Countdown to Tipoff: 33 Days
Georgia Tech received the bad news from the NCAA last Thursday that they would be ineligible to play in any postseason tournament for the 2019/2020 season. However, that won’t stop Pastner and the Jackets from traveling to Hawaii to play in the Diamond Head Classic starting on December 22nd. This marks the first time Georgia Tech will play in an early season tournament under head coach Josh Pastner and their first away from home since the NIT Season Tip-Off in 2015.
The Yellow Jackets will have the opportunity to make a national statement against a strong field. Georgia Tech rounds out the field of 8 consisting of Houston, Washington, Boise St, Portland, Ball St, UTEP, and Hawaii. Both Washington and Houston are consensus NCAA tournament teams, with the former being ranked #21 in Andy Katz’s preseason power rankings. In addition, Ball St is currently predicted to get an automatic bid for winning the MAC by Joe Lunardi. Meanwhile, Boise St has the potential to surprise some this year with a slew of upperclassmen and two marquee transfers, Emmanuel Akot and Abu Kigab.
Opening Game Preview: Boise St Broncos
Josh Pastner’s squad opens up against Boise St on December 22nd at 5:30pm on ESPN2. The Broncos are coming off a 13-20 season, but might be in for a change of fortune this year. Led by guards Derrick Alston and Justinian Jessup, Boise St returns 5 upperclassmen accounting for 74% of last season’s scoring. Former 5* Arizona transfer Emmanuel Akot and 4* Oregon transfer Abu Kigab join the fold this year for head coach Leon Rice. While Akot has yet to receive an eligibility decision from the dreaded NCAA, Boise St remains hopeful that he will be granted immediate eligibility (a decision that typically doesn’t go in Georgia Tech’s favor). The 6’8 guard/wing would provide the Broncos with a slasher who can easily get to the basket and extra 3-point shooting. Akot has yet to really showcase his 3-point shooting at the college level (33% at Arizona in 2 years), but had a shooters reputation coming out of high school. Boise St is hoping that a change in scenery could bring improvement to that element of his game. As for Kigab, he becomes eligible after the first semester concludes and will be available for the Diamond Head Classic, like GT’s Jordan Usher. The 6’6 athletic forward is known for his defensive ability and rebounding skills. Although the sample size is small, Kigab owned a defensive box score plus minus of 2.1 during his 1.5 years at Oregon. According to Sports Reference, this stat is a box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league average player, translated to an average team. To put context to this stat, Kawhi Leonard’s career average defensive box score plus minus is 2.4. In no way is this implying that Abu Kigab is as good of a defender as Kawhi Leonard, but it does highlight how impressive Abu’s stat is. As for rebounding, Kigab averaged 6.3 total rebounds per 40 minutes, proving he is a capable rebounder as a wing. Boise St had a three headed scoring attack last year with guards Justinian Jessup, Derrick Alston, and Alex Hobbs, but their go to scorer is arguably Justinian Jessup. Last year Jessup became the only player in program history to record back-to-back seasons with 80 or more 3-pointers, and will look to make it three straight. Jessup shot 41% from 3-point range last year with over 50% of his shots coming from distance.
Keys Offensively for Tech
- Feed James Banks. Boise St played 3 and 4 guard lineups last year, with only 2 players taller than 6’9 seeing the floor. Both of those players, Zach Haney and David Wacker, were seniors and will not be available for the Broncos this year. Boise St also didn’t add any bigs eligible to play in the offseason. The Jackets should be feeding James Banks in the post and exploiting their lack of size.
- Crash the glass. Boise St was 279th in defensive rebounding last year. On paper, there is no reason to expect that they should be better in this department this year given the loss of their two big men. This should yield plenty of opportunities for James Banks, Moses Wright, and Jordan Usher to crash the glass for second chance opportunities.
- Spread the floor. If the Jackets start pounding the ball inside to James Banks, the Boise St defense is inevitably going to collapse inside. This will leave 3-point shooters Michael Devoe and Bubba Parham open to punish the Broncos from the outside.
Keys Defensively for Tech
- Limit 3-point damage. Jessup and Alston are a great 3-point shooting duo. Both players shoot the 3 at a high clip and with heavy volume as the duo attempts a 3-point shot above 50% of the time. Under Pastner, the Jacket’s defense has been stout. That trend continued last year as opponents shot below 30% from 3-point range. A continuation of this strong 3-point defense would be vital in coming away with a win.
- Corral defensive rebounds. Just like on the offensive end, it is important to capitalize on the weaknesses of the Broncos. Boise St was 333rd in offensive rebounding last year, so it is vital that the Jackets don’t give second chance opportunities to Jessup and Alston from 3-point range.
- Avoid size mismatches at guard. Georgia Tech might have to avoid playing small at guard with Jose Alvarado (6’0) and Bubba Parham (5’11) against the Broncos. Boise St has size with their top 3 guards from last season being 6’9 (Derrick Alston), 6’7 (Justinian Jessup), and 6’4 (Alex Hobbs).
Game 2 Preview: Houston Cougars
If the Jackets are able to get past the Broncos, they would likely avoid a matchup against assistant head coach Eric Reveno’s former team, the Portland Pilots. This would pair the Jackets against Houston, a team who reached the Sweet Sixteen last year. Unlike the Jackets and Broncos, the Houston Cougars experienced some roster turnover, returning only 57% of their scoring. The Cougars lose their starting backcourt from last season in Corey Davis Jr and Galen Robinson Jr, who were 2 of their top 3 scorers. Head coach Kelvin Sampson won’t be panicking though as Nate Hinton should help hold down the fort without skipping a beat. According to 247, Hinton was the 4th highest rated recruit to ever sign with the Cougars in 2018 and followed up that title with an impressive freshman season (box score plus minus of 7.0). Houston signed a 3 man class in 2019 including a consensus top-150 player in J’Wan Roberts. Roberts should provide depth at forward, while the other two additions, Caleb Mills and Marcus Sasser, should provide depth at guard. Caleb Mills will have the opportunity for early minutes due to the graduation of Davis and Robinson. Houston also added Kansas guard Quentin Grimes via transfer, who was a consensus 5* recruit coming out of high school. Fortunately for the Jackets, Grimes will have to sit the 2019-2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Keys Offensively for Tech
- Feed James Banks. Just like against Boise St, Banks looks to be a deciding factor in this game. It will be important for the Jackets to feed Banks inside for a quick post move and exploit their lack of size.
- Ball movement. Houston plays defense with heavy ball pressure and will throw double-teams at you if the ball isn’t moving. Tech should look to swing the ball around to find Bubba Parham for an open 3. Pastner’s back door cuts would also work well against the Cougars.
Keys Defensively for Tech
- Win 50-50 balls. Despite being one of the shortest teams in the NCAA last year, Houston managed to be 15th in the country in offensive rebounding and 5th in total rebounding. Sampson puts an emphasis on effort - crashing the glass and battling for loose balls. It is important that the Jackets box out, use their size to their advantage, and match the intensity of Houston to loose balls. Pastner and company should look to emulate only of the main talking points of Coach Collins and the football team: CULTURE based on EFFORT.
- Be aggressive. The Jackets should look to play heavy ball pressure with their guards and wings without much regard of fouling. It is obviously not ideal to give teams free opportunities from the charity stripe, but the returning Houston Cougars shot below 66% from the FT line last season. This should allow Georgia Tech to create havoc resulting in steals and turnovers.
Game 3 Preview: Washington Huskies
For the sake of the article, we will say that the Jackets are successfully able to upset the Cougars to clinch a berth in the championship game. If the other half of the bracket goes chalk, Georgia Tech will square up against the Washington Huskies for all the marbles. Last year, second year head coach Mike Hopkins led the Huskies to an impressive 27-9 season and their first NCAA tournament birth since 2011. The 2019-2020 season will bring a new look for Hopkins’s team as he loses 5 of his top 6 scorers from the previous season. The expectations for the Huskies are still high as they seek to reload with a plethora of high profile players entering the fold. Hopkins signed a top-15 class consisting of 3 top 100 players, 2 of which were consensus top 10 5-stars. The two aforementioned stars are center Isaiah Stewart and power forward Jayden McDaniels. Isaiah Stewart averaged 17.6 points and 10.6 rebounds in the Nike EYBL in 2018 and projects to be a double-double machine for Washington this year. Stewart has a big frame with a 7’4 wingspan and excels on the defensive end of the floor due to his shot-blocking and rebounding ability. Like Stewart, McDaniels also was a threat for a double-double every game as he averaged 19.6 points and 9.3 rebounds in the 2018 EYBL season. However, McDaniels is a much more polished offensive talent than Stewart. The athletic 6’9 freshman can shoot the ball well and uses his strong handles to create his own shot. The talent doesn’t end there for Mike Hopkins. He also brought in former 5* guard Quade Green from Kentucky and former 4* forward J’Raan Brooks from the USC Trojans. While J’Raan Brooks will be ineligible for the upcoming season, Quade Green becomes eligible after the end of the first semester. This will allow Quade to play in the Diamond Head Classic. Green will give the Huskies a capable 3-point shooter (38.5% during his Kentucky career) and excellent vision/passing ability.
Keys Offensively for Tech
- Split the defense. Mike Hopkins’s team will line up in Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone defense. One of the keys to beating the zone is to attack the open space towards the basket. The defense will collapse leaving an open shooter for a kick outside or result in a high percentage shot at the rim.
- Ball Movement. Quickly swinging the ball around the key with inside-out passes are of the utmost importance in breaking the zone. This will allow Georgia Tech to find open shooters before the zone can rotate and recover.
- Maximize second-chance opportunities. One of the biggest flaws of the zone is that it is very susceptible to offensive rebounds because the defense is boxing out their zone instead of their man. This can be seen by the Huskies allowing 418 offensive rebounds last season, which was good for 342nd in the country. The Jackets need to capitalize on this and convert easy second-chance points on missed shots.
Keys Defensively for Tech
- Find the outlet after a defensive rebound. Another great way to beat a zone team is to quickly find the outlet pass after corralling a defensive rebound. Uptempo transition play makes it impossible to play zone because the defense can’t get set up.
- Pack it in. Jacket fans know that this year’s team has just about zero interior depth. James Banks is going to need some help inside to stay out of foul trouble against a large and physical Husky team. Georgia Tech can make it difficult for Isaiah Stewart, Jayden McDaniels, and Bryan Penn-Johnson by clogging the interior. This will dare Washington to make outside shots, something that the Huskies current roster will struggle with.
How do you think the Jackets will fair in the Diamond Head Classic? Please leave your comments below on how far Georgia Tech will go and other keys to victory for the tournament.
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