No. 9 North Carolina loses ACC opener at Georgia Tech

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
0 Comments

Josh Pastner’s tenure at Georgia Tech is young enough that the majority people outside the city of Memphis, including the numerous fans that didn’t actually make it to their the seats McCammish Pavilion on Saturday afternoon, probably didn’t realize he was the new Yellow Jacket head coach.

In the immortal words of comedic philosopher Kevin Hart, “You gon’ learn today.”

The Yellow Jackets opened up ACC play on Saturday afternoon with a 75-63 win over No. 9 North Carolina in Atlanta. Josh Okogie led the way for Georgia Tech with 26 points, five boards and three assists while Josh Heath chipped in with 15 points off the bench, a terrific performance and a terrific win that will be the feather in the cap of Pastner’s inaugural season regardless of how it ends.

So good for him. Pastner is a good man that had an ugly split with Memphis which gave him a reputation nationally that would make Scott Drew blush.

But the real story on Saturday was North Carolina, who started the day as 18-point favorites but will head home with a 12-point loss and an 0-1 record in ACC play. The issue was that the Tar Heels couldn’t figure out the zone that Georgia Tech was running. As a team, North Carolina shot just 33.3 percent from the floor and 5-for-26 (19.2%) from three and committed 20 turnovers.

But it was worse than that for North Carolina’s stars. Josh Jackson and Joel Berry II, two guys that are in contention for All-American honors, finished a combined 9-for-30 from the floor and 2-for-14 from three. They turned the ball over nine times. Throw in Kenny Williams’ 0-for-6 performance from three and, well, you get the point.

North Carolina couldn’t do anything on the offensive end of the floor, and that’s what the concern for this team has been and will be all season long. Their bigs were kept in check in part because Ben Lammers is one of the best rim protectors in the sport and in part because Tech could collapse defenders into the paint; if UNC is going to shoot like they shot from three, you let them shoot. The zone took away Berry’s ability to operate in isolation and eliminated the ball-screen and down-screen actions UNC had used against Kentucky to such effect.

The concern for Tar Geel fans now has to be whether or not Pastner just provided the ACC with a blueprint for how to beat them.

My guess?

Probably not.

Jackson and Berry are too good to play like this consistently, and Roy Williams is too good not to adjust what he does against a zone. He made the switch to a four-guard lineup with Jackson at the four in the second half, but it was too late to have any real impact.

More than anything, this is a loss that will end up being a drag on UNC’s seed and their chance to win the ACC regular season title. If the Tar Heels end up as a No. 3 seed on Selection Sunday, note this loss on their profile. If they finish a game behind the regular season champs, remember that they gave one away to one of the teams from the bottom of the conference.