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Basketball Schedule Preview: Non-Conference

Wisconsin, LSU, and USC headline a backloaded slate

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Wisconsin at Baylor Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s non-conference can easily be split into two sections. The first 6 games are the “Warm-Up Section” which features multiple teams ranked in the 200s and 300s (by Kenpom) and the highest ranked opponent is Miami (OH) ranked at 137. The final 5 games is the “It’s Getting Real”. This part of the schedule has three teams ranked in the top-50 and Georgia State ranked just outside the top-100. Let’s get to it.

Warm-Up Section

Date Opponent Kenpom Ranking Home/Away
Date Opponent Kenpom Ranking Home/Away
9-Nov Miami (OH) 137 Home
12-Nov Stetson 195 Home
15-Nov Lamar 276 Home
19-Nov Georgia 159 Away
22-Nov Charleston Southern 340 Home
26-Nov Georgia Southern 263 Home

Up first on the slate is the highest ranked team for the first portion, Miami (OH). The RedHawks look scary at first glance. They return basically everyone from last year which could lead to big improvement. The downside is that Miami was just mediocre last year. Is a team chock-full of Seniors and 5th years going to be that much better than the same team as Juniors and Seniors? That continuity will probably play a bigger role in the first game of the season than it would later in the year. This could be a tricky one.

Up next are Stetson and Lamar. GT should have a much easier time in these games. Stetson and Lamar both struggled last year and don’t look like they’ve made too big of a jump during this offseason.

The toughest game in this portion of the season is the road trip to Georgia. That being said, this is not expected to be a good year for the Bulldogs at all. Last year UGA looked set to take a big step forward, but they didn’t. Over the offseason the Bulldogs completely revamped. They lost 7 of their top 8 scorers and yesterday it was announced that the sole returner in that group is out for the season with a knee injury. This team is entirely scrapped together from transfers and freshmen. Their best player should be their point guard, Gonzaga transfer Aaron Cook, who is a solid player. Their next best player might be...maybe Jabri Abdur-Rahim. He was a former top-50 recruit, but at Virginia last year he played 31 minutes total. Georgia’s defense has been a serious issue under Tom Crean and this year it has the potential to be disastrous. That being said, Josh Pastner has yet to beat Georgia and the Yellow Jackets have a recent history of losing to worse UGA teams.

The next two games should be blowouts. If they’re not, something has gone wrong. Charleston Southern is projected to be 340th in the country and Georgia Southern should only be mildly better at 263rd. The Jackets really need to win both of these games if they want to make it into the tournament again this year.

Through the first six games of the schedule Georgia Tech really should be at least 5-1 and you’d really be looking for 6-0 through this group. Anything less than that would spell trouble for the rest of the season. Kenpom gives the Yellow Jackets about a 50% chance to make it through this part of the schedule undefeated.

It’s Getting Real Section

Date Opponent Kenpom Ranking Home/Away
Date Opponent Kenpom Ranking Home/Away
1-Dec Wisconsin 44 Home
11-Dec LSU 43 Neutral-ish (State Farm Arena)
18-Dec USC 20 Neutral (Phoenix)
21-Dec Georgia State 103 Home
23-Dec Alabama A&M 329 Home

This is where the real schedule starts. GT also plays UNC between the Wisconsin and LSU games, but I’ll get to that in my conference schedule preview.

To start the December slate the Yellow Jackets welcome Wisconsin to McCamish Pavilion for the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. When you play Wisconsin you know what you’re getting, slow play and tough defense. Last year the Badgers had an odd team. They had a very old lineup and analytics loved them. That didn’t translate into results for them last year as they disappointed and ending up with a 9-seed that lost in the second round to future champion Baylor. They lost a lot of players from last year and Greg Gard has maybe his most challenging season ahead at Wisconsin. They do have some talent and the system will keep them competitive and give them a shot in any game. This will be a very tough contest.

Next the Yellow Jackets welcome the LSU Tigers to Atlanta for a game at State Farm Arena. The Tigers are almost the opposite of the Badgers. A dynamic offense has led to success, but not as much as you’d expect because of a very bad defense. LSU lost a lot of talent last year, but as usual Will Wade has restocked the team with talent and I’m sure he did it all above board. By this time in the season the new players should have gotten comfortable in their roles and the offense will be rolling. It might be tough for Georgia Tech’s offense to keep up.

The toughest game of the non-conference season should be a neutral site game against USC. The Trojans had a very good season last year. They challenged for the Pac-12 title, got a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament, made it to the Elite Eight, and finished 6th in Kenpom. Of course they lost Evan Mobley who became the third pick in the draft and was easily their best player last year. Still, USC has good size and should challenge the GT front court especially with Isaiah Mobley, Evan’s brother. The real question is about coach Andy Enfield. Enfield has been a solid recruiter, but his teams have consistently underachieved until last year. Has Enfield finally figured it out or did Evan Mobley carry the team? This should be a fantastic game and a chance for a huge non-conference win.

Georgia State is a trap game. The Panthers were a decent team last season, but they had some serious issues with injuries and Covid that hampered them. This season they come back returning a ton of talent (including 2 key players who missed all of last season). Expectations are high downtown and after beating GT last season in a 4 OT game Georgia State will be gunning for a repeat. This game is sandwiched between the tough part of the non-conference schedule and the conference openers.

The final non-conference opponent is Alabama A&M. The other Bulldogs look like a very bad team this year. GT should not struggle with this game.

I’d be happy if GT comes out of this stretch 3-2 and would be very excited if they did 4-1 or better. This provides the non-conference schedule’s only chances at wins that could make a difference in making the NCAA Tournament.

Summary

This isn’t the toughest non-conference schedule, but it does provide a few chances of picking up a quality win towards the end of the schedule. Look for the Yellow Jackets to pick up wins early, including potentially Pastner’s first win against Georgia, before they hit the meat of the schedule. We’ll see if this team can avoid the bad losses that have hampered previous Tech teams.