When a 4-2 Tech team played uGA at home in 2012, the Dogs were 2-5 and basically a one-man show. The Jackets built a 15-point lead early in the second half, but saw that lead cut to five points with two minutes to play. The Jackets held on to win by eight points.
This year, when our 2-0 Tech team played the 1-0 Dogs in Athens Friday night, the mutts were still a one-man show (a different guy this time), but with better support. The Jackets built a 15-point lead early in the second half, and saw the lead cut to nine points several times. Each time Tech responded to rebuild a 12-13 point lead and remained in control throughout. uGA scored a meaningless layup as the clock expired to get the final margin under ten.
On the surface, these seem like very similar games, but I want to explore why the Jackets are a much better team this season than last.
First, we are a better rebounding team. Last year the dogs controlled the boards, but this time the Jackets were 16 rebounds better in the margin than the 2012 game. Of that improvement, 11 of the rebounds were on the offensive end. When you are marginal shooting team, those second chances are critical.
Second, we are a fundamentally better offensive team this year. In the 2012 game, 27 of our 62 points came on 3-point shots. We made 42% from beyond the arc in that game a year ago, far above our season average of 32%. This year, we hit only four from 3-point range. Those long shots are not our offense, so the fewer we take, the better we are running the base offense.
We are also, to this point in the season, a better free throw shooting team. Last year we made 10 FTs per game while shooting 63% from the line. This year, we are hitting 18 FTs per game and almost 78%. That is eight points per game we were not getting 2012. Basically, these FT opportunities are the result of us running the offense and attacking the basket more aggressively.
Trae Golden has a more assertive personality on the court than Mfon Udofia and it shows in how the team is pushing the pace of the action. Last year we frequently walked the ball up court and tried to run our half-court offense. This year we are much more likely to press the action off the glass on missed shots or in-bounds after made shots. Travis Jorgenson shares that same attack mentality.
We are deeper with quality guys off the bench this season. During the game Friday, Larry Conley said the Bulldogs had a deeper bench than Tech. Later he corrected that mistake. Our bench players Friday night outscored Georgia 29-13!
In this game, several things stand out. Trae will be the floor captain for this team. His experience and ability leave the others no choice but to follow his leadership. At this stage, it appears well placed. Daniel Miller has matured into a first rate D1 center. He shows a lot of confidence offensively and occupies a lot of space in the lane. He is still a very good defender. Kammeon still misses a lot of close in shots, especially on put-backs. He has nice moves to get to the basket, but misses too many (in my opinion). He played a wonderful game Friday and will be a strong candidate for the new Sixth Man award this season. Robert Carter, Jr got two fouls in 20 seconds early in the game and sat most of the first half. He only played 19 minutes, but got eight rebounds. He has lost some weight and appears much more athletic. Our big guys will have to be careful about the new "hand" rule on defense.
MGH can be a force on offense. He made some terrific moves to the basket, but missed a couple of lay ups. He will draw a lot of fouls this year if he continues that style of play. He is hitting 80% of his FTs. Solomon only played 15 minutes. The most interesting lineup Gregory used was when Travis came in at PG and Trae moved over to SG. I think Travis' play was the cause of Solomon not getting more minutes. With Golden and Jorgenson in the lineup the pace really picked up. Both of these guys love the open floor and are very aggressive pushing the ball up court. It was fun to watch.
Just looking at our lineup, it is comforting the see the quality experience we have at every position. Trae is every bit as good as expected and Travis is D1 ready right now. Chris Bolden will return against Dayton and will be backed up by Solomon Poole (a much more mature player this year), Stacey Poole, and Trae. Marcus Georges-Hunt may be an All-ACC forward this year and has able backups. Daniel Miller, Carter, Jr., and Kammeon Holsey give us three guys who can play the 4-5 spots with any opponent. Quinton Stephens surprised me with how well he played against the bulkier opponents. He can shoot and has nice moves to get open. He had four rebounds and seven points in only eight minutes.
Now, this does not mean there no areas of concern. I am especially worried about the number of times uGA was able to penetrate our defense and get layups. I am also concerned about the number of layups we missed. Turnovers still seem to be an issue with this team and must be cut before the conference games begin. While the rebounding in this game was outstanding, the Dogs are not Duke or Syracuse. Boxing out on the defensive end needs to improve.
It will be interesting to see how the rotation evolves once Bolden returns, and Jason Morris may be ready to play in January. I expect Corey Heyward, Quinton, Solomon, and Stacey Poole will see less time. I am also wanting to see how our team compares with Illinois, a much more physical team than we have faced thus far.
All that said, I do not think we have to "upset" anyone to be undefeated when we play Duke on January 7.