As the spring semester gets underway and students return to campus, Josh Pastner’s club looks to continue a good run of form as the thick of their conference schedule quickly approaches.
Pastner made headlines before the season began by announcing that his team would not participate in full contact practice. This was done in an effort to minimize delays and postponements to games should the team be forced to enter the ACC’s COVID-19 protocols. However, after losing to Georgia State on Nov. 26 in quadruple overtime and by double figures to Mercer, Pastner reversed this decision and brought his team back into full contact practice. Georgia State continued to be no pushover, as they most likely would’ve made their third NCAA Tourney in a row at the end of last season if not for the tourney being cancelled. Mercer, however, currently sits at the bottom of their conference, and Tech held the lead against them for a mere 30 seconds throughout the course of the game.
Since returning to full contact practice, the Jackets have only lost once, which was on the road to open conference play in Tallahassee to defending ACC champions Florida State. Florida State was ranked 15th in the nation at the time, and their length posed big problems for a Tech team that was on average over an inch shorter than the Seminoles. FSU has since lost to Central Florida and a surging Clemson team, but they’re still regarded as a tournament level team and are four spots away from the AP Top 25.
The Jackets have won some tough games in this time frame as well. A trip downtown to State Farm Arena featured a matchup against the then 20th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, but the Jackets made easy work of John Calipari’s struggling team. Senior Moses Wright gave Tech the lead with about four minutes left in the first half and they never looked back, finishing the game with five out of 7 players who saw the floor in double figures, led by Wright who had 21 on the night.
Next was a trip to Lincoln to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Senior point guard Jose Alvarado starred in this one, scoring 24 in limited minutes due to foul trouble, playing the last 14 minutes of the game on four fouls and scoring 15 to lead Tech to victory.
After their loss to FSU, Tech returned home to McCamish Pavilion for wins over Florida A&M and Delaware State. Against FAMU, Moses Wright once again led the team in scoring with 24, and 4 of the Jackets’ starters reached double figures on the night. Delaware State saw Jose Alvarado tie his career high with 29 points, alongside Wright, senior Jordan Usher, and junior Khalid Moore in double figures. Fans at the game were treated to the depths of the Jacket’s bench in the final minutes of the game thanks to Tech’s commanding lead, which was 28 at the final whistle.
Tech was slated to travel to Birmingham to take on the UAB Blazers two days before Christmas, but the Blazers entered COVID-19 protocols and the game was cancelled.
Tech then welcomed North Carolina to McCamish, a game that looked like a slightly challenging win for the Tar Heels until the final 7 minutes where the Jackets lit up the scoreboard, led by Jose Alvarado and junior Michael Devoe each scoring 20 points in total and senior Bubba Parham going 3-for-3 from behind the arc. Jordan Usher also helped keep the Jackets afloat with his 14 points.
Wake Forest came next and the Jackets cruised to victory thanks to 25 points from Alvarado and 17 from Devoe. The team as a whole shot 50% from the field. Tech has had three additional games postponed due to COVID-19 protocols, which would have entailed trips to Louisville and North Carvolina State as well as a visit from Pittsburgh.
As Pastner’s team resumes activities, the team touted as a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament in the preseason will look to maintain their care of the ball which has been paramount to their success.
In all games except the Florida State matchup, when the Jackets win the turnover battle, they win the game (ESPN). The Jackets are 3rd in the ACC in turnover margin and 4th in turnover to assist ratio. They also boast two of the ACC’s top 6 scorers in Alvarado and Wright (ESPN). Moses hasn’t scored in double figures in the last two contests, so the Jackets will look to improve his ability to get to the rim and play in the post as they resume play.
Tech will need to start winning conference games handily, especially on the road against ranked opponents, if they want to make a run at being selected for the tournament for the first time under Pastner, as they currently aren’t even in Joe Lunardi’s Next Four Out and rank 70th in KenPom.