March 28, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– Part of the fun of the postseason is the sheer lottery of it. Teams from different leagues, often from opposite sides of the country, neither one on the other’s radar, taking wildly divergent paths before ultimately landing in the same bracket.
The NIT can make for strange bedfellows, and Tuesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden might certainly qualify. To wit: when Georgia Tech last played in the NIT semifinals in 1971, its opponent, Cal State Bakersfield, had only existed as a university for six years.
They’ll meet Tuesday at the World’s Most Famous Arena, an offbeat pairing of programs that are playing their best ball of the season. Georgia Tech (22-13) has topped 70 points in its last three games while continuing to play its typically stingy defense. CSU Bakersfield (25-9) reached New York City by blowtorching three straight opponents on the road, becoming the first 8-seed ever to reach the NIT semis. They haven’t exactly come out of the blue, either: the Roadrunners reached the NCAA Tournament last year, where they lost in the first round to eventual Final Four participant Oklahoma. They’re also led by a familiar face in former Georgia State head coach Rod Barnes, now in his sixth season.
What will it take for Georgia Tech for win on one of basketball’s most hallowed floors? Here are my top five notes from my chart in preparation for Tuesday’s matchup at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
— Georgia Tech Sports (@GTAthletics) March 28, 2017
Don’t let the glass slipper fool you. Cinderella can D you up.
Cal State Bakersfield won the WAC regular season behind a defense that ranks 15th nationally in defensive efficiency and sixth in turnovers per game (16.9). In addition to WAC All-Defensive forward Jaylin Airington, CSUB features the WAC’s top shot blocker in 6-10 Moataz Aly (1.8 bpg).
With the way the Roadrunners extend, trap, lunge into passing lanes, get under ballhandlers, and defend on the help side, they have more than a passing resemblance to Florida State’s defensive structure. The upside, of course, is that Tech hammered FSU when they met in January, routinely burning the Seminoles on back cuts and high post plays. Tech can’t get panicked or paralyzed against CSUB’s pressure, and they have to deny the Roadrunners any “pick-sixes” off turnovers.
CSUB’s smothering defense also has another consequence. Similar to NCAA Final Four team South Carolina, the Roadrunners allow 27.2 percent of opponents’ points to come off free throws, the second-highest percentage in the nation. The Yellow Jackets may have picked a good time to shoot a season-best 85.0 percent from the free throw line against Ole Miss (17 of 20).
— Andy Demetra (@AndyDemetra) March 28, 2017
In the practice leading up to their quarterfinal matchup against Ole Miss, Josh Pastner implored his players to be the aggressors. They obliged: Tech stormed out to a 26-13 lead, easily its best road start of the season.
They’ll now try to stop a Roadrunners team that has benefitted from some scalding starts in NIT play. Check out some of the numbers CSUB has posted in the first half — and on the road, no less:
CSU Bakersfield — First Half NIT (3g):
3pt.%: 65.0% (26 of 40)
Avg. halftime lead: 20.3 pts.
Bakersfield’s biggest metamorphosis has been from the three-point line. The Roadrunners rank a middling 165th nationally in three-point field goal percentage; they’ve made 49.1 percent of their threes during the NIT (29 of 49).
On the bright side, the Yellow Jackets put the clamps on Indiana, Belmont and Ole Miss, all of whom were coming off prolific three-point nights in their previous game.
Three-Point Shooting — NIT
Opponent 3pt.% prev. game vs. GT:
Indiana 40.9% (9-22) 26.3% (5-19)
Belmont 45.2% (14-31) 33.3% (11-33)
Ole Miss 46.9% (15-32) 21.4% (6-28)
— GT Men’s Basketball (@GTMBB) March 28, 2017
CSUB leading scorer and first-team All-WAC guard Jaylin Airington (14.4 ppg) hails from East Chicago, Ind., which has a role in one of the more unique pieces of trivia in college basketball history. Only two people have ever played in both an NCAA Final Four and a Major League Baseball World Series: Arizona’s Kenny Lofton and NC State’s Tim Stoddard. Remarkably, both grew up in East Chicago, Ind.
Airington might lead the Roadrunners in scoring, but sixth man Damiyne Durham (12.8 ppg) actually ranks 3rd in the nation in percentage of shots taken (39.5 pct.). A Baylor transfer, Durham is capable of some high degree-of-difficulty shots from outside. The Yellow Jackets have to stop him from getting on a roll.
In its last three games, Tech has outscored opponents by a staggering plus-38 in points off turnovers (69-31). Not bad for a team that finished last in the ACC in turnovers per game.
GT – Points off turnovers
Credit a Tech team that’s been active with its hands in the halfcourt, leading to more opportunities for fast breaks. In their quarterfinal win over Ole Miss, Georgia Tech’s coaches charted more than 30 deflections, among its better totals of the season. Can they continue that turnover turnaround against the Roadrunners?
A seemingly random matchup has actually produced a reunion this week. Tech freshman Justin Moore is close friends with CSU Bakersfield freshman guard Justin Davis, like Moore a native of San Diego, Calif. Moore said he’s played with Davis since the fourth grade, and they were teammates on the San Diego All-Stars AAU team.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you in New York City.