Georgia Tech Primer No. 2 2013

Can Jontel Evans and the Hoos get a season split with Georgia Tech?

Earlier this month in Atlanta, the Virginia men’s basketball team led late before scoring struggles over the last nine minutes allowed Georgia Tech to rally for a 66-60 win. Here are 10 things to consider for Sunday’s rematch against the Yellow Jackets (14-11, 4-9 ACC).

1. Since riding a late run to a 66-60 home victory against UVa, Georgia Tech has gone 2-3. Both of those wins, a 64-54 victory against Virginia Tech and a 57-56 nailbiter over Wake Forest, have come on the road. Meanwhile, each of the 3 losses, 56-54 and 56-53 squeakers against Florida State and Clemson as well as a 70-58 defeat at the hands of UNC on Tuesday night, have come at home.

2. Georgia Tech’s senior point guard Mfon Udofia shot 4 of 8 (3 of 5 from 3-point range) and scored 15 points against Virginia, his high water mark in ACC play this season. Udofia, however, sprained his ankle back in late November, and I think that injury has started to catch up with him a bit of late. In the 5 games after defeating UVa, Udofia has averaged just 5.6 points per game on 22.2% shooting and he seems a step slow on both ends of the court. Combine Udofia’s struggles with Jontel Evans seemingly shaking off more and more rust on a game-by-game basis, and we might see a reversal of fortune from this matchup in the first game when Bub had 4 points and 4 turnovers.

3. Against the Cavaliers, Georgia Tech connected on 18-25, or 72%, of their free throw attempts. This was significantly better than the Jackets’ 63.2% accuracy on the season, which ranks them No. 324 nationally. It is also better than they have shot from the charity stripe in any of their next 5 games, with the Ramblin’ Wreck going a combined 46-80 (57.5%) from the free throw line, including 4-11 in the Tuesday night loss the UNC. If this game comes down to a free throw shooting contest at the end, you have to like UVa’s chances given the Hoos’ 71% accuracy from the line.

4. Of course, if this game goes down to the wire, the Cavaliers are going to have to do more than score from the free throw line down the stretch. In the first game with GT, UVa led 54-48 after Evan Nolte hit a triple with 9:42 remaining. From then, the Hoos went 1-15 from the field, with the only successful field goal coming in the form of a Jontel Evans ‘ lay-up with 36 seconds left. The good news for Virginia is that its adjusted offensive efficiency has increased significantly over the last several games. The Hoos are now No. 42 after being outside of the top 100 for much of the year.

5. After the first meeting, many were declaring freshman big man Robert Carter one of the most talented players in the ACC after he shredded Virginia for 14 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and 8 rebounds. Since then, he’s slowed down considerably and seems to have hit a freshman wall that he won’t push through until taking part in an offseason strength and conditioning program. Aside from a nice game against Clemson, he followed up his performance against UVa by shooting 2-9, 2-7, 3-7, and 4-11 from the field. Moreover, the big man was visibly huffing and puffing a good deal in the second half of the loss to UNC when his only points came in the form of a 3-pointer.

6. For those expecting the Poole brothers – Solomon and Stacey – to make more of an impact as the season progressed, their expectations have not met the reality. Stacey has been a complete non-factor, scoring a total of 1 point in a combined 20 minutes of floor time since the UVa game. Meanwhile, Solomon has been worse, grinding Tech’s offense to a halt when he’s spelled Udofia at the point, including going 0-4 from the floor in 5 minutes of action against the Tar Heels. What this means is that Brian Gregory is stuck with a seven-man rotation, with players such as the Pooles and Julian Royal getting nothing more than spot duty.

7. Also in that first game, junior power forward Kammeon Holsey had a big game for the Yellow Jackets off the bench, scoring 12 points on 5-7 shooting and collecting 4 rebounds, including 3 off of the offensive glass. UVa didn’t have the services of Darion Atkins in that game, but he saw 11 minutes of action against Miami on Sunday, his highest number since Jan. 12 against Clemson. With 4 days to rest, if Atkins can provide 10-15 minutes of a solid defensive presence, it would go a long way toward slowing down Holsey and the Yellow Jacket bigs. The same, of course, goes for Mike Tobey .

8. One player that has really picked it up for the Yellow Jackets since the UVa game is freshman swingman Marcus Georges-Hunt. In the last 4 games, MGH has averaged 13 points per game on 50% shooting and 6 rebounds. The same, however, can be said about the Hoos’ own “3.” Since tallying a career-high 6 turnovers against the Ramblin’ Wreck and recording only 4 points in the second half, Joe Harris has been a revelation, averaging 22.4 points per game on 64.4% shooting (and keeping the turnovers to less than 2 a game). The match-up at small forward could be the most fun one to watch this Sunday.

9. Sunday’s game will be played between two of the unluckiest teams in the nation according to KenPom’s Luck Index. Virginia ranks No. 315 in this category while Georgia Tech is No. 312. Teams with low ranks in the Luck Index are teams who have fewer wins than you would expect given their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies. Put another way, such teams are teams that lose a lot of close game. And put another way still, these teams are teams that are more dangerous than their records suggest.

10. Despite some missives from Georgia Tech fans that coach Brian Gregory play some zone given the team’s youth and experience, the Tom Izzo disciple has doggedly stuck with a rugged man-to-man defense. That persistence has paid off. The Yellow Jackets currently stand at No. 10 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and they are especially good at defending shots inside the arc as they rank No. 6 nationally in opponent two-point field goal percentage (41%). Conversely, due in large part to youth and problems at the point, the Yellow Jackets are a mere No. 249 in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Prediction: 504-C Brandon has this one as a 58-49.3 Virginia victory, with the Wahoos having a 75.7% chance of winning. I think that this projection gets it pretty close to the mark. After dropping the last 2 on the road, the Hoos know that this is a must-win game, and I can’t see Tony Bennett letting the troops take this one lightly given what happened down in Atlanta. I’ll pick Virginia to win this one 62-51.