For a lot of you, I’m guessing that you haven’t exactly paid a ton of attention to the basketball team so far. After the football game yesterday (and the end of the regular season) we should have a lot of people shifting their attention to basketball. I’ll fill you in on what has happened so far this season and what to look forward to.
Currently Tech is sitting at 4-1 which is exactly what most people would have predicted. So far the Jackets have played Lamar (251st in the country per kenpom), Tennessee (10th), East Carolina (272nd), University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (yes really) (299th), and Prairie View A&M (273rd). So far our opponents sound like they easily could have played against the University of Louisiana in The Waterboy. As expected, Tech beat the four lower ranked teams (mostly easily) while falling to Tennessee.
The season started out with an easy win over Lamar 88-69. The scoring this game was paced by Brandon Alston with 17 who was joined by Jose Alvarado, Shembar Phillips, and Curtis Haywood with at least 10. That level of balanced scoring would become a theme for the early season. One area of note here, starting center Abdoulaye Gueye fouled out in only 12 minutes of play time while backup Sylvester Ogbonda made it 23 minutes before joining him.
Next up was the ugly loss against Tennessee. The final score ended up 66-53 and the Volunteers controlled this entire game. This team looked like every Jackets team for the last 7 or so years in that the defense held their own, but the offense was ugly. They had some bad turnovers and took many bad shots. Transfer center James Banks was declared eligible just hours before this one and was able to make it to Knoxville to play. The only player to reach double digits scoring was Alston who got 16 points thanks in large part to 8 free throws. Alvarado fouled out in 30 minutes and Banks fouled out in just 16 minutes. Notice a trend?
Tech then got a reprieve with a 25 point win against struggling East Carolina. Curtis Haywood paced the team with 18 points and once again nobody else made it to double digits. This one saw ten different players get at least 10 minutes. I didn’t get to see this one, so I don’t know how the team looked, but the end score is impressive at least.
Next up was UT-RGV who the Jackets beat 72-44 in the ugliest 28 point win I think I’ve ever seen. Tech went large portions of this game settling for bad shots and getting bailed out by good defense and the struggling Vaqueros. Freshman Mike Devoe led the team in scoring with 14 while Alvarado and Moses Wright also had double digits. Evan Cole was out for his second consecutive game with injury. Once again it was a broad lineup for Josh Pastner as 8 players got at least 19 minutes.
Finally we saw Tech welcom Prairie View A&M to the Flats. This was an ugly one. Don’t be fooled by the 11 point final score difference, GT easily could have lost this game. The Panthers led by 12 late in the first half and were also leading until midway through the second half. The Yellow Jackets made a late run to put it away. Tech had a lot of trouble stopping one player in particular, Gary Blackston, who made big offensive play after big offensive play for PVAMU. Jose Alvarado saved the team by making a series of big plays in the second half. All of his team leading 15 points came in the second half.
One major thing to note is that Pastner has seemed to pull a 180 on one big tendency of his. He normally plays very tight rotations with around 7 players getting big minutes. So far every scholarship player except freshman Kristian Sjolund has seen significant minutes in at least one game.
The main reason for that is that this team has so many new players and it’s not yet clear who can be a contributor this year. A lot of young (or new) players have been getting some run to see what they have. Pastner finally pared down the rotation against Prairie View playing only 8 players. I expect to see that continue.
Another thing to note is that we don’t have a single player who can carry this offense through tough stretches (note that we’ve had four leading scorers through 5 games) so Pastner needs to do a good job of finding the hot hand and keeping them in the game. Offensively Jose Alvarado and Brandon Alston are our best creators while Haywood gives a good three point threat. Outside of that players are very streaky and have so far been unreliable.
Last year Tech shot an awful 31.8% from three. This year they’re shooting a slightly improved 32.7%. That needs to get higher. There is good news there. In the smaller lineup that looks like the team going forward, things are better. Alston is 7-11 (63.6%), Haywood is 9-25 (36%), and Alvarado is 9-27 (33.3%). I expect them and Michael Devoe (5-15) to be taking most of our three pointers. That should lead to improving percentages as the year goes on, especially if the young players calm down a little bit and get in a groove. Transfer junior Shembari Phillips is 2-11. He either needs to start hitting or stop shooting.
It looks like going forward we’ll have Alvarado at point with Devoe backing him up. Shembari and Haywood are starting on the wings with Devoe and Alston bringing some offensive punch off the bench. Moses Wright is starting at the 4 and with Evan Cole out we don’t have a true backup there. At center we have James Banks and Abdoulaye Gueye splitting minutes fairly evenly. With Wright on the bench we either play Haywood at the 4 and go small or play twin towers with both Gueye and Banks in the game. I don’t like playing both Gueye and Banks at the same time because both have a propensity for getting in foul trouble and are both limited to the post offensively.
This team is looking like the past Pastner and Gregory teams in that they are strong defensively and weak offensively. Kenpom currently ranks us as 204th in offense and 15th in defense. Once again we excel in limiting teams shooting against us and also force turnovers at a very good clip. We are struggling mightily with giving up free throws, we need to get that under control.
After an early season schedule of one excellent team and a bunch of...really not excellent teams, Tech finally gets some tough, but winnable tests. This Wednesday at 9:15 pm they head to Evanston, Illinois to face off against Northwestern in the Big 10-ACC Challenge. Northwestern was looking decent coming into the year, but got destroyed by 19 against Fresno State, the one team they’ve played with a pulse. This should be a good test for us. Check out their game today at 2 against Utah if you want to see them in action before we play.
Next Saturday at noon, Tech heads to Miami to take on undefeated St. John’s in the Hoophall Miami Invitational. While Tech’s schedule has so far been either championship contenders or basement dwellers, the Red Storm have taken down 4 mediocre looking teams (Bowling Green, Cal, Rutgers, and VCU), but haven’t played any strong looking teams. According to kenpom, GT will be their strongest OOC opponent by a fair bit. Both of these are winnable games, but expecting to win either is a stretch. Most likely Tech is looking at 1-1 or 0-2 out of these.