March 14, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– Depending on your point of view, a trip to the National Invitation Tournament can be a disappointment, a consolation, or a reward.
Georgia Tech’s NIT bid, its second straight and ninth in school history, falls firmly into the latter. Sure, Josh Pastner wants his team to remember the sting of not hearing its name called on Selection Sunday. After gaining NCAA Tournament momentum midway through ACC play, a 3-4 finish undid any chances of Tech making the field. But given the Jackets’ — ahem – modest pre-season expectations, the idea of playing in any postseason might have seemed farfetched when the season tipped in November.
That’s why, in an NIT where motivations vary wildly and the “want to be here” factor runs the gamut, Georgia Tech (17-15, 8-10 ACC) might be well suited.
“We’ve come a long way from where we started. We’ve become a good team. We’ve got a great opportunity,” head coach Josh Pastner told me after practice Monday.
Tech’s NIT run begins Tuesday when it faces Indiana (18-15, 7-11 Big Ten) for the first time ever in Atlanta. The Hoosiers, led by ninth-year head coach Tom Crean, rose to as high as No. 3 in the country before injuries and an ultra-competitive Big Ten torpedoed any NCAA Tournament hopes. They’ll try to turn that disappointment into motivation against the Yellow Jackets.
The new season begins tonight. Here are my five favorite notes from my chart in preparation for Tuesday’s matchup at McCamish (9 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
It might not rival the sense of humor shown in the Syracuse-UNC Greensboro pairing, but the NIT gave an intriguing first-round matchup between the Jackets and Hoosiers.
The highest-ranked team in defensive efficiency in the field? Georgia Tech (No. 7).
The highest-ranked team in offensive efficiency in the field? Indiana (No. 27).
The Yellow Jackets’ stalwart D will once again get tested by the Hoosiers, who racked up wins over a pair of NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds in North Carolina and Kansas during the regular season. Led by guards James Blackmon (17.2 ppg, 42.4 pct. 3pt.) and Robert Johnson (13.1 ppg, 38.0 pct. 3pt.), the Hoosiers play a fast pace and won’t hesitate to rain threes in transition. On the tempo/three-point volume scale, their numbers closely mirror Virginia Tech. Six-foot-10 Thomas Bryant (12.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) also gives them a low-post magnet who can attract double teams and keep the floor spread.
“I enjoy watching them play,” Pastner told me.
And yet… Georgia Tech is 5-1 at home against teams ranked in the top 30 nationally in offensive efficiency.
NCAA Rank — Offensive Efficiency (GT vs. at McCamish)
4. North Carolina (W)
16. Notre Dame (W)
23. Louisville (L)
25. Florida State (W)
29. Clemson (W)
30. Syracuse (W)
The Yellow Jackets worked on their defensive transition since returning from the ACC Tournament – a fortuitous decision, given who they’re facing Tuesday. Also worth noting: Indiana commits a turnover on 21.4 percent of its possessions, the second-highest percentage of any team the Yellow Jackets have faced. Can Tech continue to play with active hands in the halfcourt, and win the 50-50 balls that eluded them against Pitt? And has the weeklong layoff helped the Jackets regain their hard-cutting ways on offense, which could sap Indiana’s legs? Pay attention to those areas Tuesday.
Like Syracuse’s Andrew White III, James Blackmon led his conference in three-pointers, connecting on a Big Ten-high 3.1 per game. A 6-4, 200-pound junior, Blackmon is the prime beneficiary of Indiana’s motion offense, which uses lots of dribble drives and false motion to create looks for its shooters. He also comes from good stock: his Dad, James Blackmon Sr., played in the 1983 McDonald’s All-American game alongside Georgia Tech legend Bruce Dalrymple.
Rebounding wasn’t exactly a forte of the Yellow Jackets down the stretch. That might need to change Tuesday: Indiana ranks 10th nationally in rebounding margin (+7.4), making them the second most dominant rebounding team Tech has faced next to North Carolina. The Hoosiers’ long-range gunning often leads to scrambles and hard recoveries, putting opponents out of shape for defensive rebounds. IU’s guards also crash hard from the perimeter, particularly from the corners. It will take a collective effort to stifle Indiana and prevent second chances.
Indiana head coach Tom Crean served as an assistant at Michigan State with Stan Heath, the father of Yellow Jackets guard Josh Heath. One of the coolest, most under-the-radar stories in college basketball this winter: seeing Stan, an assistant at Boston College, fly down on the Eagles’ off days to watch his son play. Kudos to BC head coach Jim Christian for allowing that to happen. Your son only has one senior season.
One of the Yellow Jackets’ more reluctant three-point shooters, Heath has made 4 of 9 over his last four games. Tech, however, is shooting 22.4 percent as a team during that span, and at a higher volume than its season average. Getting into a three-point shootout with the Hoosiers likely won’t earn them a spot in the second round. More important for the Yellow Jackets Tuesday: converting their layups and floaters inside the paint. Pastner again saw too many of them miss in their ACC Tournament exit.
Say this about the Yellow Jackets: they won’t be fazed by Indiana’s iconic color scheme. All through the year, Georgia Tech’s scout team wore red jerseys with white block numerals.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 8:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish.