Looking ahead to Georgia Tech's NIT semifinals matchup with Cal State Bakersfield, 7 p.m. at New York's Madison Square Garden. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Cal State Bakersfield is a nobody and that Tech should win easily, right? Maybe not.
First, the Roadrunners beat Cal and Colorado State on their home courts in their first two games (and then Texas-Arlington to make the semifinals, but that is probably not as eye-catching).
Cal was 15-3 at home this season before losing to Cal State Bakersfield, with the only losses to Virginia, Arizona and Oregon. Colorado State was 15-4 at home (its list of losses is not as impressive – Wichita State, Loyola Marymount, New Mexico and Boise State. Nevertheless, Cal State Bakersfield gave the Rams their most decisive home defeat of the season.
KenPom gives Tech a mere 53 percent win probability. Tech is favored by 2.5 points.
The Roadrunners defend particularly well – KenPom rates them the No. 15 team nationally in defensive efficiency. They are No. 3 in effective field-goal percentage and hold opponents to 40.7 percent shooting on 2-point shots. (Tech is sixth in defensive efficiency, 19th in effective field-goal percentage and hold opponents to 49.3 percent shooting on 2-point shots.)
Granted, the Jackets have compiled these numbers against far better competition. Tech’s strength of schedule (by RPI) is 67; Cal State Bakersfield’s is 139th. Still, the Roadrunners made it this far, and faced a tougher path, seed-wise, than Tech did – No. 1 California (road), No. 4 Colorado State (road), No. 6 Texas-Arlington.
Tech’s route – No. 3 Indiana (home), No. 7 Belmont (home), No. 5 Ole Miss (road).
In fact, Tech had the easiest path to New York of any of the four semifinalists, if measured by the sum of the seeds faced. (Tech: 15; Cal State Bakersfield: 11; TCU: 12; UCF: 8)
Along the same vein, this is by far the most underdog-heavy NIT semifinal since the tournament began seeding teams in 2006. In the first 12 tournaments since teams were seeded, 11 of the 12 had at least two teams seeded first or second make the semifinals. Ten of the 12 had at least one No. 1 seed make it to New York.
Of the four teams in Tuesday’s semifinals, the highest seeds are UCF and TCU, both No. 4. Tech is just the second No. 6 seed to make it and Cal State Bakersfield is the first No. 8.
Going by sum of the four seeds, the previous high was the 2012 NIT, which totaled 15. This year’s foursome totals 22.
Bound by country
Forward Abdoulaye Gueye, from Senegal, is joined by two of his countrymen in the semifinals.
Cal State Bakersfield center Fallou Ndoye is from Taif, Senegal. A transfer from Mississippi State, he averages 11 minutes off the bench. Gueye, who is from the capital city of Dakar, knows of Ndoye but has never met him.
Gueye is, however, good friends with UCF center Tacko Fall, who is 7-6 and has started all 35 games for the Knights. Fall averages 11 points and 9.7 rebounds and makes 72 percent of his shots from the field. Fall is also from Dakar. They know each other through the brother of former Tech assistant coach Mamadou N’Diaye, who was on Brian Gregory’s staff for his final two seasons. Ibrahim N’Diaye runs a basketball academy where both Fall and Gueye trained.
They text each other and Gueye sent a message after UCF beat Illinois to make the semifinals.
“I said, ‘O.K., see you in Madison Square Garden,’” Gueye said.
(TCU is bereft of Senegalese.)
Gueye is still rehabilitating the wrist fracture that he suffered in the second Clemson game Feb. 1. There was a thought that he might be able to recover quickly enough to make it back for postseason play, but Gueye said he’s probably a month away from being cleared. Gueye was making strides as Ben Lammers’ backup when he suffered the injury. His being out placed more of a burden on Lammers to play, which likely maxed him out and affected his play as the regular season closed.
It has been frustrating, Gueye said, not being able to contribute. Teammates have helped cheer him up.
“It’s hard to watch, but the only thing I can do is just cheer from the bench,” he said.
Player to watch
Given Cal State Bakersfield’s emphasis on pressure defense – the Roadrunners are No. 9 nationally in defensive turnover percentage – Tech point guard Josh Heath will bear heavy responsibility to take care of the ball. He has done well distributing, averaging 6.2 assists against 3.5 turnovers.
As a team, the Jackets have been much better of late with the ball. In the past four games, they’ve had seven, nine, eight and 15 turnovers. The three single-digit turnover games (against Pitt, Indiana and Belmont) were the first of the season.
Heath, by the way, has been to Madison Square Garden previously. When his father Stan was coach at USF, the school was a Big East member and Josh went to the Big East tournament, which has been the conference tournament site for 35 years.
USF moved to the American Athletic Conference when Heath played his freshman season for his father in 2013-14. Stan Heath was dismissed at the end of the season, which is how Josh ended up transferring to Tech.
Graduate transfer Jodan Price played one game there as a freshman at DePaul in the 2013 Big East tournament. He came off the bench and missed one shot, a 3-pointer.