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GAME PREVIEW: Georgia Tech Hosts #15 Miami

The Yellow Jackets look to start 2018 on the right foot

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Georgia Tech basketball team will ring in the New Year on Wednesday when they welcome the #15 Miami Hurricanes to McCamish Pavilion for the Yellow Jackets’ ACC home opener.

Last time out, Tech kept it close but couldn’t quite upset Notre Dame in South Bend, falling 68-59. Miami, meanwhile, is on the last leg of a long road trip. Since last playing at home on December 5th, the Hurricanes have traveled to Washington D.C., Hawaii, Pittsburgh, and now Atlanta. They enter the game with a 12-1 record, most recently easily defeating Pitt in their ACC opener on Saturday.

Miami has been one of the best teams in college basketball over the last few seasons and this year is no exception. Their defense ranks in the top 10 nationally, according to KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric. Their offense isn’t bad by any means, ranking 68th in the country per the same metric. It’s really hard to find a weakness in Miami’s profile. They’re a well-rounded group that is adept at scoring from anywhere on the court and excellent at stopping their opponents from doing the same.

About the only thing Miami doesn’t do well is get to the free throw line and when they do get there, they hit only 62.5% of their shots, well below the national average. Georgia Tech isn’t a great free throw shooting team by any means, but the Yellow Jackets are one of the best teams in the country at not fouling. If Tech can play clean defense while getting to the line on offense (and hitting their foul shots) they may be able to pick up a few points at the line.

One of the big things to watch will be how Tech’s interior defense can matchup against Miami’s offense. The Canes rely less on the three than other teams - though they can fill it up from beyond the arc if they get going - so a strong defensive showing from Ben Lammers is key to the Jackets’ chances of pulling an upset. Lammers will have his hands full with Miami’s leading scorer, 6’-11” F Dewan Huell. The sophomore big man is averaging 13.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while anchoring Miami’s defense. He’s been one of the most efficient players in the country this season, hitting on 66.7% of his field goal attempts.

Though Huell is a big presence in the middle for Miami, he’s actually not their leading rebounder. That would be do-everything G Bruce Brown Jr. Brown is a potential NBA lottery pick and the heart of Miami’s team. He averages 11.1 points per game along with a team-high 7.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.1 steals. A strong defender, Brown will probably spend most of the game hounding Josh Okogie up and down the floor.

Miami’s biggest X-factor comes in the form of a 5-star freshman: Lonnie Walker IV. Another potential lottery pick, Walker has been coming off the bench almost all year and averages just 8.5 points per game, low for a stud freshman. That said, Walker is really good and can go off at a moment’s notice. In his lone start of the season, Walker scored 26 points and hit 5 threes against Boston University. A few other names to know heading into the game are senior G Ja’Quon Newton, who will split ball-handling duties with Brown, and sharp shooting guards Dejan Vasiljevic and Anthony Lawrence II.

Beating any top 25 team is an uphill battle and Tech will certainly have their work cut out for them Wednesday night against Miami. The Canes are a legit contender for the ACC crown and were one of the last undefeated teams in the country. To pull off the upset, the Yellow Jackets will need to bring the defensive intensity, especially at the three-point arc, an area GT has struggled with this season. If there’s any good news, it’s that most of the team is expected to be available, with Curtis Haywood being the only player known to be out with an injury at this time. It’s going to be a tough road, but maybe the Yellow Jackets can harness some of last season’s McCamish magic and start to right a disappointing season.

Georgia Tech and Miami will tip off at 9:00 pm and will be broadcast on your Regional Sports Affiliate.