Last Saturday Tech made the daunting trip to #2 Duke up in Durham, North Carolina. They weren’t able to finish against the Blue Devils, but definitely gave them a scare. As a reprieve they return to home face UNC who is only ranked #9 in the country. One side note about this game, the weather this week is expected to be horrible in Atlanta including possibly snow and/or ice. Coach Josh Pastner has said the game will still happen, but it’s possible they will recommend fans to stay home. When that last happened (in 2014 also against UNC) the stands were only half full with a few UNC fans and a ton of students. Perhaps we will see a repeat of that this year.
As usual UNC is very good this year. The AP poll has them #9 country while kenpom has them #8. Overall they are 15-4 and 5-1 in the ACC. They play the usual up-tempo Roy Williams offense (5th in the country in tempo) with an all-around well coached and balanced team. They are led by a trio of very talented and dangerous players: Coby White, Luke Maye, and Cameron Johnson.
Coby White is a 6’5” freshman point guard who averages 14.9 points and 4 assists per game. A freshman point guard is a tough role on a Roy Williams team, but Coby has proven capable if not excellent in the role. Preventing him from getting easy plays in transition will be key. Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson are both senior leaders who run this team. Maye is a big man who everyone expected to repeat his great 2017-2018 season and has lived up to the hype. He plays PF/C and averages 14.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. He is also extremely consistent. He has only scored in the single digits twice this season and has scored exactly 14 points three games in a row. As a big man who can hit three pointers he presents a challenge to Tech’s zone. 6’9” wing Cameron Johnson has continued to improve every year of his career (first at Pitt, now at UNC). He provides a big time scoring threat from deep and inside and is no slouch defensively. He averages 15.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. One extra player of note is freshman Nassir Little. Little chose UNC over Georgia Tech (and Arizona) as a 5-star recruit. He has not had the success early in the season that many expected, but he has been playing an increasingly important role as the season has gone on. Watch out for him today.
The key for Georgia Tech here is to keep both big men, James Banks and Abdoulaye Gueye, in the game for as long as possible. They have had issues with foul trouble (both fouled out against Duke) and may have trouble with conditioning against the fast moving UNC offense. UNC is a fantastic offensive rebounding team and with Tech’s zone they need as much rebounding help as possible. Keeping Gueye and Banks, their best rebounders, in the game is imperative. Additionally it may force UNC to play center Garrison Brooks more. Brooks is certainly not a bad player, but with UNC in their big lineup they lack real three point threats outside of Cameron Johnson. That sounds good to the Georgia Tech zone.
Tech does have one more minor strategic advantage. They tend to ignore offensive rebounding to get back on defense. UNC tends to get a lot of points in the transition game. If Tech can limit them there it will do a lot to even out this game.
That being said UNC is a way better team than Tech this year. I expect GT to keep the UNC offense in check, but I have no expectations for this offense (even with Alvarado and Gueye back). I predict UNC will get enough offensive rebounds to get their points and Tech won’t score enough to help the defense out.
This game takes place tonight at 7 pm Eastern. If you are planning on traveling to the game, please be safe. The game will be shown on the ACC Network/ESPN 3. Go Jackets!