Previewing Georgia Tech's first-round NIT matchup with Houston at 9 p.m. Wednesday at McCamish Pavilion. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Things Houston does well: offensive rebound (20th in offensive rebounding percentage, according to teamrankings.com ), not give the ball up (14th in turnovers per possession), score efficiently (64th in effective field-goal efficiency, defend 3-pointers (fifth in opponent 3-point field-goal percentage)
Things Houston doesn’t do well: set up scoring opportunities (307th in assists per field goal), get to the free-throw line (229th in free-throw attempts per field-goal attempts), defensive rebound (279th in defensive rebound percentage).
Given the numbers, I see a few areas being critical.
Tech could enjoy significant wealth on its offensive glass. Turnovers, as always, will be critical. The Jackets have been pretty good with the ball, but have been struggling there of late. On the other side, Houston doesn’t give the ball away much and the Jackets aren’t very good at forcing turnovers. (332nd at turnovers per possession)
I’ll be interested to see how well Houston defends the 3-point line, something it does well, particularly against Adam Smith.
Houston's American Athletic Conference is rated eighth in conference RPI, five spots behind the ACC. The ACC is 4-0 this season against the AAC, including Tech’s win over Tulane in December. North Carolina also beat Tulane, as well as Temple. Syracuse defeated Connecticut.
As noted above, Tech has not been taking care of the ball of late. The Jackets have averaged 14.2 turnovers in the past six games. Their average in the first 14 ACC games was 10.3 per game.
Houston is moderately effective at obtaining the basketball. The Cougars’ defensive turnover percentage is 17.9 percent, 163rd in Division I. Tech’s season turnover rate is 16 percent. For the past three games, it’s 18.9 percent.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball, because what they’re going to do is, they’re going to turn a turnover automatically into a basket,” coach Brian Gregory said. “Sometimes in our league, if you turn the ball over against Clemson or Virginia, maybe they don’t turn it into a basket right away. So we have to take care of the basketball much better."
Gregory said that the front-court players need to be particularly vigilant. In the first 14 ACC games, Charles Mitchell, Nick Jacobs, James White and Ben Lammers averaged 3.6 turnovers per game. In the past six, they’ve averaged 5.5 turnovers.
“They just need to be more conscious of that and be a little stronger with the ball and not be in such a rush when they get it,” he said.
Stronger at McCamish
This may not register as a great surprise, but just about all of Tech’s biggest wins took place at McCamish Pavilion.
From an RPI ranking standpoint, six of Tech’s seven best wins were at home – Virginia (No. 3), Notre Dame (No. 31), VCU (No. 37), Pittsburgh (No. 53), Green Bay (No. 112) Clemson (No. 131) with the road win at Florida State (No. 82) the only interloper.
The Jackets have won their past four home games. Home-court advantage is a subjective matter, obviously, but it has felt like crowds have been pretty supportive and loud at McCamish. It’ll be interesting to see what the turnout is like Wednesday night.
“We’ve had unbelievable home crowds this year,” coach Brian Gregory said.
Gregory, Sampson' s ties
Gregory and Houston coach Kelvin Sampson have never faced each other as head coaches, but have a history. Gregory was on the Michigan State staff when the Spartans played against Washington State and later Oklahoma when Sampson was coach at both schools.
Sampson’s first job was as a grad assistant at Michigan State in 1979-80 under coach Jud Heathcote; Gregory filled the same job 11 years later. Through Heathcote, Gregory said the two have a longstanding relationship.
“One of the best coaches in college basketball, just does a great job,” Gregory said.
Sampson took the Houston job in 2014 and is in his second season. At 22-9, the Cougars have just their second 20-win season in the past seven seasons.
Sampson was essentially exiled from college basketball in 2008 after an NCAA investigation during his tenure Indiana found that he intentionally violated telephone recruiting restrictions and then lied to the school and NCAA about it, which Sampson denied. He was hit with a five-year “show-cause” penalty, meaning that any school that hired him over the next five years either had to honor the remainder of the sanctions if hired within the term of the show-cause penalty or demonstrate to the NCAA why the rest of the sanctions shouldn’t be served.
Coincidentally, Sampson replaced Sampson with Tom Crean, another former Michigan State assistant and a good friend of Gregory's.
It's Tech's fourth meeting against Sampson, at his third school. The Jackets twice defeated Sampson when he was at Oklahoma in the 1994 and 1995 non-conference schedules. Sampson beat Tech when he was at Indiana in the 2007 ACC-Big Ten Challenge. (Thanks to Tech's Mike Stamus for that factoid.)
Coming up next
If Tech gets past Houston, its next game will be at South Carolina on Monday, according to a tweet from the official South Carolina basketball Twitter account. The game time would either be 7 p.m. or 9 p.m.
South Carolina is the No. 1 seed in Tech’s eight-team quadrant. It would the teams’ first meeting since 1984.
The only way that Tech could play at home again this season is if Tech beats South Carolina and then plays a lower-seeded team in the NIT quarterfinals.