• Game 16: Georgia Tech (11-5; 1-2) @ Notre Dame (10-5; 1-2)
• Date: Jan. 13, 2016
• Place: Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, Ind.
• Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN3
• Opponent Nickname: Yellow Jackets
• Head coach: Brian Gregory (66-76 at Ga. Tech; 238-170 overall)
• Conference: ACC
• Location: Atlanta, Ga.
• 2014-15 record: (12-19; 3-15)
Tonight’s trip to South Bend might seem like a high-level pickup game on one end of the floor for head coach Brian Gregory’s Yellow Jackets, at least in comparison to the Rambling Wreck’s first three contests against No. 7 North Carolina, at No. 24 Pittsburgh, and against No. 4 Virginia over the weekend.
Georgia Tech knocked off the Cavaliers 68-64 in the latter, a feather in their cap after losing a pair of close contests against the Tar Heels and Panthers previously.
With both teams mired at 1-2 marks in conference play a loss in tonight’s contest could bury either program in what is expected to be a brutal ACC race.
OF SCARECROWS AND TIN MEN?
“We never had effort and defensive intelligence together much tonight.”
Head coach Mike Brey’s words above perfectly summarized his squad’s no-show effort on the defensive end in Saturday night’s frantic 40-minute defeat at the hands of Pittsburgh.
Heartless and confused is no way to go through life, or a basketball season for that matter, but for Notre Dame – a year removed from the program’s greatest season since the Reagan Administration – that’s largely been the case when pitted against the best teams on their schedule as they reach the season’s midway point.
“We’ve got to be tougher, grow up and be men,” said one of the nation’s pound-for-pound, physically strongest players, junior captain Demetrius Jackson.
Georgia Tech is chock full of men, foremost in the form of six-foot eight-inch, 270-pound center Charles Mitchell (12.9 points and 11.3 rebounds per game).
Mitchell plus new additions Adam Smith (the Virginia Tech transfer leads the Yellow Jackets in scoring from the point guard position) and Nick Jacobs (formerly of Alabama, now a six-foot eight-inch, 260-pound complement to Mitchell inside) will immediately test Notre Dame’s resolve to that end.
Smith has scored 66 points in three ACC contests vs. the league’s heavyweights including a 30-point explosion vs. Pittsburgh, one punctuated by an 8-13 effort from beyond the arc.
Mitchell has logged 12 games in excess of 10 rebounds on the season including 18 against Arkansas, 17 against Pittsburgh, and 15 boards on a pair of occasions.
CLOSE AND LATE, PART V
Among Notre Dame’s five defeats are four losses by a total of 14 points and in each the Irish either led by double digits, lost late due to missed free throws, or had a chance to tie at the final gun.
Conversely Brey’s battle-tested bunch has prevailed just twice in a game played to the wire, but that was prior to Thanksgiving in a 68-62 win over Iowa in Orlando. With five key performers experienced in such close contests it’s troubling that the Irish have been unable to close out contests.
Notre Dame and Georgia Tech have squared off four times over the last two seasons with last year’s outings – both won by the Irish – determined in double overtime (in Atlanta) and by three points (in South Bend) while the previous season’s battles ended in scores of 74-69 (Georgia Tech) and 65-62 (ND).
A game played “close and late” is likely to be the case again tonight as two teams with NCAA Tournament dreams attempt to avoid 1-3 starts in conference play.
Lost in the squad’s defensive struggles is the following reality: Notre Dame has one heck of an offense. To wit:
-- Sophomore power forward Bonzie Colson has connected on a remarkable 43 of his last 63 field goal attempts.
-- Newly minted junior captain Steve Vasturia has hit on 23 of his last 36 shots over his last five outings while dishing out 23 assists vs. just seven turnovers in his last six.
-- Junior point guard Demetrius Jackson has produced 61 points, 21 assists, and just four turnovers in three ACC contests while knocking down 13 of his 25 three-point attempts in that span.
-- “Struggling” big man Zach Auguste has 27 points and 16 rebounds over his last two outings while shooting 50 percent from the floor. Auguste however has committed nine fouls in just 59 game minutes, limiting his impact on both ends.
-- Junior forward V.J. Beachem has nailed at least three 3-point baskets in 9 of 15 contests this season and currently ranks second in the ACC at 45.7 percent from long range.
-- Notre Dame is listed as an 8.5-point favorite for tonight’s contest.
O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Notre Dame 78 Georgia Tech 73