Thoughts and notes about Georgia Tech's game 9 p.m. game Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion against VCU.
Coming off a layoff
Georgia Tech will be playing its first game since beating Tulane 76-68 Dec. 5, having taken last week off for final exams. Likewise, VCU hasn’t played since losing to Florida State 76-71 at Philips Arena on Dec. 6. During the exam week, Tech players worked mostly by themselves or in small groups to work around exam schedules.
Forward Marcus Georges-Hunt said he worked on his pull-up jumper.
“Just stopping on a dime,” he said. “A lot of teams, they want me to go to the basket – if I see an opening, I’m going. Sometimes, just being able to stop and pop (is useful), because a lot of teams are set up for charges. Being able to have that is a key ingredient to my game I think, in the long run.”
I can’t disagree. Georges-Hunt can be productive driving hard to the basket, particularly with the rules emphasis to allow offensive players more freedom of movement. He is averaging .22 free throws per minute this season, up from .16 last season. But he takes a pretty good pounding – he falls hard to the floor a lot, it seems – and if he can consistently score on pull-ups, he’ll save himself some wear.
Prepping for ACC
The game could be useful for forward Charles Mitchell in at least one respect. VCU has size off the bench – the Rams have three subs 6-foot-9 or taller – but play a small starting lineup, with no player over 6-foot-7. Mitchell could be matched up at power forward with VCU guard/forward Jordan Burgess, 6-5 and 225. Mitchell is 6-8 and 256.
“Hopefully, they’ll match me up against me, play a bigger body, but I’ve been working against playing smaller players anyway,” he said. “Usually in the ACC, they play their 3 man at the 4, so I’m used to playing a quicker, faster 3 man that plays in the 4 in college basketball. It’s just staying smart defensively, not getting in foul trouble.”
Mitchell, by the way, has eight double-doubles in as many games.
Tech will need to be mindful of VCU guard Melvin Johnson, who is averaging 19.9 points per game and torched Florida State in the Rams’ previous game for 36 points. He was 8-for-14 from 3-point range.
“He’s a unique 3-point shooter, meaning that, a lot of times, you think of 3-point shooters, they’re guys that get it off of screens, catch-and-shoots, spot-ups,” Tech coach Brian Gregory said. “He does do that, but he also is tremendous off the dribble. There’s not a lot of guys that shoot the 3 at a high percentage that can do it off the dribble like he can.”
Georges-Hunt figures to have turns against the 6-4 Johnson. Adam Smith, Josh Heath and Quinton Stephens are other possibilities.
Another challenge for Tech will be how effectively it can handle VCU’s pressure. According to VCU’s game notes, the Rams are ranked No. 6 in the country in turnover percentage (24.9 percent of all opponent possessions result in turnovers) and No. 2 in steal percentage (15.8 percent). VCU has a new coach in Will Wade (formerly of Chattanooga; he was previously an assistant under Shaka Smart, now at Texas) but its pressure defense is the same.
Point guards Josh Heath and Travis Jorgenson have a combined assist-to-turnover ratio of 54/15, pretty strong. As of Monday, Tech was No. 38 in the country in turnover percentage on offense, at 15.3 percent, according to teamrankings.com.
How Tech-VCU came together
VCU and Tech entered into a home-and-home deal in May, with Tech scheduled to make the trip to Richmond, Va., next season. It’s a little unusual for Tech, which is also working through home-and-home deals with Tulane and Tennessee and just completed one with Vanderbilt. The two schools don’t have much history, unlike the aforementioned three, and, unlike Tennessee and Vanderbilt, VCU doesn’t have the cachet of being a power-conference team but does have all the might of one. VCU has been to five NCAA tournaments in a row under former coach Shaka Smart and went to the 2011 Final Four.
Gregory said that Tech made the deal as it waited to find out of it would participate in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It would have been a home game, but it wasn’t clear if the Jackets would be included or left out (as there’s 14 Big Ten teams and 15 ACC teams including Notre Dame).
Wanting another high-profile home game to add to the Tennessee matchup, Gregory said he just went ahead and punted on the challenge and secured VCU.
“And it bodes well for the future, because next year you go on the road, you play at Tennessee, at VCU, you have Georgia coming back here and then the Big Ten team,” he said. “Now, your schedule is well-balanced again.”
VCU: 'As good as any team we've played'
No games are must wins at this point of the season, but this one would be pretty useful for Tech’s resume. There wouldn’t be great shame in losing to a team that has reached the NCAA tournament for five consecutive seasons, and the Rams should help Tech’s strength of schedule, particularly relative to many other ACC team’s non-conference schedules. But it’s the sort of game that an NCAA tournament team should win. Florida State, likely a middle-of-the-pack ACC team of the sort Tech would do well to approach, beat the same team on a neutral court less than two weeks ago.
Further, from a confidence and momentum standpoint, it’s a valuable game to pick up, as the Jackets need as much practice winning close as they can acquire. VCU will play tough and will give the Jackets challenges with pressure, and the Rams clearly know plenty about winning close games. Not to mention, Tech just needs to pocket as many wins as it can get.
“They’re really good,” Gregory said. “Their three losses are to Duke, Wisconsin and Florida State. And all those games went into the last four minutes. They’re as good as any team we’ve played. … You have to play extremely well, you’ve got to take care of the basketball, you’ve got to rebound the basketball and then defensively, you’ve got to be locked in, because although Melvin is so talented offensively, they’ve got other pieces that are really good, too. If you’re not locked in in every aspect of the game, defensively they’ll carve you up.”