March 30, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– They entered the year with modest expectations, and even that might be generous: one was picked to finish last in its conference, the other second-to-last. They had upperclassmen, but few proven stars. They had new head coaches, both looking to rejuvenate themselves after long tenures at their previous schools.
800 miles apart, Georgia Tech and TCU have followed remarkably similar paths in their 2016-17 seasons. Both reached 20 wins, a feat not even the heartiest of fans could have predicted. Both had signature wins over college basketball bluebloods: Georgia Tech with a New Year’s Eve takedown of No. 9 North Carolina, TCU with a Big 12 Tournament upset of No. 1 Kansas. Both electrified their fan bases with unselfish, crowd-pleasing basketball. Their head coaches, Jamie Dixon and Josh Pastner, took full advantage of their change in scenery, re-proving their coaching chops to some who had grown skeptical.
And true to form, Georgia Tech and TCU overachieved in the NIT, rising beyond their 4- and 6-seeds to reach the championship game at Madison Square Garden. At a little past 8 o’clock, on one of college basketball’s most iconic floors, Georgia Tech and TCU – two teams intertwined by overachieving – will seek one last crowning achievement to their seasons: an NIT title.
It makes for a fascinating matchup in midtown Manhattan. For the last time this season, here are the top five notes from my chart in preparation for Thursday’s championship game at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
It took until the final game of the season, but Georgia Tech finally found an opponent that shares the ball better than them:
Assist Rate TCU – 63.0 pct. (No. 10 NCAA) Georgia Tech – 62.4 pct. (No. 13 NCAA)
Point guard Alex Robinson (11.3 ppg, 5.7 apg, No. 2 Big 12) is a skilled, finesse creator off screen-and-rolls, while Kenrich Williams, a 6-7 Swiss Army knife, led the Big 12 in double-doubles and is utilized in spots similar to Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame. In four NIT games, Williams has produced an MOP-worthy stat line: 13.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
The Horned Frogs are adept at making the “plus-one” passes to create open looks. They also cut hard – as hard as Tech, in many ways. The Yellow Jackets will have to handle ball screens well, lest they get sucked in and allow clean looks on drop-downs and swing passes (UCF struggled with that on Tuesday). They’ll also need to protect the defensive glass – TCU’s offensive rebounding percentage (33.8 pct.) is the sixth-highest among Tech’s opponents.
TCU’s offensive efficiency rating (No. 38 NCAA) is the fourth-highest among teams that did not reach the NCAA Tournament.
The Yellow Jackets have beaten all three ranked above them (Indiana, Syracuse, Clemson).
On the trickiness scale, his name might not compare with Abdoulaye Gueye, Sylvester Ogbonda or Josh Okogie. Yet during Tuesday’s semifinal against CSU Bakersfield, the public address announcer at Madison Square Garden mysteriously kept calling Ben Lammers “La-MEERS.”
With his 16th double-double against the Roadrunners (15 points, 11 rebounds), Lammers gave the PA man plenty of opportunities for butchery. The junior now gets a date with TCU, four hours from his hometown of San Antonio. So did the Horned Frogs recruit Lammers coming out of Alamo Heights High School? (Fun fact: his school was nicknamed the Mules).
Lammers told me TCU recruited him “a fair amount,” though he added that a lot of Texas schools did. Horned Frogs head coach Jamie Dixon also told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he recruited Lammers at Pitt. He’ll likely match up with 6-11 junior Vladimir Brodziansky (team-high 13.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg), a rangy, second-eam All-Big 12 forward who uses cagey duck-ins to get shots around the rim.
Georgia Tech has topped 70 points in all four of its NIT games, its longest such stretch of the season. A few reasons why:
• They’ve outscored their opponents +50 in points off turnovers (87-37).
• They’ve attempted 20 or more free throws in each game – the first time they’ve done that all season.
• Quinton Stephens, whom Pastner has said is playing the best basketball of his career, has made 42 percent of his three-point attempts (11 of 26).
Add it up, and the extra points start to flow in. Also, though it hasn’t cost them yet, can Tech find consistent scoring outside of Stephens from three-point range?
3pt. FG% – NIT
Quinton Stephens – 42.3% (11 of 26)
Rest of team – 25.6% (10 of 39)
Random as it seemed, the Georgia Tech-CSU Bakersfield game did feature a family connection. CSUB point guard Justin Pride, who finished with two points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Jackets, is the cousin of Georgia Tech director of player personnel Mario West. Their mothers are sisters.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. It’s been a pleasure taking you “Inside The Chart” this season. Let’s end it with a win. See you in New York City.