Tony Bennett’s team eyes its sixth ACC win.
After gutting out a 58-55 home victory against NC State, the Virginia Cavaliers (15-5, 5-2 ACC) hit the road again for a Super Bowl Sunday showdown against Georgia Tech (11-8, 1-6 ACC) in Atlanta. Will the Wahoos extend their ACC winning streak to 5 games, or will they get stung by the Yellow Jackets? Find out in the Georgia Tech Primer.
1. Team Introduction. Last season, head coach Brian Gregory’s first in Atlanta, Georgia Tech limped to an 11-19 (4-12 ACC) finish, capped off with a 54-36 first round loss in the ACC Tournament to Miami. One of those losses was a 70-38 home loss to UVa with the Wahoos dominating both before and after senior center Assane Sene went down with an injury. Without much player turnover and with some key additions, Georgia Tech was tabbed to finish 9th in the ACC this season by both the media and the coaches. As such, the Ramblin’ Wreck’s current position in the cellar of the ACC standings with a 1-6 record has to qualify as a bit of a disappointment, but the team is probably better than its record suggests.
Tech’s 10-2 mark in out-of-conference play included 9 wins over mediocre opponents, a solid win over St. Mary’s (65-56), and two quality losses to Cal (68-57) and Illinois (75-62). Then, in their first 5 ACC games, the Jackets had understandable road losses to NC State (83-70), Duke (73-57), and UNC (79-63) and a home loss to 1st place Miami (62-49). The only inexplicable defeat came at home to Virginia Tech (70-65 in overtime). In its last 2 games, however, Georgia Tech has looked better, walloping Wake Forest (82-62) at home and taking Clemson to the wire in a loss at Littlejohn (63-60). On the season, the Yellow Jackets are No. 134 in RPI, No. 78 in KenPom, and No. 81 in TAPE. As is usually the case, I would put more stock in these latter two rankings.
2. Offense. On the offensive side of the ball, Brian Gregory’s teams run a variety of set plays out of a 1-4 high set in which the point guard initiates plays several feet beyond the 3 point-line while the other four players form a horizontal line at the free throw line, with two players at the opposite edges (“elbows”) of the free throw line and the other two just outside of the 3-point line. The remaining players then try to set a number of screens to free outside shooters and pull the opposing defensive players out of the paint to create scoring opportunities down low. Gregory, like his mentor Tom Izzo, also likes to have his team selectively get out in transition offense. As I noted in last season’s Georgia Tech Primer, I don’t expect this offense to ever have much success against the stay-at-home Pack Line defense. The problem for Gregory this season has been that the offense hasn’t had much success against anyone. Tech comes in at No. 226 in adjusted offensive efficiency, with the primary problem being that the team is composed mostly of great athletes who can’t shoot. The Ramblin’ Wreck is No. 283 in 3-point percentage (30.7%), No. 241 in effective field goal percentage (46.8%), and No. 309 in free throw percentage (63.9%).
3. Defense. Georgia Tech fares much better on the defensive side of the ball where the team’s athleticism is used to much better effect. But again, the team’s defensive style kind of plays into Virginia’s hands. Tech favors a containment man-to-man scheme that is more about forcing bad shots than forcing turnovers. Accordingly, the Jackets are No. 18 in opponent effective field goal percentage (43.1%) but only No. 173 in opponent turnovers per possession. I think that Tony Bennett much prefers to play against this type of prevent defense than one that gets into passing lanes and puts a lot of pressure on the ball. That said, GT’s defense overall has been excellent, earning the team a No. 17 rank in adjusted defensive efficiency.
4. Player Turnover. Last season’s leading scorer, Glen Rice Jr. (13 PPG), was dismissed from the team last March after being charged in connection with a shooting incident outside an Atlanta nightclub. Otherwise, the Hoos will pretty much see the same team they faced last year plus some key additions. The only other note here is the unfortunate situation for freshman point guard Corey Heyward, who tore his ACL during the summer and then tore it again during an unsupervised workout in December.
Virginia hopes to grab another conference road win in Atlanta.
5. Possible Starters. A look at the likely staring line-up for Georgia Tech …
Point Guard: Mfon Udofia (No. 0), a 6’2″, 195-pound senior, should get the starting nod at the “1.” Primarily known as a defensive point guard, the left-handed Udofia is having his most efficient scoring season as a senior while averaging 9.4 points per game. About half of Udofia’s field goal attempts per game (3.5/7.2) come from long range, and he’s shooting a decent enough 34.3% from behind the arc. Udofia is fast and has good length for a “1,” and he has the ability to score on drives to the basket but has less success with his jumper. On the season, he’s shot 42.6% from the floor, but he’s connected on a mere 28.6% of his field goal attempts in ACC play. Udofia also hasn’t been great at the free throw line, where he shoots only 65%. The southpaw is also an adequate distributor of the ball, with 2.9 assists against only 1.9 turnovers per game. But again, Udofia makes his bones on the defensive end, where he uses his speed and length to good effect. I think that a reasonable expectation is for Udofia and Jontel Evans to cancel each other out, with little offensive production coming from the point position.
Shooting Guard: After coming off the bench in the first 15 games of the season, Chris Bolden (No. 11), a 6’3″, 209-pound freshman, has started the last 4 games for the Yellow Jackets. To this point, the gambit has paid off. Bolden’s season statistics are no great shakes: He’s averaging 6.4 points per game on 36.6% shooting, including 30.3% accuracy from long range. But since being inserted into the starting line-up, Bolden’s looked like a different player. In his 4 games in the starting line-up, including road games at Duke and UNC, he’s averaging 11.75 points per game on 41.9% shooting and 42% accuracy from 3-point land. Bolden actually shoots just more than 50% of his shots from behind the 3-point line, in part because he doesn’t have the greatest handle. Consequently, Bolden rarely gets to the free throw line, and, when he does, he only knocks down 60% of his attempts. Bolden is a pretty solid on-the-ball defender, but he’s still learning Gregory’s schemes and blows a lot of assignments on the defensive end. Given this, I think that we might see Paul Jesperson score more than in recent games.
Small Forward: Starting at the “3” should be a second freshman, Marcus Georges-Hunt (No. 3), a 6’5″, 218-pound swingman who leads the Yellow Jackets in points per game (10.5). The son of a coach, Georges-Hunt is long, physical, athletic, and possesses a high basketball IQ. As the year has progressed, the frosh has become more comfortable stroking his jumper, but his bread and butter is still bullying his way into the lane and finishing with layups. But despite being the team’s leading scorer, Georges-Hunt isn’t terribly efficient. He’s hitting a mere 43.3% of his shots, 29.3% of his 3-point attempts, and 68.6% of his free throws. Georges-Hunt does, however, use his strong frame to haul in 4.8 rebounds a game. Moreover, despite his youth, Georges-Hunt is a rugged defender. Still, Georges-Hunt is a bit green, and you have to like Joe Harris in this matchup given his experience.
Power Forward: At the “4”, the Ramblin’ Wreck should start a third freshman, Robert Carter (No. 4), a 6’8″, 245-pound power forward, who is second on the team with 10.1 points per game. The fact that Tech starts three freshmen with two of them leading the team in scoring tells the tale of why the team is in the ACC cellar. But make no mistake. Carter is a talent. Carter isn’t the most athletic player that you’ve ever seen, but he’s a great, physical back-to-the-basket big and possesses a soft touch on his short range jumper and hook shot. But he’s struggled to knock down the midrange jumper and is shooting just 45.4% from the floor and 59.6% from the charity stripe. Carter is also physical on the defensive end but is susceptible to faster forwards. As in the last few games, the key here will be for Evan Nolte to stay out of foul trouble while guarding Carter.
Center: Daniel Miller (No. 5), a 6’11”, 257-pound redshirt junior, will man the “5” for the Yellow Jackets. Miller is a very talented defensive player and leads the ACC with 2.2 blocks per game. Offensively, however, despite some physical talents, he has trouble holding position on the block, a poor handle, and no left hand. He also lacks that offensive move that would allow him to create his own offense. Miller is having his most efficient year, scoring 7.9 points per game on 51.2% shooting, but many of his makes are putbacks. Those putbacks come on 2.4 offensive rebounds a game, so Virginia must keep him off of the offensive glass as a priority. I think that Akil Mitchell ‘s mobility will allow him to maneuver around Miller a bit, and it will be a lot of fun to see Miller match up against Mike Tobey when the two are in the game together.
6. Key Reserves. Some other key contributors …
Shooting Forward: Brandon Reed (No. 23), a 6’3″, 182-pound redshirt junior, started the first 15 games of the season before shooting his way out of the starting lineup. In last season’s Georgia Tech Primer, I referred to Reed as athletic and a good defender but ultimately “a shooting guard who can’t shoot.” Reed’s field goal percentage has actually dropped from 34.1% last year to 32.4% this year, and his points per game have dropped from 7.5 to 5.2. In his last game against Clemson, his season-long slump may have hit its nadir, with Reed scoring 1 point on 0-of-4 shooting.
Small Forward: Jason Morris (No. 14), a 6’5″, 224-pound junior, is another athletic player who has trouble putting the biscuit in the basket. Morris actually possesses a nice 3-point stroke and is connecting on a team-leading 42.3% of his triples on the year. But he’s shooting a mere 31.25% from inside the arc. Basically, Morris earns his 16 minutes a game more based on his defensive ability than his offensive prowess.
Power Forward: Kammeon Holsey (No. 24), is a 6’8″, 231-pound junior. Holsey is your prototypical garbage man who doesn’t do much to create his own offense. But he’s very good at what he does. In 19.6 minutes per game, he averages 9.4 points per game on 55.1% shooting. He also hauls in 2.3 offensive rebounds a game, with those boards then leading to many of his points.
Note: There was a lot of fanfare in Atlanta surrounding the arrival of the Poole brothers, Solomon and Stacey. At least at this point, it has been a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. The two combine to average about 20 minutes and 4.7 points per game. Solomon Poole, who joined the team midseason after being declared ineligible to play high school ball, looks to be a very talented point guard … down the road.
I agree with both projections that this will be a defensive slugfest. I can’t see Georgia Tech scoring much against Virginia, meaning that, at a minimum, the Hoos should be in the game in the final minutes. The interesting thing to remember about last season’s game was that UVa bludgeoned Tech on the boards, 41-22. I don’t think that the Wahoos should expect similar success this season, but, given Tech’s offensive scheme, I think that Virginia should be pretty proficient on the defensive glass. And, as long as the Cavaliers are good with defensive boards and can prevent second scoring opportunities from Tech’s bigs, I think that they can come away with a road win. I will call this one a 55-51 UVa win.