Previewing Georgia Tech's Wednesday night matchup with No. 24 Pittsburgh. Game tips at 7 p.m., broadcast on the ACC's regional sports networks (Fox Sports South in Atlanta), online on ESPN3 and on the radio on 680-AM and 93.7 FM in Atlanta.
All about the ball
When you’re as precise a shooter as Georgia Tech guard Adam Smith, what type of ball he shoots matters.
Pittsburgh, the Yellow Jackets’ opponent Wednesday night at the Panthers’ Petersen Events Center, uses a Spalding basketball, which evidently is not common among college basketball teams.
Smith acknowledged that he and forward Quinton Stephens feel that“the grip on those Spalding balls is kind of funny,” but it otherwise meets his standards. Pitt plays with the Spalding TF-1000 Legacy basketball, which you can buy for $58.61 at Amazon.
“I’ve played with ’em before,” he said. “I’m a fan of them.”
By NCAA rules, teams provide their own basketballs. As long as they meet standards for size, weight and pressure, they can be whatever brand the home team chooses. Tech uses a Nike Elite basketball. Those are Smith’s favorite.
“We play with those the most, work out with them the most,” he said. “I’m just more comfortable with them.”
Pitt has a winning percentage of .871 at the Petersen Events Center, its home for the past 14 seasons. Presumably, the Panthers have a little more to do with that than the ball.
Last season, Tech lost 70-65 at Pitt. The Jackets outrebounded Pitt 39-29 but turned the ball over 15 times to Pitt’s six. The Panthers cashed those in for 14 points, while Tech gained two points off Pitt’s turnovers, not an insignificant differential.
Tech has been better with the ball this season, averaging 10.5 turnovers per game compared to 12.7 last season despite playing more possessions per game. (The rate figures to rise as the Jackets dive into the ACC schedule.) Tech has been in single digits each of the past four games.
Pitt averages 11.5 turnovers per game.
“We’ve done a better job of putting ourselves in a situation where we don’t necessarily lose the game,” coach Brian Gregory said. “The other team has to beat us. I think if you do that, you’re going to have the success that you want.”
It’s just a handful of results, but a few early upsets suggest that the difference between the ACC’s elite and its lower tiers may not be as great as last year. Already, Virginia Tech (picked 14th in the league) has beaten N.C. State (picked eighth) and No. 4 Virginia while Clemson (picked 12th) has defeated Florida State (sixth) and won at Syracuse (ninth) Tuesday night.
It’s obviously very early, and the only real shocker is the Hokies’ win over the Cavaliers. But it could mean that the middle to bottom of the league could be more balanced than last season, which for the Jackets means that a) they may be more capable of picking off teams like Miami or Florida State; b) they can't count on wins against Clemson nd Virginia Tech (three games in all, two at home) by any stretch.
Better at line, on glass
Two keys against Pittsburgh: Rebounding better and getting to the free-throw line more frequently. Against North Carolina Saturday, the Jackets were outrebounded 39-29, Tech’s largest deficit since the 15th game of last season (Wake Forest, 41-29, 76-69 loss for Tech). The Tar Heels also got to the line 29 times (making 24) to 19 free-throw attempts for Tech (making 12).
Pitt is exceptional at both getting to the line (24.8 free throws per game) and making free throws (78.6 percent, No. 1 in the country). Tech isn’t bad (20.3 free throws per game) and has made 71.5 percent, far better than its 64.8 percent last season.
Pittsburgh also acquits itself quite well on the glass. The Panthers are ranked No. 8 in rebounding percentage (57.9 percent). Tech is No. 18 (56.2 percent).
Tech played Pittsburgh twice in the 1989-90 season within a span of 25 days. The Jackets played Pitt at the ACC/Big East Challenge in Hartford on Dec. 4, falling behind 26-5 before winning 93-92 behind 42 points from Dennis Scott. They met again Dec. 28 at the Kuppenheimer Classic at the old Omni. With coach Bobby Cremins at his father’s funeral, the Jackets blitzed Pitt 111-92 with a triple-double from Kenny Anderson (32 points, 12 rebounds, 18 assists).
Not a bad team.