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Countdown to Tipoff: Young Big Men Need To Step Up

The Frontcourt Has No Guarantees

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this year everyone knows that Tech is light on established talent. This offseason saw Tech lose it’s best three players in Josh Okogie, Ben Lammers, and Tadric Jackson. Now Tech is looking at a significant down year unless this team can find some surprises (like when Lammers and Okogie came out of nowhere in 2016-17 to surprise the ACC).

Despite a lack of returning production, the backcourt looks like it could be alright. Jose Alvarado performed admirably as a freshman leading Tech at the point last year before his arm injury. If he gets healthy he should take up where he left off. Tennessee transfer Shembari Phillips adds another backcourt member with success at a major team in college basketball. Beyond them they also have promising sophomore Curtis Haywood (who had some success last year) and four-star freshman Michael Devoe to provide some more upside. Their fifth option is Brandon Alston who has a ton of college basketball experience. That’s not the worst situation.

The frontcourt on the other hand... Last year Ben Lammers played an insane 89.6% of minutes available all season (Good for 40th in the country). When he didn’t play the frontcourt was a mess with Abdoulaye Gueye, Moses Wright, and Evan Cole taking turns struggling on the court. The team spent much of last season playing in small lineups with Okogie at the four before Alvarado got hurt and the lineup got downshifted. Unlike the backcourt there’s no top recruits or experienced transfers coming in. Of the upperclassmen I expect Abdoulaye Gueye to play a sizable role this year given his experience and rim protection capabilities. I don’t expect Sylvester Ogbonda to play much at all considering his inability to get on the court during the struggles last year. Someone in this makeshift group needs to step up if Tech is to surprise this year and it will likely have to be a youngster. Below I take a look at the options from most likely to least likely.

Moses Wright

In an ideal world Moses would have redshirted last year. Or at least he wouldn’t have started the opener and continued to play significant minutes throughout the season. He was a decent recruit coming out of high school, but he was very raw having experienced a late growth spurt which turned him from solid high school player to legit prospect. He now is 6’9” though last year he was skinny as a rail. In his playtime he flashed his immense potential while also showcasing his downsides. He struggled with rotations on defense, particularly in the aggressive zone, and only shot 30.7% from the field with an atrocious 72.3 ORating. This year I think he takes a big step forward on a team that needs some offense from it’s big men. He is extremely athletic and a fantastic rebounder which should mean he’s a positive defensively once he gets the system down. If he can play smarter offensively he will take a big step forward to being a solid ACC player. It’s certainly not a given, but I think Moses has the potential to do it.

Kristian Sjolund

Kristian Sjolund is a 6’9” freshman coming from Norway via Katy, TX. He ideally is more of a small forward, but will probably play some 4 this year given the team’s lack of depth up top and Sjolund’s size. In some ways Kristian is a little undeveloped, mainly his frame. He is rail thin. One positive for him is that he has great scoring and offensive instincts. That could set him apart from the others vying for playtime in the frontcourt. The downsides for him are that he is still fairly raw and inexperienced. I have a hard time placing where incomers will play this year and Sjolund is one that I especially do not have a good read on. He could step in and be a contributor or he could be like Moses or Cole last year and struggle with the basics.

Evan Cole

Evan Cole played in 24 games last year even though it didn’t always seem like it. When he was on the floor only 14.3% of possessions ended with him, the second lowest on the team. Like fellow freshman Moses Wright, Cole did not add much in the scoring column last year averaging only 3.2 points per game. However, his points came about much more efficiently than Wright’s. He ended with 40.6% shooting, not great at that low volume, but not the worst for a freshman. The disappointing part of his game last year was his struggles from deep which was touted as one of the strong points of his game. At many times the game seemed to fast for Cole. It should slow down for him this year and hopefully he can be more aggressive and effective offensively. One positive aspect of his game last year was his rebounding. It seemed like he was in on every defensive rebound and his defensive rebounding percentage was 3rd best on the team. I think Cole could be a role player this year, but I have my doubts about him getting a bunch of play time.