Previewing Georgia Tech’s matchup with No. 11 Louisville at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network, including WATL-TV in Atlanta.
Why – Tech’s upset history
If there’s one thing that Gregory has demonstrated that he’s capable of doing, it’s pull road upsets. In his second year, the Jackets came back from a 13-point second-half deficit to beat No. 6 Miami on a buzzer-beating tip-in by Marcus Georges-Hunt on a night when a Hurricanes victory would have clinched the league regular-season championship for Miami. Two years ago, the Jackets upset No. 7 Syracuse on the Orange’s senior night. Last year, the Jackets ended their seven-game losing streak to open the ACC schedule by upsetting No. 23 Miami 70-50.
Why not – Louisville’s home-court advantage
The KFC Yum Center should provide a considerable home-court advantage. The Cardinals are 17-1 at home this season and will be playing their final home game of the season. The game has further import for Louisville because the Cardinals have self-imposed a postseason ban because of a recruiting scandal that came to light last fall.
At the time the penalty was announced, Pitino said that his team would “play the last nine games of this season as if they’re the last nine games we’ll ever play the game.”
At 11-5 in the league, Louisville still has a chance to tie for the regular-season championship. North Carolina leads at 13-4 with Miami in second at 12-4. Virginia is tied with Louisville at 11-5.
For good measure, the game is planned as a red-out.
Why – Georges-Hunt’s hot streak
Georges-Hunt may not permit the Jackets to lose. He is playing at a peak level at both ends of the floor and proving high-grade leadership. In Tech’s past six games, of which the Jackets have won five, he has averaged 22.3 points and 4.2 assists per game. He has shot 62.1 percent from the field (41-for-66), 46.7 percent from 3-point range (7-for-15) and 78.9 percent from the free-throw line (78.9 percent). He has made timely baskets and free throws, defended opponents’ top scoring options and just done a commendable job of providing Tech with what it has needed.
Why not – Louisville can turn it up late
Louisville is fantastic on defense, ranking No. 3 in adjusted defensive efficiency in the kenpom.com rankings.
The Cardinals are at their best, it would appear, in the second half, which would explain some things in regards to their past two games against Tech. Louisville is No. 13 in the country in opponent first-half scoring (28.9 points per game). The Cardinals are No. 6 in the country in second-half scoring defense at 32.3 points per game.
Against Tech last year, the Cardinals were down 24-17 at the half and down 41-28 with 9:40 remaining before winning 52-51.
In January, Tech led 39-32 at the half, playing a sterling 20 minutes, and 49-41 with 13:41 left before Louisville rallied to win 75-71. After the game, Louisville coach Rick Pitino said that good pressure ultimately has an effect later in games.
“I always equate it to a boxer going to the body, and you don’t really see any dividends until the 11th round,” Pitino said. And it’s the same thing with the press. Sometimes you don’t get anything out of it until late in the game when the shot’s off or they throw the ball away.”
Tech might be even more susceptible in this game, as coach Brian Gregory has shortened the bench considerably in recent games.
Why – Mahmoud out
Louisville forward Anas Mahmoud, who scored a difference-making 15 points off the bench in the first game, is out for the remainder of the season after spraining his ankle in practice Feb. 15. At 7-foot and with a developing post game, Mahmoud gave the Jackets trouble and was 6-for-9 from the field in the game.
Why not – the Cardinals are plenty talented
I’m not sure that stopping Mahmoud would have been Tech’s No. 1 priority were he available. In ACC games, he scored the 15 against Tech but averaged 2.8 in the other 11 games.
Tech will have other options to worry about. Chinanu Onuaku, he of the underhanded free-throw style, has scored 43 points and accumulated 39 rebounds, 19 assists and eight blocks in the past four games. Freshman forward Deng Adel has scored a total of 33 points in the past three games after moving into the starting lineup.
Why – Tech is better
Tech is playing better than it was in the first game Jan. 23, when the Jackets nearly upset Louisville. Besides Georges-Hunt, forward Quinton Stephens has increased his all-around productivity, center Ben Lammers has become a more consistent rotational player. Guard Adam Smith wasn’t particularly effective (5-for-12 from the field, 1-for-5 from 3-point range, 12 points).
One area the Jackets could exploit Louisville is at the free-throw line. In the past four games, Cardinals opponents have taken 83 opponents to 38 for Louisville. In Tech’s past two games, wins over Clemson and Boston College, the Jackets are plus-36 (48 to 12).
Louisville enjoyed a significant advantage at the line in the second half of the first game (19-11), helping drive the Cardinals’ comeback.
Not sure if this is a why or a why not, but forward Charles Mitchell has not been particularly productive in the Jackets’ recent surge. He averaged .64 rebounds per minute against Wake Forest and Clemson, but .22 in the past four games. His season average is .40. If he can add his typical standard of play to the mix that is presently working, that would be a big influence on the outcome.
Why not – so is Louisville
The free-throw disparity aside, the Cardinals have shot 48.7 percent from the field in their past four games (they were at 43.8 percent in ACC play prior to that) and doing a better job of taking care of the ball. They’re averaging 17.3 assists per game in the past four games, compared to their ACC season average of 11.7 before that point.
This is a game Louisville should win. The website teamrankings.com, which runs thousands of computer simulations of games daily, gives the Jackets a 9.6 percent of winning. Tech has a chance, as it has been competitive in all but one of its games in the ACC and is obviously playing better. It’ll be a barometer for Tech on how much it has really improved over the past six games.
Beating Wake Forest at home and Boston College on the road are games Tech should win. The history with Clemson aside, earning a split with the Tigers seems appropriate. Beating Notre Dame is impressive, but the Jackets have played the Irish closely and perhaps were due to pull one out. Beating Florida State on the road also ended a 10-game losing streak to the Seminoles and was a gritty road win, but FSU was evidently starting a tailspin.
A road game at Louisville will be a different animal. Tech could lose this game and still validate its progress. It would be a monumental victory for the Jackets under the circumstances and a huge boost for its postseason chances. I think it’s vital for Tech’s NCAA tournament chances – according to bracketologist Warren Nolan, it would move Tech up about 15 slots in RPI (the Jackets are at 72 going into Tuesday’s game, and would help its cause to get into the 50’s or better – and simply it would just be another win. My guess is Tech needs to get to 19 wins to get in the NIT and maybe 21 for the NCAA tournament – the Jackets are at 17-12 right now – and don’t have a lot of opportunities to get to those totals.