In the second round of the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Classic, the Wildcats will face either Dayton (#18 AP/ #21 Coaches) or Georgia Tech (#21 AP / #19 Coaches). Since I currently live in Georgia Tech's home territory of Atlanta, I am bracing myself for that match-up. With the potential for this match-up around 50/50, I decided to prepare an anticipatory preview.
Georgia Tech is a historically a school that cares more about football than basketball. Despite that, the ACC affiliation keeps Tech basketball relevant, and draws in some of the southeast's top recruits. The program has been active since 1911 when John Heisman, then the football and baseball coach at Tech, decided to organize a basketball team as well and lead the Yellow Jackets to a .142 winning percentage in their first season.
Tech basketball had limited success over the years since it's founding. They played as a founding member of the SEC in 1932, and won that conference's regular season and tournament titles in 1938. They wouldn't win conference hardware again until 1985. Georgia Tech has 15 NCAA tournament appearances, half the number that Villanova has accumulated over the years. They have been to the Final Four twice, but have never won a national championship.
Current Coach Paul Hewitt lead his team to a tremendous 2004 season, which included a Preseason NIT title, and a win in the Final Four (ultimately losing in the final to UConn). They have been back to the NCAA tournament twice since then, in 2005 and 2007, but haven't been out of the first weekend since.
In recent years Georgia Tech has produced a number of NBA players, and Coach Hewitt has continuted to hit on top high school prospects. The current roster includes two top-10 recruits in guard Iman Shumpert and forward Derrick Favors.
The Yellow Jackets return four of last year's starters (not all of whom are starting this year), F Gani Lawal, F. Zach Peacock, G Iman Shumpert and G Moe Miller. They added six newcomers including Derrick Favors, who has moved Zach Peacock to the bench this season. So how do our rosters compare?
Frontcourt: Georgia Tech returns junior Gani Lawal (who flirted with the NBA in the offseason before returning), and adds highly-touted recruit Derrick Favors to the starting lineup. Last year Lawal almost averaged a double-double at 15.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. In one game so far this year, Lawal scored 16 and pulled down 12 boards with 2 blocks. Favors played 24 minutes in that game, scoring 10 points with 8 boards and 2 steals. Tech also received a 13 minute contribution from backup forward Brian Oliver, who scored 12. Former-starter Zach Peacock scored 8 points with 6 rebounds in 15 minutes of action.
The Villanova frontcourt is certainly not as highly-touted as Georgia Tech's offering. Lawal is their most experienced player in the frontcourt, and looked better than Favors against FAMU. Their tallest starter is Favors at 6'10", though they do have a 7' center on the bench. All in, they have six players taller than 6'6" compared to four for Villanova. Both teams start a veteran and a freshman in the frontcourt. While players like Taylor King will be more productive shooting than Tech's frontcourt reserves, the edge in the frontcourt should go to Tech. Villanova will need a strong defensive effort on the inside to keep Favors and Lawal under control.
Backcourt: Against Florida A&M over the weekend, Tech started Sophomore Iman Shumpert, Mfon Udofia and D'Andre Bell in the backcourt. Bell is the only senior starting on this team, and though we're calling him a guard, he is really going to be playing the 3. He was considered to be the best defender on the team two years ago (he sat out last year after spinal surgery). Bell averaged 24 minutes per game last year, along with 6.6ppg, 2.1 rpg and 1.9 assists, and this year he has 4 points, 1 rebound and 4 assists against FAMU. Freshman PG Mfon Udofia scored 9 points and had 4 assists and 4 rebounds in his debut, but went 0-2 from beyond the arc, 3-8 from the field and 3 of 7 from the charity stripe. Udofia also turned the ball over 3 times during 22 minutes on the court. PG/SG Shumpert is clearly their best backcourt player. Last year, the ACC All-Freshman team member averaged 10.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2.1 steals and shot 39% from the field. This season he has 18 points, 2 assists, and 3 steals against FAMU, and proved to be their most consistent shooter during the game. The Jackets also have Moe Miller at PG position, but he was largely a non-factor during his 14 minutes on Saturday.
Villanova has a deeper and more talented backcourt. With Fisher, Reynolds and Wayns handling the ball, the Wildcats have much more control of the ball. Tech turned the ball over 18 times in their first game, including 11 turnovers by their three starting guards. By comparison, Villanova has turned the ball over only 14 times over two games so far. Villanova is far deeper in the backcourt as well with a number of different looks. The 'Cats guards are better shooters as well; Cheek is shooting 60% from the field, and only Scottie Reynolds is currently below 40% for the season (he was at 40% last year and is 39.9% for his career).
Overall: It's hard to gauge how good Georgia Tech is this year since their only challenge was against the underwhelming Florida A&M squad. We'll get more information during their game against Dayton.
Either way, the 'Cats shoot a slightly higher percentage from the field (0.496 to .481), from beyond the arc (.426 to .4) and from the free throw line (0.722 to 0.7). Tech rebounded slightly better 'Nova in their one game so far.
Neither team has met high-level opponents yet this season. The Villanova team has more veteran presence in the backcourt and a number of options for scoring. Despite that, it won't be an easy game, and Jay Wright will have to prepare his team to play solid defense against the Yellow Jackets in order to win.
Tech is capable of playing at a very high level, but they can also take games off. This was highlighted by an exhibition close-call against D-II Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and it is possible that playing games on consecutive days in Puerto Rico could result in a similarly lackadaisical performance on Friday.
Both schools have highly-heralded recruiting classes this year, and Georgia Tech will be leaning on theirs to bring in some wins this season. Last year's team went 12-19, but new faces mean that these are not the same Yellow Jackets. This is a team that is potentially very dangerous in the frontcourt; Mouph and Pena will need to have a strong showing to control the highly-talented Favors and Lawal.
If the 'Cats play good defense, and keep the Tech frontcourt under control, they shouldn't have a problem with this early-season challenge.