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NIT First Round Preview: Georgia Tech Vs. Houston

The Yellow Jackets welcome the Cougars to McCamish tonight for their first postseason game in a long time.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Remember Georgia Tech's last postseason appearance? I'm only a fourth year, so I don't. They last appeared in the 2010-11 NCAA tournament with a team featuring Derrick Favors and Iman Shumpert.  This year the team was hoping to get back to the tournament, but just had too many close losses to justify it.  A home game in the NIT and then a potential trip to South Carolina is a good consolation prize.  This gives one more chance for the five seniors on this team to get a home game and hopefully a couple of wins to finish off the best Tech season in years.

Houston found themselves in a similar position to Georgia Tech at the end of the season, where a conference tournament run offered hope at the tournament.  Unfortunately for the Cougars, they fell to a very bad Tulane team in the first round to end any remote hope at the tournament.  Houston's resume includes several solid wins: SMU, Tulsa, Cincinnati, at UConn, and at Temple are all wins over tournament or would-have-been tournament teams.  They did have some awful losses, most notably the Tulane loss and a home loss against USF.  With no strong out of conference opponents to speak of, an overtime home win against a mediocre LSU was by far their best win, gave them no room for error when they lost to Rhode Island and Grand Canyon.

Advanced statistics also tell the story of a team that is around the same level as Georgia Tech.  KenPom actually ranks Houston at 57 and GT at 64.  Houston thrives off of their offense, ranked 16th in the country, but are held back by the 184th ranked defense.  Their offense scores efficiently, doesn't turn the ball over, and rebounds pretty well which is a formidable combination.  Oddly enough, they are quite good at offensive rebounding, but are one of the worst in the country at defensive rebounding.  This gives the Yellow Jackets a huge advantage as they excel against teams who can't keep them off the boards.  The Houston defense does a fantastic job of defending the three point line, with teams only shooting 28.9% against them from deep, so the Jackets are going to need to look inside and get Marcus Georges-Hunt moving towards the hoop.  The offense can't stagnate at the perimeter.

Houston is led offensively by their point guard Rob Gray Jr.  He takes almost 35% of the shots when he's on the floor (13th in the country) but is pretty inefficient at it.  He only shoots 44% (partly because he shoots a lot of threes) for 16.3 points per game although he does not seem to play entire games, he has not played thirty minutes in a game in the 6 games back from his injury.  He is helped offensively by guard Damyean Dotson and the big man Devonta Pollard who average 13.9 and 13.8 ppg.  Guards Galen Robinson, Ronnie Johnson, and Leron Barnes fill out the rest of the perimeter players.  None of them are huge scorers, but all are good enough to do some damage if given the opportunity.  Outside of Pollard, the Cougars are relatively weak in the front court.  Danrad Knowles is a good rebounder who plays plenty of minutes while Kyle Meyer soaks up most of the remaining minutes.  Xavier Dupree and Bertrand Nkali could get some time in the front court especially if foul trouble becomes an issue, but should not make a huge difference in the game.

This is a very winnable game from Tech.  They need to rebound well on both ends of the court to get extra possessions.  Adam Smith shooting well would be a huge boost against a team that guards threes very well.  This should be an inside-first game offensively for the Jackets against a weak defense.  Get the ball to the big men and let Marcus get to the hoop.  Hopefully the team comes out energized for the post-season and lets us enjoy this season a little bit longer.

Many students are going to be done with the pre-spring break tests so hopefully the turnout is big and McCamish is rocking!  Unfortunately my Flight Dynamics professor decided Thursday morning was a good time for a test so the team better win to justify my procrastination.  Georgia Tech is favored by 4 points while KenPom favors the Jackets by three points with a 63% chance to win the game.  The game is at 9 pm at McCamish and will be shown on ESPN2.