Opponent: Georgia Tech
Date: Thursday, January 22
Time: 8:00 ET
Channel: ACC Network (FIOS 506, Charlottesville Comcast 211, Cox 1020)
The Hoos and Yellow Jackets are on opposite ends of the ACC Standings. Virginia is 5-0, a half game ahead of Notre Dame for first place. The Jackets are 0-5, a half game behind the Hokies for last place. The Jackets have played a tough ACC slate so far, with a home-and-home (yeah, already) against Notre Dame, along with road games at Pitt and Wake. Their home loss to Cuse can probably be classified as a bad loss at this point. Also, that game must've been terrible to watch. Both teams were under .8 ppp and neither team shot even 33% from the field. Georgia Tech lost despite dominating on the glass, including a 46% offensive rebound rate.
That, unfortunately, is GT's profile this year. They can't shoot. In fact, they are one of the worst shooting teams in the nation. They are 347th in the nation in 3 point shooting, at just 26.7% (the Hoos, for comparison, shoot 39%). The Jackets are also 271st in FT shooting, and 292nd in effective FG%. Where they excel is on the glass. They rank 8th in the nation with a 41% offensive rebounding rate. The Hoos, you may recall, are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country, allowing just under 24% offensive rebounds (4th in the nation). All told, Georgia Tech is 155th in the nation in offensive efficiency, averaging just over 1 point per possession.
The Jackets are big, with 4 regulars at 6'8" or taller. One of those is Robert Sampson, youngest son of Ralph, an ECU transfer who is getting regular run for Georgia Tech now. Sampson has proven to be a good defensive player, and a very good defensive rebounder. On the offensive glass, big man Charles Mitchell (a transfer from Maryland) is one of the top in the nation. He doesn't do much else though, nearly all of his offense comes on the glass. This is typical of basically the entire Georgia Tech roster. They simply do not have players who can create their own shot.
Their leading scorer is Marcus Georges-Hunt, who is just a junior despite my memory telling me that he's been in Atlanta for at least 5 years already. On paper, Georges-Hunt hasn't improved much. However, he's doing a much better job of getting to the rim and drawing fouls And he's improved his FT shooting. However, he's regressed from the outside. A career 33% shooter from 3 coming into the season, he's under 20% this year.
Still, despite their offensive struggles, the Jackets aren't that bad. A 9-8 record isn't very good, and 0-5 in conference is very bad. However, they are 93rd on KenPom and have beaten Georgia, Vanderbilt and Rhode Island, all solid teams. They've also been in all of their ACC games, and have really only been blown out once (a 14 point loss @Dayton). The Jackets are 63rd on KenPom in defensive efficiency. Again, this is largely due to their size. They are long on the perimeter, with Sampson and Quinton Stephens (6'9" 187 lbs). And on the interior, both Mitchell and Damarco Cox (an Ole Miss transfer) provide a big presence and can protect the rim. The Jackets also do not give up many offensive rebounds, ranking 13th in the nation.
Perhaps a result of having a lot of big men, the Jackets foul too much. Combined with allowing over 50% shooting on 2s, this negates a lot of the good the Jackets do on defense. They contest shots on the perimeter, which tends to cause fouls, but also can allow teams to get inside. This is often the case for teams with good defensive big men, but is backfiring far too often, as teams are getting easy baskets far too often.
The Jackets' defense could give the Hoos problems. The interior trio of Mike Tobey, Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins are used to having a big advantage inside. This will not be the case on Thursday. But, all 3 of those players are capable of stepping out and hitting a 15foot jumper. Those type of shots will be there against the Jackets. And this will also pull Mitchell, Cox and Sampson away from the basket, which will make it easier for Malcolm Brogdon and company to get into the paint and finish.
On defense, the Hoos should have a big advantage. The pack-line defense is inherently tough on offensive rebounders, because rarely do players get between their man and the rim. Crashing the defensive glass will be a key here, because of Georgia Tech's lack of creative scorers. The Hoos tend to struggle against teams that shoot the ball well. The Yellow Jackets are one of the worst shooting teams in the nation, and that does not bode well for them.
It will be interesting to see if Tony Bennett tasks Malcolm Brogdon or Justin Anderson with guarding Georges-Hunt. Brogdon has been tasked with stopping the opposition's best scorer for the past few games, but this matchup may be better for Justin. Brogdon would then be matched up with Chris Bolden. Even if the game starts out this way, they may have to change up when Stephens comes in. Stephens has, arguably, been a better offensive player than Hunt this year, and Justin is a much better matchup because of Stephens' length and athleticism.
In last year's matchup, the Hoos won 64-45, ending the game on a 22-4 Cavalanche to put the game away. While that Yellow Jacket teams looks vastly different (only Georges-Hunt and Bolden remain, among top contributors from last season), the team profile is essentially the same. KenPom predicts a similar 68-49 win for the Hoos.