11/25: Georgia St @ Georgia Tech 9pm (Line: Tech -8)
11/27: Mercer @ Georgia Tech 8pm (Line: TBD)
Georgia Tech’s season gets underway this week against two Georgia teams that Pastner is usually reluctant to schedule: Georgia St and Mercer. The Jackets will have an opportunity to prove they are not only the best team in Atlanta but also the best team in the state this year (since we know it’s not that “Atlanta” team 69 miles away from the heart of Atlanta). Tonight, Tech will take on a Panther team that returns their top 3 scorers. Head coach Rob Lanier had a disappointing first season, finishing 19-13 and crashing out in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament to Georgia Southern. This year however, the veteran Panther team has tournament aspirations and were picked to finish 2nd in the preseason Sun Belt poll, slightly behind Little Rock. On Friday, the Jackets take on Mercer, who look to improve on a 17-15 season. Second year head coach Greg Gary loses his top two scorers from last year, but will have two veteran guards at his disposal: Jeff Gary and Ross Cummings. Both guards were selected to the SoCon Preseason All-Conference Team (11 in total) and are a big reason the Bears were picked to finish 4th this season. This will be an important week for Tech, and not just optically in the Atlanta area. Pastner’s squad has the talent to make the tournament, and it is imperative that they build on existing recruiting momentum and start the season off on the right foot with two wins.
Kane Williams - Guard, Georgia State
The senior guard led the Panthers in points, assists, and steals last season and is projected to be 1st team all Sun Belt. Kane is a big guard at 6’4 and will be a tough guard for Jose or Devoe. The Jackets may be able to give him some space behind the arc though, as he shot just 34% from deep last season. Tech will need to be sure to box out Kane as he was one of the Panther’s leading rebounders from last season. Williams is expected to anchor the backcourt with two other upperclassmen guards: Justin Roberts and Corey Allen.
Justin Roberts - Guard, Georgia State
Roberts was the 3rd leading scorer (13.2) and was second on the team in assists (3.6) last season. Georgia Tech will need to stay close to Justin on the defensive end as he is one of their top 3-point shooters from last season, making 40% of his deep shots. In addition, Roberts is active on the defensive end of the floor and was tied for the team lead in steals last season (1.5).
Ross Cummings - Guard, Mercer
Cummings is should be far and away Mercer’s best player. The 5th year senior guard only played in 6 games last season due to injury, but in 2018-2019, led the Bears in points with 17.4. Cummings was off to a hot start behind the arc in the 6 games, making over 45% of his 3-pointers. As a junior, Cummings was a high volume 3-point shooter, making 3.3 of his 8.2 attempts per game (40%). One of the keys to victory for the Jackets will be ensuring he does not get hot from deep.
Jeff Gary - Guard, Mercer
Jeff started in 20 of 22 games last season and will look to expound on his 11.5 points per game he produced last season, which was good for 3rd on the team. Of Mercer’s returning players, Gary produced the most points and played the most minutes (32.8) last season, but that doesn’t factor in Ross’s injury. The redshirt junior is a solid 3-point shooter as well (39%) and will likely lead the Bears in assists this year.
One would imagine Pastner would have avoided these two games at all cost if it weren’t for COVID forcing schools to adopt a more regional scheduling approach. Having the first two games of the season against veteran local teams without contact practice or exhibition games could spell disaster for Tech. Both Georgia State and Mercer will be playing as if this is their Super Bowl. Beating the Jackets will give them the ultimate bragging rights in the state this year.
However, this is supposed to be Tech’s year. Jordan Usher and Jose Alvarado have big games in transition as Georgia State’s uptempo play turns this one into a track meet. Devoe starts his junior campaign off hot, finishing with over 15 points. Moses takes advantage of the Panthers propensity to give up offensive rebounds and has several put-back dunks. The Jackets will need to be careful on the defensive end; the Panthers love to crash the offensive glass and that could be a pain-point tonight.
Prediction: Georgia Tech wins 77-68
Georgia Tech takes the momentum from Wednesday night’s win and stays hot against Mercer. Devoe puts together a magnificent performance, leading Tech with over 20 points on the night. Pastner puts emphasis on the defensive end of the floor and the Jackets stymie the deep threats of the Bears. Jose Alvarado finishes with double digit points and 3+ steals.
Prediction: Georgia Tech wins 76-62