Thursday, January 19, 2012
game preview: Georgia Tech
Date/Time: Thursday, January 19; 8:00
TV: ACC Network, ESPN3
History against the Jackets: 33-38
Last matchup: UVA 62, GT 56; 2/23/11; Atlanta
Last game: Duke 61, UVA 58 (1/12); Md. 61, GT 50 (1/15)
Opposing blogs: From The Rumble Seat
UVA: 60.5 (#338)
GT: 66.2 (#211)
UVA: 105.0 (#99)
GT: 100.3 (#178)
UVA: 85.9 (#6)
GT: 94.0 (#65)
UVA: .8875 (#25)
GT: .6618 (#113)
(Explanation of KenPom stats: "Tempo" number is number of offensive possessions per game. "Offense" and "Defense" numbers are points scored/allowed per 100 possessions. All numbers are adjusted, using the magic KenPom formula; therefore they are not actual, but projections of predicted results against an average team on a neutral court.)
LSU - UVA won 57-52 (A); GT lost 59-50 (N)
Duke - UVA lost 61-58 (A); GT lost 81-74 (H)
Projected starting lineups:
PG: Jontel Evans (5.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.6 apg)
SG: Sammy Zeglinski (9.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.9 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (12.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: Mike Scott (16.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.6 apg)
C: Assane Sene (5.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.4 apg)
PG: Mfon Udofia (10.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.5 apg)
SG: Brandon Reed (7.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.2 apg)
SF: Glen Rice, Jr. (13.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.4 apg)
PF: Kammeon Holsey (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.8 apg)
C: Daniel Miller (8.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.8 apg)
We're finally at the end of a maddening stretch of going two weeks with only two games to show for it. This is annoying because 1) we don't get to watch any damn hoops and 2) you know it's gonna catch up to us at some point. This week is when it catches up, as UVA has three games in eight days. The highly anticipated, sold-out matchup with VT is on Sunday (which means you get the rare sighting of back-to-back game previews out of me) and then next Thursday is Boston College. It'll be nice to finally catch up to the rest of the ACC, as we're the only team who has yet to play three games, while some have four.
Georgia Tech is very literally in a rebuilding year; this game will be played at the downtown home of the Atlanta Hawks instead of on campus, as the Alexander Memorial Coliseum has been razed for a total renovation. Since we don't visit the sleepy Conte Forum in Boston this year, it might be the easiest road game of the season in terms of atmosphere.
-- UVA on offense
Georgia Tech hasn't played to the level expected of an ACC team this year, but their defense mostly isn't to blame. Thanks to a team blocked-shot percentage of 16.2 (that is, they block 16 percent of opponents' shots), which is 9th in the country, they're allowing opponents a shooting percentage of just 41.8% from two-point range. This is mostly the result of the presence of block machine Daniel Miller, who gets almost three per game. Miller is 6'11" and a stocky 258 pounds, making him very likely to shut down Assane Sene if that is his assignment. If guarding Mike Scott, it could be an awfully fun battle. Scott's Sheed Wallace fadeaways will be the key to winning that one, as even Mike Scott will have a tough time backing down a guy as big as Miller.
However, GT does not do well in the causing-turnovers department. Combined with their propensity to turn the ball over themselves, that should set up a decent advantage for UVA, which does a solid job of taking care of the ball. Point guards, if they're pretty good at defense, should get their share of steals, but Mfon Udofia has only nine - just three more than Assane Sene. Expect UVA's veteran guards to be able to keep the turnovers to a minimum here.
GT's size at guard may give UVA some trouble. They don't have any short guys. Udofia is the smallest at 6'2", and Rice and Jason Morris both stand 6'5", meaning there won't be size mismatches to exploit in the backcourt. A big lineup that includes Scott, Sene, and Akil Mitchell might be fun, as GT doesn't have a deep frontcourt, but I suspect that would be getting too cute. The way to beat Tech will simply be patience and taking advantage of the fastbreak opportunities that will appear when they turn it over.
-- UVA on defense
Here's where UVA has a sizable advantage, as Tech's offense leaves something to be desired. FTRS suggested in the Q&A session that if you shut down Udofia at point, you've shut down Rice as well. That's good news for UVA fans; Udofia's A/T ratio is a lousy .89/1. Combine that with Jontel Evans's on-ball skills, and Udofia could be in for a long night. Four of Tech's players, in fact, average over two turnovers a game, and the team averages 11 assists to 15 TOs.
GT gets their scoring primarily from six rotation guys; the rest of the team just eats up minutes. Those are the five starters plus Jason Morris, who starts his share of games himself and is more like a fifth-and-a-half man than a true sixth. When I wrote the season preview, the seventh-best scorer was Nick Foreman; now he's down to 1.5 ppg and the next-highest (after sixth-place Brandon Reed) is Julian Royal with 3.7 ppg. Reed has 7.8, so the gap is quite large. The truth is that any time one of the six scorers are off the floor, GT is playing four-on-five on offense.
And nobody but Rice and Miller are very efficient. Rice is a legitimate star, who'd probably have better numbers if he had better teammates, although even he has trouble from three-point range. Miller can be a bit rough; his FG% is low for a center, but he shoots free throws quite well. On the flip side, power forward Holsey has a tremendous shooting percentage of .639, but his offensive efficiency is being dragged down by his anchoresque free-throw shooting. It's worse than Mason Plumlee's - Holsey shoots just .415 from the charity stripe, so when I say anchoresque I mean it's like he's tossing anchors at the backboard. Teams are figuring this out, too, which is hurting his shooting percentage. In the last four games, he's taken 25% of his shot attempts on the season (about right, since that's four of GT's 17 games) but 40% of his season's free-throw attempts.
The other thing GT does poorly is shoot threes. This was a theme from last year, and it's not changed. The guy with the most attempts (Reed) is also the team's worst shot at .279 from behind the arc. Rice has the most makes (20 for 60) which is still only 1 make per game.
These kind of tendencies mean that the way to play GT is to take the pack-line principles to extremes. Pack it in tight, take away any chance of dribble-driving and dare them to shoot threes, and play the ball aggressively. Holsey can be safely fouled if he gets the ball in the paint with a lane to the hoop. Miller will be a load, but I would have no problems with overrotating to double him if it means leaving a guard open for a three; I'll take my chances.
There's a reason I always caveat my final-score predictions in the Q&A sessions. I have something more of a respect for the GT defense than I did before. But my thoughts on their anemic offense haven't changed a bit. It does have the capability of exploding, as NC State found out; then again, NC State's defense is kind of poor. Certainly among the poorer ones in the ACC. The last time GT faced a defense as tough as UVA's, they were scoring 48 points against Alabama.
So I expect UVA to handle the Jackets, in one of those games that make ACC purists claw their faces and go "oh god what did you do to my beloved conference." UVA is favored by 3.5 in Vegas and by four by KenPom, but this one ought to be easier than that.
-- Final score: UVA 58, GT 49