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Weekly Basketball Thoughts

Rotation Starts To Take Shape

NCAA Basketball: ACC Tipoff Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Tech is 2-0. Both games were too close, too late, but at least they have avoided a bad loss against Georgia Southern or Howard. So far the interesting part to me has been who is playing and how much.

College basketball rotations tend to be fairly fluid as the season progresses, particularly on a team as reliant on transfers as this one, but I think it’s instructive how things have played out so far. We also don’t know how much of a rotation Damon Stoudamire prefers. At Pacific he played longer lineups with players barely ever hitting 30 minutes. I want to see if that changes.

Let’s start with Miles Kelly at shooting guard. He was supposed to be GT’s best player coming in and he’s been as advertised. He played 31 minutes against Georgia Southern and then 35 against Howard. He is nearly in the tier where he plays every minute that he’s not in foul trouble. That depends more on Damon’s philosophy than Kelly’s level. We’ll see, but he is going to play a lot no matter what. He’s too important to this offense. Kelly can also take the ball up the court which gives flexibility to the rotation. Lance Terry also plays shooting guard and has been injured, but should come back soon. I don’t expect him to take many of Kelly’s minutes. When he plays they’ll probably push Kelly up to the three. I’ll get to Terry more later.

Point guard has been interesting. Kyle Sturdivant and Amaree Abram have basically split it evenly. I have generally been a little disappointed with Sturdivant in his career and was very excited to see what Abram (an Ole Miss transfer) could do on the Flats. So far Sturdivant has been better. He played basically the whole second half against Howard when the game was on the line. He’s seeing the court better than in the past which has helped him elevate his game. Abram is struggling with shooting and everything else on offense. I still think he has more upside and has already proved himself at the P5 level. I think Damon gives him plenty of opportunity to figure things out, but Sturdivant’s leadership and improvement have him in the lineup for good.

At the wing we’ve mostly played Deebo Coleman and Kowacie Reeves. I’ve been pretty happy with both. Deebo was a fairly highly ranked recruit who has struggled a bit at GT. This year he has played a lot and I think has played solidly. His efficiency has been ridiculous (4/7 from three, 4/5 from two, and no turnovers) but his biggest issue on offense has been that he’s invisible a lot. He tends to hang out in the corner and it shows in his 11.7 % Possesion percentage (lowest among players mentioned here). He’s a talented offensive who should pick up more of a roll. Kowacie Reeves was a very highly ranked recruit who struggled at Florida despite huge minutes. I’ve been impressed with him so far. He’s made some smart plays on offense and his length and athleticism is useful on defense. Like Deebo I’d like to see him take some offense off of Miles Kelly’s plate as he grows more comfortable. With the imminent return of Lance Terry and the struggles of some bigs I expect Reeves to play a lot of 4. He has the size and length for it and his athleticism can still make a mismatch on offense. He’ll certainly have plenty of minutes going forward. Lance Terry should cut into this group if he plays. He’s a good shooter and has at least some shot creation ability, but lacks the size of the two other players in this group. He’s experienced and smart though which I think Stoudamire will prioritize.

In the frontcourt we’ve seen four players play decent minutes, three transfers and a freshman. Tyzhaun Claude (transfer from Western Carolina) has been by far the best. He reminds me a lot of Javon Franklin last year in that they were both transfers who had success in a lower conference, but the only doubts were about their size. Against Howard Tyzhaun showed why I was excited about him. He was in the right spot at the right time frequently on offense getting easy feeds and putbacks. He even hit a three (which is new). I expect him to play a lot of 5 even if he’s giving up 5 inches against a lot of ACC centers. Surprising me, the second big man has been freshman Ibrahima Sacko. I thought he was a very raw incoming player who could potentially even redshirt, but he’s gotten a decent amount of minutes so far. I think he’s struggled so far, especially late against Howard when he came in for Claude. But Damon Stoudamire playing him this much this early shows faith in him to get better and become an asset soon. On a similar level is Tafare Gapare. He transferred from UMass last year where he barely played as a freshman. Like Sacko he seemed very raw and I didn’t expect him to play too much this year. He has played just as much as Sacko and with similar result. Neither have shown much on offense and have looked lost at points on defense, but Gapare has shown some ability to protect the rim especially off the ball. When it came time to replace Claude against Howard it was Sacko that came in, but these two players should compete with each other for playing time going forward and I have no idea who will win out. The fourth is Ebenezer Dowuona. Unlike the other frontcourt options, Dowuona has a lot of ACC experience and has the size to handle bigger centers. But he wasn’t fantastic at NC State and has taken a backseat this season so far behind Tyzhaun Claude. In mp opinion he’s played decent in his minutes, but hasn’t gotten a ton of chances. As we head into the ACC season and play more tall lineups it’s possible that Dowuona gets more run, but this is a crowded frontcourt (especially if Reeves takes a lot of minutes at power forward). Dowuona should be the backup at center, but we’ll see.

There’s been a few surprises so far, but as the season progresses I’m mostly interested to see how Stoudamire handles the lineup and how deep he wants this team to play.