Northwestern Wildcats vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Basketball Game Preview

So, football is important. That will get handled possibly tomorrow and fo sho Wednesday and Thursday, sorry I won't be putting significant amounts of effort inta my Mississippi Valley State preview. Bowl stuff is kinda crazy important, and the ramifications of it deserve getting discussed up in here. So, yeah.

But for now, let's baloncesto. It's Big Ten-ACC Challenge time! In weird news, I'm a senior here and haven't seen NU lose to any of their three opponents in this thingamajig. (Toney Douglas and FSU my freshman year, NC State my sophomore year, Georgia Tech at home last year.)

For the first time all year, Kenpom says Northwestern is going to lose a game, and it's not our matchup Sunday with No. 7 Baylor. (NOTE: Kenpom doesn't understand that Perry Jones III is suspended and will make Baylor all of the better.) It's tomorrow night against Georgia Tech. He gives NU a 48 percent chance of pulling out the road victory, but for those of you math minors out there, that's less than 50, or half. So let's look at all this.

Are they good?: Well, let's put things in perspective. Last year, Georgia Tech put the "wreck" into "Ramblin' Wreck", at least by Georgia Tech standards, finishing 13-17. Sure, there was a random blowout victory against North Carolina and a solid beating of Virginia Tech, but other than that, things didn't go right, leading to the firing of Paul Hewitt. Now former Dayton head coach Brian Gregory is in charge, and through six games, I'll go with "not yet". In three games against medium-level competition in St. Joseph's, VCU, and LSU in the Charleston Classic - hey, we won that! - the Yellow Jackets went 1-2, beating VCU but falling to St. Joe's and LSU. They've handled their other three games against nobody.

Who they got?: With Iman Shumpert's 14-shot, 11-point performance last year against Northwestern catching the eye of the scouts of my beloved New York Knicks - GO NEW YORK GO NEW YORK GO - the team's star is Glen Palin Jr. Glen Rice Jr., whose dad had sex with Sarah Palin was NBA sharpshooter Glen Rice. Rice sat out the team's first three games after violating team rules by eloping to Alaska to mate with potential future vice presidential candidates but has come back strong, putting up 19 and 23 in victories over VCU and Siena. (Never mind when he missed a dunk at Welsh-Ryan Arena last year, he was the Yellow Jackets' only competent player in that game, leading the team in points, rebounds, and assists.) Rice doesn't have the jumper of his father - he shot a tad over 30 percent last year - but he's explosive off the dribble, and, despite the missed dunk, has the athleticism to throw down when given the chance. He plays biggish for a 6-foot-5 guy. When he was gone, his scoring slack was filled by forward Kammeon Hosley and guard Mfon Udofia, who each put up a 20 point outing in his absence. Big man Daniel Miller is modestly frightening for NU fans due to his decent rebounding and superb shot-blocking ability, but he can't really score in any plausible way.

What are they good at?: Ready to have the fear of the lord struck into you? Georgia Tech is good at rebounding and interior defense. Yes, two areas where Northwestern, even in a 5-0 season, has shown they are likely to be exploited. Last year, Georgia Tech couldn't guard the three point line for their lives, but were able to maintain ranking as the No. 40 defense in the country due to Miller's ability to block shots and the ballhawking of excellent perimeter defender Iman Shumpert. With Shump gone, the emphasis has shifted away from forcing turnovers to contesting shots. Georgia Tech has dropped from No. 3 in forcing steals (13.8 percent of possessions) to No. 311 (6.7 percent) while holding opponents to 35.7 percent from inside the arc (No. 10 in the country) and blocking 17 percent of opponents' shot attempts (No. 13). I haven't watched any games, but I'd assume Gregory's system places a higher focus on keeping opponents from getting good looks and shies away from gambling for steals. They're also great rebounders: Georgia Tech is No. 20 on the offensive boards - better than Stony Brook, who were No. 29 in that category and nearly leveraged that into an upset with 17 offensive boards - with Miller and Hosley combining for nearly six offensive boards a game themselves. And they're No. 25 on the defensive glass, only allowing opponents to recover 25.2 percent of their misses. To summarize, Georgia Tech tries to win by owning the paint offensively and defensively.

What are they bad at?: As noted, forcing turnovers. But more importantly, shooting. In three games against solid teams, the Yella Jackets are 11-for-45 from downtown. They've beefed up their interior scoring game, but Rice is arguably their best shooter, which isn't good. They also ain't too big a fan of holding on to the ball, giving it away 22 times against LSU in only 65 possessions.

Us and them: Last year's meeting was actually the first between these two squads, so your fear that Luke Schenscher lives under your bed is completely unwarranted, at least in relation to Northwestern basketball.

So, this'll be like last year's game, right?: Well, no, but that's because last year's game was absurd. Northwestern scored 55 points in the first half, and although some of that was because GTech was awful at defending, some of it was just WHAT? Northwestern shot better from three - 63.2 percent, 12-for-19 - than they did from the free throw line - 17-for-30, just 56.7 percent. Alex Marcotullio had a four-point play. John Shurna went 4-for-4 from three. Luka Mirkovic nearly recorded a triple-double with 11 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. In five games this year, he has 12 rebounds and seven assists. NU's offensive prowess in that game rendered losing nearly impossible. Bill Carmody could have used all of his timeouts by waiting for NU to hit a three, subbing me in on defense, telling me to stand in a corner on offense, and waiting for the next made three, and NU still would have won by like seven. So this year's game won't be like that, but not because of vast changes in either team, just because of the world.

Difference between the amount of times Georgia Tech has made the NCAA Tournament and the amount of times Northwestern has?: 16. Remember Jarrett Jack and Luke Schenscher's run to the championship game? Me too.

Copy-paste something from last year's post, will you?: Sure.

Quick, three favorite former Georgia Tech players: Well, Stephon Marbury, because he's my favorite basketball player of all time ever, and one of my life goals is to write his biography, 2) Luke Schenscher, because he propagated my belief instigated by Luc Longley that all Australian people were either Steve Irwin or seven-foot tall ginger basketball players named "Luke", and 3) Javaris Crittenton, for his role in the Gilbert Arenas gun thing and because I think he could have used more time in the league, to be honest. (SIDE NOTE: I forgot about Javaris Crittenton's murder beef that happened since last year. Sippin' on Purple does NOT condone murder. He is off the list.)

Quick, least favorite: Chris Bosh, because he's a tool and I hate him, Jon Barry, because he's a bigger tool, but I hate him less, and Matt Harpring, because I always imagined him to be a tool and because he played for the Jazz.

How much money do you get for making three Luke Schenscher references in this post?: Every dollar ever made by anybody ever. You are all now bankrupt and your money belongs to me. I apologize.

Great names: I do like Mfon "OH NO UDOFIA". But that's just because I'm an idiot.

How can NU win?: This game will be won by making shots and solid play out of the 1-3-1 defense. NU won't have a chance of beating the GTech Killa Beez in the post, especially the way all NU's interior scorers, even John Shurna, have been playing poorly down low. They'll need to hit some threes. Defensively, this team can be tricked into turning the ball over a bunch. Giving them a lot of outside looks while pressuring the opponent into bad passes is what the 1-3-1 is good at. This is basically what I said about LSU, and I looked really smart after that game. This is probably the first game ever that I feel confident that NU can win with defense, as it will be tough to score. 

Should NU win?: I think so. The Stony Brook game shook our confidence a bit, and this is on the road. But this team ain't better than any of the teams NU beat in the Charleston Classic, in my opinion, so, I like their chances.

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