuesday. Virginia Tech took the wind out of Georgia Tech’s sails early, entering halftime with a double-digit lead.

But, if Wake Forest does develop a big lead, it cannot allow what has happened far too often to occur again. In the second half, teams have been able to unload a nasty right hook and take over the game. The Deacs did a good job at handling Syracuse’s last-gasp attempt to get back in the game Saturday. Now they must do so on the road if the same situation pops up.

Prediction

Short and sweet here. Wake Forest is more talented, but talent gives you nothing if it falls apart in the face of adversity.

The Deacs must exorcise these road demons. Against Georgia Tech, I think they can get it done, but they need to FINISH. Time will tell.

But, I’ve just got a feeling here.

Wake Forest wins 76-62