It's probably a stretch to think the Georgia Tech basketball team is ready to challenge for the ACC Tournament championship. But it's equally difficult to discount the chances of a Yellow Jackets team that has been extremely successful in the second half of the conference schedule.
Georgia Tech avoided a game on the first day of the tournament for the first time since 2010. It begins play as the tournament's No. 10 seed and meets old rival Clemson (17-13, 10-8 ACC) on Wednesday at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. The winner advances on to play No. 2-seeded Virginia on Thursday.
"I like where we at right now," Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said. "All we have to do is worry about the first game. We're not going to change the formula. We stuck with it even when we weren't getting the results we wanted. The guys hung in there and did a good job staying true to what we're doing and because of that we've been successful."
Georgia Tech has won five of its past six games to complete the second half of the conference schedule at 6-3. The Yellow Jackets (18-13, 8-10) have split two games with Clemson this season, losing the first one 66-52 on Feb. 13 at Clemson and winning the rematch 75-73 on Feb. 23 in Atlanta.
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The two teams have met four previous times in the ACC Tournament, with Georgia Tech winning three times.
Games between the two geographical rivals have historically been close affairs. Georgia Tech has won only two of 11 games against the Tigers under Gregory, but they have won two of the past four. The average margin of victory during those 11 games is seven points, and only three games have been decided by double digits.
"There haven't been many games against Clemson where it hasn't been a grind," Gregory said. "Both programs are built around hard-nosed defense, and both teams have improved on offense, which is why we've had such good seasons."
The Clemson offense is built around Jaron Blossomgame, a versatile 6-foot-7 junior forward who this week was named first-team All-ACC and the ACC's most improved player. He totaled 39 points in the two games against the Yellow Jackets and provides matchup issues because of his ability to score in so many different ways. He averaged 18.6 points and posted 15 20-point games.
"We have to do a great job on Bossomgame," Gregory said.
In the second meeting this season, the Yellow Jackets were able to limit Blossomgame in the second half by defending him with Marcus Georges-Hunt, Georgia Tech's top defender. The Tigers likely will be ready for that this time around, leaving Gregory to say, "You have to play good solid team defense at every spot."
Georges-Hunt has remained the centerpiece of the team's offense this year. He's averaging 16.6 points but has totaled only 19 points in the past two games after averaging 24 in the previous four games.
But unlike last year, when the offense often died when Georges-Hunt was stopped, this year's team has many other options. Adam Smith averages 14.6 and the inside duo of Charles Mitchell (10.3 points) and Nick Jacobs (10.8 points) offers a potent pair on the blocks.