Georgia Tech Basketball: Can the Jackets once again upset North Carolina?

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 04: Jayson Tatum
DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 04: Jayson Tatum /

Last season, Georgia Tech pulled off the improbable and upset North Carolina, a year later, the Jackets look to do it again, this time on the road.

It’s safe to say last season on December 31st, 2016 that the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were expected to lose to the North Carolina Tar Heels. The Jackets were picked to be one of the worst teams in all of the country and it was questioned if they would even win an ACC conference game.

Despite the odds against them, however, the Jackets were able to duel it out with the Tar Heels and walked away from the game with a victory. It was the first upset last year of three over ranked opponents that the Yellow Jackets pulled off, all coming at home.

So far this season, the Jackets have pulled off two notable upsets, defeating #15 Miami and also beating Notre Dame. Both of those upsets also came at McCamish Pavillion, which is once again becoming the Thriller Dome to say the least.

The Jackets at home under Josh Pastner have been a strong team. The Jackets sit at 27-7 at home under Pastner’s tutelage.

That being said, the Jackets have yet to pull off an upset on the road. In all reality, the Jackets have barely won on the road under Pastner. In the Jackets first season and a half under Pastner, they have been a true road opponent 17 times. In those 17 games, the Jackets are 4-13.

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On Saturday, the Jackets will look to finally pull off that upset on the road and potentially cure all their road woes.

But it won’t be easy, they’ll be traveling to Chapel Hill to play at the Dean Smith Center. The Jackets last won in Chapel Hill during the 2009-10 and season and have won just twice there since the turn of the millennium.

For the Jackets, it won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination. They are a team that doesn’t travel well that is going to play in a place that they have struggled in for some time.

The Jackets will have to play their game though and not replicate their turnover-filled performance Thursday against Virginia.  The good news for the Jackets is that defense has been rock solid of recent. In each of their last five games, they have kept their opponents under 65-points. The strong defensive play will have to continue on Saturday.

For the Jackets, it will be all about playing their game. They will have to play smart, sound, and fundamental basketball. Don’t make any unforced errors and keep it tight defensively. If they do that, they have a chance.

When facing strong defensive teams this season, the Tar Heels can be stopped. In losses to Michigan State and Virginia, the Tar Heels only scored 45 and 49 points. Well below their season average of 82.8. In those two games, the Tar Heels had 16 and 19 points respectively, which is no coincidence.

Like most teams, if you can force North Carolina to make mistakes, they can be beaten. That being said, both Michigan State and Virginia are efficient teams offensively. The Jackets, however, are not, and that’s where the game will be decided for Tech.

The Jackets halfway through the season are still one of the worst shooting teams in the country with no signs of it turning around anytime soon. Even though the returns of Tadric Jackson and Josh Okogie have been beneficial, the Jackets are still struggling to put up strong offensive numbers. In their last six games, they have put up 70 points or more just once.

On Saturday, the Jackets will need strong games out of their four major offensive pieces in Josh Okogie, Tadric Jackson, Jose Alvarado, and Ben Lammers. If the Jackets can get double-digit efforts from three of four or even all four, they stand a good chance at pulling off the upset. But with all of them having tough stretches of recent, it’s hard to see all four clicking on Saturday.

The showdown with the Tar Heels on Saturday means more than just the win and loss record for the Jackets. As mentioned above have extremely struggled on the road. For the Jackets, one of their biggest steps going forward in terms of program success will be their success away from McCamish Pavillion.

Their home and away splits show the tales of different teams. At home, the Jackets are well experienced and confident but on the road, they still lack strong experience and confidence.

If Josh Pastner can help the Jackets find their confidence on the road, the Jackets will become a contender to make the NCAA Tournament. But until then, the Jackets will need to hope for miracles on the road to pull off wins.

Perhaps their game against North Carolina can be both. It may take a bit of a miracle to win on Saturday against the Tar Heels but perhaps it could be a momentum and confidence builder for the Jackets in terms of their efforts on the road.

Next: Jackets lose to Virginia, fall to 10-8

If the Jackets hope to salvage the rest of the season and give themselves a shot at making the tournament, it will start Saturday. But winning on the road will have to be a must for the Jackets if they hope to do so going forward. This is where young and budding programs take the next step forward.