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Preview: No. 14 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech

Irish enter challenging Thriller Dome atmosphere on heels of 17-point defeat.

GAME NO. 22: NOTRE DAME (17-4; 6-2) AT GEORGIA TECH (12-8; 4-4)

-- Date: January 28, 2017
-- Place: McCamish Pavilion, Atlanta
-- TV: ESPNU
-- Opponent Nickname: Yellow Jackets
-- Head coach: Josh Pastner (179-81 overall; 12-8 at Ga. Tech)
-- Location: Atlanta, Ga.
-- 2015-16 record: (21-15; 8-10)
-- 2016 Post-season: NIT Quarterfinals
-- Point spread: Notre Dame is favored by 6.5 points

Today’s contest marks the seventh between Georgia Tech and Notre Dame since the latter joined the ACC for the 2013-14 season. Each of the previous six were decided in the game’s final minute or overtimes, the most recent a 63-62 buzzer-beating victory by the Yellow Jackets over the Irish last February in Atlanta.

Notre Dame has won four of six meetings between the programs since joining the ACC. The teams will meet again Sunday, February 26, in South Bend.

BEWARE THE THRILLER DOME

No. 9 North Carolina entered in early January and lost by 12. No. 6 Florida State was vanquished earlier this week by a whopping 22 (and held to 56 points in the process).

Georgia Tech is a different team inside the friendly confines of the McCamish Pavilion, aka, The Thriller Dome, where the Yellow Jackets upset both No. 4 Virginia and No. 18 Notre Dame last winter as well.

“We had a great crowd tonight, just terrific, terrific crowd,” said Yellow Jackets head coach Josh Pastner after his squad’s upset of the Seminoles. “Got a great home-court advantage with that.

“And that’s the first time since ‘03-04 that we’ve had two top-10 wins (at home) in the regular season.”

It’s thus surprising the 14th-ranked Irish are staked as relatively heavy road favorites today in Atlanta.

ANOTHER DATE WITH DEFENSE

Early January Irish opponent Louisville boasted the nation’s *second-ranked defense. Tuesday’s victor, Virginia, ranks third. Notre Dame’s December foe and defending national champion Villanova sits at No. 20 overall in that regard.

The Yellow Jackets – a zone-heavy crew – will fit right in with Notre Dame’s previous top foes faced, currently in possession of the nation’s 22nd-ranked defensive unit, one built on the strength of the third-best field goal percentage defense (39.3% trailing only Louisville and Virginia) in the ACC.

(*Rankings above, as always, per Kenpom.com. The Irish have tussled with top 30 defenses from Miami, #27, and Purdue, #23, as well.)

Notre Dame counters with the nation’s 13th-ranked unit in terms of offensive efficiency but the Irish have been inconsistent in that regard away from home:

  • At Florida State (L): Hit 47 percent including a remarkable 15 of 21 from beyond the arc. Turned it over 18 times (with 18 assists).
  • At Virginia Tech (W): Connected on 52% of their field goal, 7-18 from long range but committed 15 turnovers against 16 assists.
  • At Miami (W): Missed 42 of 67 shots including 15 of 20 3-point attempts. Produced 15 assists vs. 6 turnovers
  • At Pittsburgh (W): Shot 45% from the field and 33.3 percent from the arc while assisting on 18 buckets vs. just 9 turnovers.
  • Vs. Purdue (L, Indianapolis): Shot 49% overall; 40 percent from long range in defeat.18 assists vs. 10 turnovers.
  • Vs. Villanova (L, Newark): A tale of two halves, hitting better than 51% in the first but just 40% in the second with 16 misses in 22 3-point attempts. (16 assists against 9 turnovers).
  • Vs. Northwestern (W, Brooklyn): Shot just 41.5% for the game but nailed 8 of 18 from beyond the arc. Committed just six turnovers.
  • Vs. Colorado (W, Brooklyn): 42% from the floor, 35% from long range, but 27 of 29 from the charity stripe while committing eight turnovers.

While Tech can defend and utilizes a myriad of zone looks to that end, Pastner’s defensive-minded troops rank last in the ACC in adjusted field goal percentage, 46.8 percent. As a point of reference, Virginia is No. 1 (56%).

COLSON’S CAROMS TO TELL THE TALE?

Held to three rebounds in Tuesday’s loss to Virginia, ACC leader Bonzie Colson faces another challenge in Yellow Jackets center Ben Lammers.

The six-foot ten-inch, 227-pound senior ranks third in the league with 9.6 boards (Colson sits at 10.4) and first in blocked shots, 3.35 per contest, to rank second nationally.

Six-foot nine-inch forward Quinton Stephens augments Lammers on the glass with 8.1 rebounds of his own. Stephens ripped down 13 boards against both Virginia and Virginia Tech in back-to-back matchups earlier this month.

Colson and the Irish can’t get out of Atlanta with a W if the long-armed junior doesn’t get back to work on the boards.

“It was a weird night for Bonz, that he didn’t get more defensive rebounds. He usually closes that gap for us,” said Brey of Colson’s paltry trio vs. the Cavaliers. “I have a feeling he’ll bounce back.”

Colson scored 20 points against Virginia hitting 8 of his 11 attempts. He’s corralled at least 11 rebounds in six of eight league outings with each resulting in an Irish victory – both games in which he finished with less than 10 (Florida State, 8, and against Virginia) ended in defeat.

POTENTIAL PERIMETER PROBLEM

Crucial in the Yellow Jackets unlikely destruction of No. 6 Florida State Wednesday was a 35-point, 14-rebound outburst by freshman guard Josh Okogie. (That’s 14 rebounds for a 6’4” perimeter player.)

Okogie also netted 26 in the aforementioned home upset of North Carolina and topped that with 27 in a mid-January win at N.C. State. He hit for a career-high 38 at home vs. Tulane during non-conference play.

“First of all, he has gotten a lot better and I want to give a lot of credit to Brian Gregory and the previous staff for signing him,” said Pastner of the high-scoring rookie. “Now, I think our assistant coaches deserve a lot of credit – not me, but the assistants – on getting him better. And then all the credit obviously goes to Josh for his improvement, his willingness to work, just the highest level of character of a young man, integrity – he’s just a winner.”

He’ll be opposed throughout the afternoon by another winner, Brey’s trusted senior swingman Steve Vasturia. But should Vasturia’s services be needed against the taller Stephens, Irish sixth-man Rex Pflueger will draw the day’s most difficult defensive assignment.

AVOIDING THE DOUBLE DIP – WITH TROUBLE AFOOT

Duke (Monday in South Bend) and North Carolina (next Saturday in Chapel Hill) loom. One week later, a rematch against Florida State at the Purcell Pavilion. While today’s matchup in Atlanta isn’t exactly a must-win, it doesn’t get much easier for the Irish in the near future.

“We are quick page-turners here, no matter what has happened, in regular season play,” said Brey following his 17-point home loss to Virginia. “Because the next one is coming at you quick. You have to flush it and get ready to go. I do like that we got our butts kicked, because I think it really gets everybody’s attention and gets the intensity up for two great practices (Thursday and Friday). We could use two really sharp ones.”

Can those practice sessions – the first of which was touted among the best of the season by the team’s Twitter account – carry over against a confident crew in Pastner’s Rambling Wreck?

“We need to really let it rip and be loose,” said Brey on his Thursday evening radio show. “Especially on the road. That’s how we play. We’ve played like that on the road. I really need that demeanor back again on Saturday, and we’ve got to go for it.

“We can’t play safe, but we’re going to have to defend, and they’re going to play probably six different zone defenses against us.”

O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Notre Dame 69 Georgia Tech 65


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