Preview: No. 12 ND @ Georgia Tech

Down a key piece with the suspension of junior big man Zach Auguste, Notre Dame travels south to Atlanta looking to bounce back from its first conference loss of the season.

• Game 19: No. 12/12 Notre Dame (15-2; 3-1 ACC) @ Georgia Tech (9-6; 0-3 ACC)
• Date: Jan. 14, 2015
• Place: Hank McCamish Pavilion, formerly Alexander Memorial Coliseum
• Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN Full Court/ESPN3
• Location: Atlanta, Georgia
• Nickname: Yellow Jackets
• 2013-14 Record: 16-17 (6-12 ACC)

If the matchup seems a touch familiar its for good reason: the Irish prevailed against the visiting Yellow Jackets in double overtime, 83-76 on Jan. 3.

Notre Dame trailed that evening from the outset, falling behind 13-2 in the first three minutes. They rebounded (figuratively, not literally, as noted below) to creep within four, 31-27 at the break before taking their first lead since the game's opening bucket with just under 10 minutes to play. Jerian Grant all scorers with 24 -- all five Irish starters hit for double figures -- while Tech's Marcus Georges-Hunt scored 20 albeit on 19 field goal attempts.

The Yellow Jackets out-rebounded their hosts 46-31 including a ludicrous 19-5 advantage on the offensive glass.

In the midst of his fourth season at Georgia Tech (52-58), Yellow Jackets head coach Brian Gregory is a 12-year veteran of the college ranks spending the previous eight guiding ex-Irish rival Dayton to a a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and an NIT championship win over North Carolina.

Gregory was complimentary of Notre Dame's current squad following his team's double overtime defeat on January 3, singling out the remarkable ascent of Irish sophomore Demetrius Jackson.

"Every player in America should look at Demetrius Jackson, because there are 400,000 guys transferring because their freshman years don't go the way they want them to. He just kept working. His freshman year didn't go the way he wanted it to and now he's one of the best guards in the league. Guys don't have that patience. The first thing they're going to do is point a finger instead of pointing their thumbs and I don't know, but that's the way it's supposed to be."

The Yellow Jackets have played a trio of tight contests at home of late, edging 11-4 Vanderbilt 65-60 and struggling with sub.-500 Charlotte 67-66 prior to the outset of ACC play. Gregory's squad dropped its conference home opener to Syracuse, 46-45, in a contest that included 14 lead changes.

While Notre Dame enters tonight's contest ranked first nationally in offensive efficiency, the host Yellow Jackets remain mired near the back of the pack -- 195th overall with just eight of 75 power conference teams ranked lower. Georgia Tech shoots just 41.9 percent from the field including a comical 24 percent clip from beyond the arc while committing more turnovers per game (13.2) than assists (11.9).

The Rambling Wreck mitigates its struggles on the offensive end with a plus-9.4 rebounding margin. In addition to bludgeoning the Irish on the boards, Tech out-rebounded Syracuse by 10, Marquette by 12, losing close contests to each of the three. (Wake Forest got the best of the Yellow Jackets on the glass in Saturday's 76-69 win in Winston-Salem, a 41-29 edge due in part to 10 more shots attempted by the visitors.)

The Yellow Jackets are led by junior forward Marcus Georges-Hunt's 13.3 points per game. Hunt is shooting just 40 percent form the field including 8 for 39 from long range. The nearby College Park, Ga. native scored 20 vs. the Irish on Jan. 3 but missed nine of his last 12 shots due in part to the position defense played by Irish swingman Steve Vasturia.

Aiding Hunt are a pair of power forwards, Charles Mitchell and Demarco Cox, both of whom appeared larger than their six-foot-eight, 270-plus pound listings when standing next to their Irish counterparts earlier this month. Mitchell scores at an 11.1 ppg. clip with a team high 7.8 rebounds while Cox hits for 9.1 ppg. adding 6.1 boards. Robert Sampson -- son of legendary Virginia center, Ralph -- comes off the bench to add six boards to the cause as well. Sampson proved a difficult matchup for the Irish wings 12 days ago.

(Each of the four Yellow Jackets noted above averages as many or more rebounds per game than every Irish player with the exception of Pat Connaughton's 8.2.)

Following a 5 for 9 shooting night in South Bend, junior guard Chris Bolden has struggled from the field of late, missing a combined 14 of 16 field goal attempts in losses to Wake Forest and Syracuse. Georgia Tech's point guard tandem of freshman Travis Jorgenson and sophomore Josh Heath hasn't provided much offensive punch. Scoreless in 26 minutes in South Bend, Jorgenson has hit just 7 of his last 28 field goal attempts while Heath is a disappointing 4 for 18 in the same five-game span.

Jorgenson's 23-10 assist-to-turnover ratio justifies his starting status.

Sophomore forward Quinton Stephens produced off the Yellow Jackets bench in Saturday's loss to Wake Forest, scoring 13 points in 24 minutes, hitting three of four attempts from long range. Previously, Stephens hadn't hit for double digits since Nov. 21 though he did lead the squad with a 22-point outing in a season-opening victory over rival Georgia.

Irish head coach Mike Brey noted last week he wants his troops to "embrace hard games."

Be careful what you wish for...

News broke today that Notre Dame would play tonight's contest without starting big man Zach Auguste, *suspended indefinitely for undisclosed reasons to be clarified by head coach Mike Brey post-game.

The Irish played much of the first matchup between the two without Auguste as well, as early foul trouble and ineffectiveness on the defensive boards limited him to five minutes in the first half and just 10 more in the second stanza. Auguste then broke out in the two overtime sessions, playing all 10 minutes with four fouls and contributing five points and four boards while playing with a confidence and energy absent for the bulk of regulation.

His role tonight will most likely be filled by a quartet of disparate front-court players:

• Freshman center Martinas Geben -- the ground-bound pivot man has struggled vs. quality competition to date and hasn't connected on a field goal in 42 minutes played since a Dec. 20 win over Purdue (1-1). Geben collected three rebounds vs. Tech in the first matchup, the Irish will need at least that, plus quality screens and not more than two turnovers upon the catch from the youngster throughout tonight's contest.

• Redshirt-freshman forward Austin Torres -- the defensive hero of an early December win over Michigan State and producer of 12 quality minutes vs. the Yellow Jackets earlier this month, Torres has regressed of late, playing a combined seven tentative minutes against Virginia and North Carolina, missing point-blank layup opportunities in both. Torres' athletic bounce is a necessity if the Irish are to survive on the glass tonight at the Thrillerdome.

• Junior forward Austin Burgett -- ranks as the most accomplished of the four, showing his wares off the bench in a win over Duke last season and providing 11 key minutes in a victory over Purdue on Dec. 20. Unlike the rest of the quartet, Burgett is likely capable of extended minutes tonight, though foul trouble will become an issue with more court time.

• Freshman forward Bonzie Colson -- Possesses long arms and a nose for the ball, plus the ability to finish at the rim. At least that's what Colson showed vs. the myriad tomato cans Notre Dame faced prior to conference play. Since, Colson has been lauded by Brey for his work ethic in practice, the Irish head coach offering last week of his oddly-shaped frosh, "I think there's still going to be a story there." Chapter No. 1 should be tonight, as the 6'5" 225-pound Colson may be the only member of this quartet that can survive on both ends of the floor against the massive Yellow Jackets front.

The foursome above can equal the efforts of Auguste in a one-game stint if utilized expertly by their head coach, but none from the group can bang for an extended period vs. either member of the Mitchell/Cox tandem, of whom Demetrius Jackson joked post-game on Jan. 3, "It looked like some of them spent the morning in the weight room."

At a major disadvantage on the glass with or without Auguste, Notre Dame will further rely on its versatile starting foursome of Grant, Connaughton, Jackson and Vasturia.

Grant continues to facilitate the Irish offense with an absurd 3.93 assist-to-turnover ratio, but the NBA hopeful hasn't hit a three-point shot in the 2015 calendar year -- that can't continue tonight. His backcourt running mate Jackson was outstanding vs. the Yellow Jackets on Jan. 3, harassing Tech's point guards into a combined 2 for 10 shooting effort for a whopping 45 floor minutes. Jackson has hit for double figures in eight straight and 14 of the last 15 contests.

Connaughton has been hot of late, hitting 50 percent on his last 38 shots from beyond the arc over a five-game span while adding 42 rebounds and leading the squad with 16.8 ppg. Conversely, Vasturia is mired in a bit of a shooting slump: 2 of 11 from the field last week against Virginia and North Carolina and just 5 of his last 19 from long range over the last five outings.

In Vasturia's long-range stead has stepped sophomore V.J. Beachem, Brey's designated shooter off the bench. After missing key December wins against Michigan State, Florida State, and Purdue with a foot injury, Beachem has returned to rip the nets for 21 points (6 of 10 from beyond the arc) in battles vs. Virginia and North Carolina -- two of the three best defenses Notre Dame will face this season.

Beachem must again provide a boost, but without Auguste, Notre Dame cannot survive tonight if Grant doesn't return to form and Vasturia no-shows as he did vs. the (admittedly superior) Cavaliers on Saturday.

Look for the newly-minted big man foursome to receive brief boosts from both Burgett (weak side defense) and Colson (in spurts) but for foul trouble to plague whichever members of the quartet are granted the most floor time -- overexposure tends to test a young player's mental focus, a reality that still vexes the suspended Auguste midway through his junior season.

Tonight's game situation favored the hosts prior to Auguste's suspension -- a physical home team in desperate need of a league win, returning home after a close loss four days prior. Expect the Irish to battle but come up short vs. a Georgia Tech squad replete with confidence after letting one slip away in South Bend less than two weeks ago.

Point Spread: Notre Dame -4
Irish Illustrated Prediction: Ga. Tech 70 Notre Dame 65
Season Record: 12-5 straight up; 3-6 vs. points Top Stories