4 things to know before Georgia Tech-TCU in NIT final

March 19, 2017, Atlanta: Georgia Tech players celebrate their 71-57 victory over Belmont in the locker room after their NIT tournament round two NCAA basketball game on Sunday, March 19, 2017, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Looking ahead to Georgia Tech’s NIT championship matchup with TCU, Thursday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Looking at the numbers

Interesting to note: Tech’s four NIT opponents have led for a total of 7:01, most recently in the sixth minute of the Belmont game.

Also worth noting: Out of 106 baskets made by Tech in the four NIT games, 77 have been off assists, 72.6 percent. That is a really strong rate. The No. 1 team in the country, according to KenPom, is Seattle at 67.8 percent.

That reminds me of a story I read once about Bobby Cremins. You can find it here.

Speaking of whom, it’s quite a week for the old Tech coach. His alma mater is in the Final Four for the first time ever and the team that he is most associated with is playing for the NIT title. Cremins will be in Phoenix for the Final Four.

Back to the assists. Josh Pastner places a high value on that statistic, so the fact that the Jackets are doing so well in it indicates that the team is playing particularly well, if the four consecutive wins by an average of 12.3 points doesn’t give it away.

(One local note about Seattle. The school fired coach Cameron Dollar, the former UCLA star and brother of former Tech assistant coach Chad Dollar and the son of longtime metro Atlanta high-school coach Don Dollar. Chad, who was on the Auburn staff this past season, just joined Brian Gregory’s staff at USF. And Cameron is now an assistant at Washington, which just hired former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins.)

About TCU

TCU, as noted previously, has a lot of similarities with Tech, particularly the arc of its season from projected last-place team to NIT finalist with a first-year coach.

It’s perhaps not exactly an eye-opening observation, but nonetheless true that the Horned Frogs are most likely the best team that the Yellow Jackets will have faced in the NIT, and it might not be close, particularly if the questionable motivation level demonstrated by Indiana is taken into account. Including its work done in the NIT, TCU is ranked No. 34 by KenPom, the highest rating of any team that didn’t make the NCAA tournament and ahead of several that did make it.

Among the other three teams in Tech’s NIT path, Indiana is No. 45, Mississippi is No. 74, Belmont is No. 83 and Cal State Bakersfield is No. 88. Tech is No. 75.

The Horned Frogs move the ball well – they rank 10th in the country in assists/field goal at 63 percent. They’re the only team on Tech’s schedule that ranks higher than the Jackets (who are 13th at 62.4 percent) and they shoot it well, too. Among players who average 10 minutes or more, four have a field-goal shooting percentage above 49 percent. By comparison, Tech has one such player, center Ben Lammers (52.7 percent).

A particularly dangerous player for TCU is Kenrich Williams, a 6-foot-7 guard. He scores (11.0 points per game), rebounds (team-high 9.6 rebounds per game) and can hit from deep (36.1 percent on 3-point attempts, averaging 3.3 tries per game). He also averages 2.8 assists and has a 2.3 assist/turnover ratio.

He has been at point guard for the past three games since starting point guard Jaylen Fisher was lost for the season in the Horned Frogs’ first NIT game. His three-game stat line: 17-for-31 from the field, 34 rebounds, 23 assists, three turnovers, 40 points. That’s a lot of production.

“We’re telling him to be more aggressive. Straight line drives, just go by people,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon told the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram. “In the second half [against UCF], he just kind of took over in all sorts of different ways. Passing, finishing, offensive rebounding. We just let him go and do his thing.”

KenPom gives TCU a 65 percent probability of winning. If you’re into omens, that’s just about the probability that the website assigned to Notre Dame before the Jackets beat the Irish in January.

Going back to December

I went back and looked at a story I wrote in December just before the start of ACC conference play. I talked to three coaches who had faced Tech about what they thought about Tech’s chances in the ACC. They liked Ben Lammers, thought the mixing of defenses would cause problems and were impressed by their effort. They were largely more optimistic than most at the time.

As Wofford’s Mike Young put it, “They play their faces off.”

Said Ohio coach Saul Phillips, “I think their defense will keep them in a few more games than some people think.”

I wish now that I’d included a win-total prediction by Alcorn State coach Montez Robinson: “I think they can be in that 8-9-10 range if they can stay healthy.” To be honest, I think I left it out because I thought it was so out there. (I wrote in the story that none of the three made a prediction, which was an oversight.) But kudos to Robinson, a former Kennesaw State assistant coach who led the Braves to their first winning record since the 2001-02 season. Two seasons ago, before he was hired, they were 6-26 and 4-14 in the SWAC. This year, they finished 18-14 and were 13-5 in the SWAC and lost 53-50 in the conference final to Texas Southern.

Tech player to watch

As always, guard Tadric Jackson is an x-factor for the Jackets. I suspect that TCU’s offensive efficiency could get the Horned Frogs into the high 60’s, which means that Tech is going to have to find points from somewhere. Jackson, who is averaging 11.9 points per game but has exceeded that average in four of the past five games, might be that guy.

Links

In NIT final, fathers, sons and a ‘fairy-tale story’

Tech’s basketball teams on verge of unprecedented feat

A former Tech assistant will be on TCU bench

For Tech and its seniors, a career moment has arrived

Jeff Schultz: Georgia Tech enjoying Josh Okogie while they can

Tech’s Josh Okogie considering invitation to U.S. basketball camp

For Jackets, Madison Square Garden worth savoring

9 reasons why TCU is a fitting opponent in NIT final

5 observations from Georgia Tech’s win over Cal State Bakersfield

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