I’m sure you all know by now that I’m from Michigan. What you may not know is, I’m a bit of a car guy (incredibly amateur at it, but I sure as hell appreciate a nice classic or a bit of modern muscle and luxury). It’s a fun back and forth with my in-laws as I am more of a Ford guy and they’re Chevy people. All of this is to lead in with, whether the car makes much sense or not given their mascot, a 1930 Ford Model A Sport Coupe is one hell of a fine vehicle and I’m jealous of anybody who gets to ride in or dive one. Makes me tempted to plan a visit to my aunt and uncle’s place in the hopes of getting another ride in my grandpa’s old Motel T.
Anyways, enough of my rambling on here about classic cars. I [virtually] sat down to ask Robert Pensa and Patrick Sisbarro a few questions about their Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in preparation of our Nebraska Cornhuskers game tomorrow night down in Atlanta for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. So let’s get this started.
Kevin (AKA SpartyOnHuskers): Let’s go right to the meat of content to start. What’s the perception of the Tech fanbase over the NCAA sanctions given the state of college basketball? Is this another example of the arbitrary unfairness of Indianapolis bureaucracy at work, or a real example of gross negligence run amok?
Robert Pensa: I think that the answer depends on who you ask, however most people within the fanbase feel that the NCAA sanctions were a complete example of the unfairness of Indianapolis bureaucracy and “making an example of the little guy.” I think what is most frustrating for Tech fans is that the Jackets cooperated with the NCAA, self-disciplined, and took actions to dissociate with the involved parties, and yet they still got hammered. A chunk of the sanctions are under appeal currently, though I think we all know the NCAA is not going to change their mind.
Kevin: Coach Pastner is entering his fourth season, but hasn’t had a winning one since his first with the NIT runner-up finish. Is there frustration among the fan-base with his back-to-back 6-12 conference finishes, or is the sentiment that he is building for the long-term and needs time to get a program established in the ACC?
Patrick Sisbarro: Like Rob said above, it certainly depends on who you ask. There were many who never wanted Pastner hired in the first place, some who wanted him gone as soon as the Ron Bell fiasco went down, and some who wanted him canned as soon as the NCAA sanctions were handed down. However, there are several factors at play. First, any level headed fan understands how big of a rebuild it was when he originally took over and was going to get at least 4 years to make his mark. Second, I just don’t think we are in the financial situation to fire him even if we wanted to. I am certainly still a Pastner supporter, but I also recognize that this is by far his most talented team and results need to start coming in. My expectations coming into the season were the NCAA Tournament. Yes, that’s a big step from last year, but we returned 76% of our scoring and brought in 2 impact transfers (Jordan Usher and Bubba Parham).
Kevin: Given this is the B1G/ACC Challenge, what is your perception of each conference as a fan-base? Is one more top-heavy, one more elite, one tougher overall, or how would you generally describe each conference and some of their selected members?
Patrick Sisbarro: In previous years I would say the ACC on almost all fronts. The ACC has been the deepest conference in the country for a while. However, I would say the B1G is equal to if not better this year. Just going through the games for this challenge, it’s so difficult to predict who will win as there are so many interesting matchups. From top to bottom the B1G is filthy good this year. Michigan has the best resume in the country with wins over UNC and Gonzaga last week. Ohio St has blown out Villanova. Maryland is in the top 5. Penn St should be undefeated if not for a late second half collapse and looks like a solid tournament team. I mean shoot, even Fran McCaffery has already upset Texas Tech. I could go on forever with how good this conference is this year and I didn’t even mention Michigan St. With that said, the ACC is loaded too. We will find out this week if Louisville is the national title favorites I believe they are. Nobody in the country can play defense like Virginia. North Carolina, Duke, and Florida St are all elite. Even Virginia Tech, who was projected 14th in the conference, already has an upset win over Michigan St. Both conferences are about equal this season and I don’t think any other conference can compete with either
Kevin: The Yellow Jackets sit at 77th in KenPom, 133rd in adjusted offense, and 41st in adjusted defensive efficiency. What has been going right so far despite the close losses to 68th ranked Georgia (42nd offense) and 66th ranked Arkansas (11th defensive and 60th offensive)?
Robert Pensa: Well as you mentioned, the defense has been a major strength, holding every opponent Tech has faced below their season average in scoring. This really is not surprising given that defense is what coach Pastner has built all his teams around so far in his Georgia Tech tenure. Though the offense won’t blow anyone away at 133rd, it’s actually the highest Tech has ranked since Pastner has been in Atlanta (his previous offenses ranked 259th, 197th, and 228th). The offense has improved in large part due to the jump in scoring from Michael Devoe, who has become a very real scoring threat and a player teams have to scheme against every single night.
Kevin: Obviously Michael Devoe leads the team with 23.4 points a game thus far, and James Banks III is the second leading scorer while averaging a team best 9.6 boards. Who else should Husker fans be looking out for on Wednesday?
Robert Pensa: Unfortunately, Tech will be without two of their best players on Wednesday in Jose Alvarado (injured) and Jordan Usher (out through Kentucky due to transfer). However, Tech does have other contributors outside of Devoe and Banks. Sophomore Khalid Moore may be Tech’s best on ball defender, leads the team in steals, and has also seen his scoring bump up a couple points this year. Moses Wright, who is third on the team in scoring and shooting nearly 60% can score in bunches. His game may not look pretty at times, but when he gets hot, he is tough to stop due to his freak athleticism. Transfer Bubba Parham is averaging just 6 points per game so far this season, but you get the sense he’s ready to break out any game now. The sharpshooter averaged over 21 points per game last season at VMI.
Kevin: Coach Pastner runs a unique system of changing up defense regularly throughout the game. What kind of challenges do you think a Hoiberg coached team presents to the 44th ranked defense via KenPom?
Reed Bakich: Defense has definitely been the strength of Tech’s teams under Pastner and one of the keys has been the versatility he has shown schematically as you alluded to. Generally Tech will come out in some type of zone until a team can shoot them out of it (the 1-3-1 is Pastner’s preferred look). Against that defense, the corners are generally the spot on the floor that opposing teams can exploit. One of the things that always stood out to be about Hoiberg’s teams at Iowa State was his ability to spread the floor with great shooters around an elite playmaker with that centerpiece sometimes being a skilled big man. I’m not totally certain of how this Nebraska team is constructed but it looks to me like Cheatham and Burke are solid deep threats. My guess is that they will have to have a big night if the Huskers want to be successful against the GT defense. Offensive rebounding could also be huge, as this is always a concern for a zone team.
Kevin: Where will Georgia Tech end up at the end of the year? Will they fare as well as or better than the 3-2 start so far when it gets into the meat of conference play?
Robert Pensa: I can’t predict the future, but I certainly hope so. This is a team with NCAA tournament aspirations and if Tech does not at least find themselves in the mix, it will go down as a major disappointment for most fans. The Jackets could easily be 5-0 right now (or at least 4-1 if not for a crazy buzzer beating loss against Arkansas) and they’ve done it without two of their best players. Jose Alvarado is the heart of this Georgia Tech team and when he’s not playing or he’s playing injured, Tech is noticeably worse. Yellow Jacket fans have yet to see Jordan Usher play in a Georgia Tech uniform, but he should make a major impact in scoring, defense, rebounding, and really nearly every facet of the game. He’s that type of well rounded player. When this team gets fully healthy and eligible, I definitely think they belong in the conversation of that second tier of ACC teams which is fighting for a spot in the top half of the league and an NCAA tournament berth.
Kevin: Final question, what will happen on Wednesday in Atlanta, and what will the final score be?
Robert Pensa: I have to go with the Jackets here. Tech should have the advantage on both ends of the court, plus home court advantage, and Nebraska is just too inexperienced, especially this early in the year. Kenpom is predicting a ten point Georgia Tech victory, which sounds about right to me.
Patrick Sisbarro: Georgia Tech’s biggest weaknesses are turnovers, allowing offensive rebounding, and three point shooting. I don’t think Nebraska will be able to take advantage of them as they rank 146th in turnovers forced per game and 320th in offensive rebounds per game. Devoe leads the country in 3PT% at 62% and will be the primary one taking the shot. I think James Banks and Michael Devoe are able to carry us in this one while Jose Alvarado and Jordan Usher are out. I will go Tech by 10 with a final score of 70 to 60.
Kevin: Bonus question, can the B1G get a refund on Maryland as they’ve yet to win a game in the challenge as a Big Ten member and their football program was always a questionable addition? Do you guys miss the crab cakes or hideous state flag?
Patrick Sisbarro: Given the state of Georgia Tech athletics in major sports (football and basketball), I’m not sure I am in a position to be dogging Maryland. However, I can’t pass up the opportunity. Maryland got scared and left the ACC after a 4 year tournament drought for greener pastures. Since then the Terps have been picking up post season wins left and right. They are 2-5 in the B1G Tournament and 4-4 in the NCAA Tournament with many of the losses coming in games they were favored. In addition, none of their wins were over marquee college basketball programs. I’m not really akin to them to start with given they poached Georgia Tech’s highest rated signing in the last decade, Robert Carter. At least they have football right? One winning season since leaving the ACC and ZERO bowl wins despite recruiting well. Fortunately for Maryland, Mike Locksley is turning them into an elite college football powerhouse after going 3-9 with one conference win. How could you not want them to stay in the B1G? For me Maryland’s athletic prowess begins and ends with their student flash mobs.
Kevin: Not going to lie, watching a blow-out win was fun almost two weeks ago now in College Park. Then who doesn’t appreciate bowl eligibility, even if the Spartans tried hard to squander that win. Just can’t really get too excited about their prowess in field hockey, though. So hey, here’s a little football insert from our readers to try and wean you off the season a bit easier as you settle in for the fun ride ahead for this basketball season:
Now, onto basketball against Tech tomorrow night. And a big thank you to Robert and Patrick for answering our questions!