Georgia Tech plays Mississippi at 9 p.m. EST in an NIT quarterfinal. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. A few things to note before tipoff.
Who to watch for Misssissippi
Rebels guard Deandre Burnett leads the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game. Burnett, who transferred from Miami (Fla.), get to the line 6.8 times per game and is an 88 percent free-throw shooter. He also hits 39 percent of his 3-point shots and averages 2.3 3-pointers per game. He was 5-for-9 from 3-point range in the Rebels’ win over Syracuse on Saturday.
In his last four games, he is 15-for-27 from 3-point range. In short, he’s not someone to leave alone.
Fun fact: Burnett's brother is former Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.
Burnett’s backcourt partner, Terence Davis, is averaging 21.5 points and six rebounds per game in the Rebels’ four postseason games (two SEC, two NIT). He made 6 of 7 3-point attempts against Syracuse.
More about the Rebels
From a statistical standpoint, Mississippi gets to the free-throw line frequently (the Rebels’ rate of free throws per field-goal attempt is ninth in the country, according to KenPom) and it does so often by rebounding the offensive glass hard. The Rebels are ranked 42nd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
Conversely, Tech defends well without fouling (the Jackets are 34th nationally in opponent free throw attempts per field-goal attempt on) but aren’t great on the defensive glass.
This is a gang-rebounding game, with Ben Lammers and Quinton Stephens needing to lead on the defensive glass and stay out of foul trouble but also Josh Okogie and Josh Heath needing to contribute.
Tech will play two days after its Sunday win over Belmont. It’s the third time this season that the Jackets will play a Sunday/Tuesday set. In the first, Tech beat Syracuse and then lost to N.C. State (both at home) and looked out of gas against the Wolfpack. In the second, the Jackets lost 64-60 at Notre Dame and then rallied to win on senior night against Pittsburgh.
Pastner took issue with the ACC’s scheduling, particularly that the Wolfpack and the Panthers had an extra day’s rest. The Jackets will be in the same predicament. Ole Miss beat Syracuse on the road on Saturday, giving the Rebels an extra 24 hours of rest.
Tech being on spring break enabled the team to leave earlier than it would have, flying out in the morning on a charter and getting to Oxford in time for a practice. Pastner further said that the team was fresher than it had been during the regular season, having been off from March 7 (first round of the ACC tournament) to March 14 (NIT game against Indiana) and then another extended break before playing Belmont on Sunday.
He said the team's rejuvenation has given him reason to consider how he practices the team next year during the ACC season. He has said recently that he felt that the team ran out of gas at the end of the season (the lack of depth was a factor).
“But we look really fresh right now,” he said. “How do we get to that freshness all year long? You have to practice, too. You can’t just give them days off.”
This is only vaguely related, but I found this interesting. For the NCAA Tournament and NIT, the NCAA will pay for air travel if a team is traveling 350 miles (by road) to its competition site. Otherwise, the NCAA will pay for a bus. The distance from Tech’s campus to Mississippi’s is … 334 miles. Tech elected to pay its own way for a charter flight rather than make the five-hour bus ride.
What's at stake
With a win, Tech would make the NIT semifinals for the first time since 1971 and the second time in school history. While the NIT is hardly big news, it would be additional exposure for the team, both locally and on ESPN.
For what it’s worth, 781,000 people watched last year’s NIT final between George Washington and Valparaiso, the sixth most watched sports program of that day (March 31), and 1 million people watched the NIT final in 2015 between (as if I have to tell you who played) Stanford and Miami (Fla.).
"You just can’t say enough about the importance of that exposure," Pastner said.
It’s not a blockbuster, but it’s better than 0.0 million. And for a team that is trying to establish itself, anything helps. For the sake of context, 600,000 people watched the Jan. 4 Tech-Duke game (not the best night for marketing), which might have been the most watched Tech game this season. Only 223,000 watched the first Tech-Notre Dame game, which might have been the one game Pastner would have wanted fans to see.
It’s all available on sportstvratings.com.
A short history lesson: the 1971 team was one of the best in team history, and it’s unfortunate that the expansion of the NCAA tournament diminishes the relevance of the NIT not just today, but in the past. The NCAA field in 1971 was 25 teams, meaning a lot of quality teams were excluded. The Jackets beat LaSalle, Michigan and St. Bonaventure to reach the finals, where they lost to North Carolina.
Rich Yunkus, still Tech’s all-time leading scorer, and Jim Thorne were both seniors on the team. Both are in Tech’s hall of fame.
Students getting in free in Oxford
Rebels coach Andy Kennedy is paying for student tickets to the game, although he’s capping his largesse at 1,000 tickets, according to Oxford (Miss.) Eagle. General admission is $12. It’s unclear if there is a student admission price, as there was at Tech ($4).