Previewing Georgia Tech's Wednesday night's NIT quarterfinal against San Diego State at 9 p.m. (Eastern time) in San Diego. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
On San Diego State
Statistically speaking, two things stand out about San Diego State, denied an NCAA tournament bid despite winning the Mountain West regular-season title with an 18-3 record. The Aztecs defend exceedingly well and play at an exceedingly slow pace. (Tech, by comparison, is 70th in defense and 239th in tempo. The defense has improved considerably in the last few weeks.)
San Diego State is No. 3 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency and No. 303 out of 351 in possession per game, according to the Pomeroy ratings.
The Aztecs challenge shots, don’t foul much and rebound well. Their defensive effective field-goal percentage (which weights 3-point shots) is first in the country and their defensive rebounding percentage is No. 37, according to teamrankings.com.
Forward Skylar Spencer, who is averaging 1.8 blocks and 5.7 rebounds, is the Mountain West’s two-time defensive player of the year.
Tech has experience with challenging defenses. Louisville is ranked. No. 2, Virginia is No. 4, Villanova is No. 8 and North Carolina is No. 11. Tech was 1-5 in those games, though three of the losses were by eight points or fewer. (Virginia is also dead last in tempo. Or first, I suppose.) This isn’t the most incisive analysis, but limiting turnovers and getting to the free-throw line will be critical factors, as will keeping forward Charles Mitchell out of foul trouble.
Tech senior associate athletic director John David Wicker came to Tech last summer from San Diego State. Among other things, he helped oversee the construction of the basketball team's practice facility, which opened last August.
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher and Tech coach Brian Gregory have previously crossed paths.
Fisher, you’ll recall, was the coach at Michigan from 1989 (when he guided the Wolverines to the NCAA championship as an interim) through the 1996-97 season. Gregory was on then-Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote’s staff from 1992 through 1995 and then coached for Tom Izzo the following season.
The two schools are bitter rivals and Gregory was on staff at Michigan State during Michigan’s Fab Five era, which was probably a tough time to be at Michigan State. My impression of Gregory is that he doesn’t have a lot of maize and blue in his wardrobe.
(I was actually a student at Michigan from 1990 to 1994 and covered Fisher’s team one season for the student newspaper.)
This is unrelated, but it’s pretty remarkable and an endorsement of his ability that Gregory’s first full-time job in coaching was at a Big Ten school. Coaches can work for years to get on the bench of a power-conference school, and Gregory was in that spot two years after graduating from Oakland University. (He got the job after working as a graduate assistant for Heathcote for one season.)
Consider Tech’s staff – Chad Dollar’s first full-time college coaching job was at Western Carolina; his first power-conference job was in 2007, 11 years after he graduated. Tom Herrion’s first job was coaching at his alma mater, Division II Merrimack. His first job at a power-conference school was five years after graduation at Providence (which was then in the Big East, then a basketball power conference). After his NBA career, Mamadou N’Diaye was an assistant for three years at Coastal Carolina, under his former coach at Auburn, Cliff Ellis, before Gregory hired him in 2014.
The environment at Viejas Arena Wednesday night may be the loudest that Tech will have played in this season. Prior to its first-round win in the NIT over Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (better known, though perhaps not that much better, as IPFW), the Aztecs had sold out Viejas 72 consecutive games, which seats 12,414.
The San Diego Union-Tribune described the crowd for the Monday night win over Washington as “absolutely pulsating.” Fisher said the crowd was “phenomenal.” It’s not unreasonable to think that it would be the same Wednesday night.
It matters, but I wouldn’t expect Tech to be intimidated. Under perhaps the most adverse road conditions of the season – at Louisville on senior night with a near-sellout crowd hopped up on the indignation of the postseason ban – the Jackets nearly stole the game with a last-minute comeback.
The Jackets should have at least one supporter in the building. Former Tech All-American defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, out in San Diego with the Chargers, is expected to attend.
Also at stake
One upshot of a Tech victory – the season would extend at least six more days, likely meaning no decision on Gregory’s future in the interim. The NIT semifinals are next Tuesday and the championship game is Thursday. Athletic director Mike Bobinski has said that he wouldn’t make a decision until the end of the season, wanting to judge the full season. If Bobinski is still undecided and considering dismissing Gregory, this would push back the start of a search for another week.
It wouldn’t be impossibly late. Tennessee fired Donnie Tyndall and Rick Barnes was fired at Texas last year over the Sweet 16 weekend. (Barnes replaced Tyndall.)
And this season is unusual in that there haven’t been many changes, so the delay isn’t as costly as it might normally be. Thus far, the only change in the ACC has been Pitt coach Jamie Dixon’s departure for TCU on Monday. There have been none in the SEC or Big Ten. Pitt and Stanford are the only two power-conference schools looking for coaches, as of Wednesday.
And, obviously, reaching the NIT semifinals would add something, onto the “Keep Gregory” side of the ledger and make firing him a more uncomfortable decision. I can’t imagine there have been many coaches who have reached the NIT semifinals and lost their jobs, barring unusual circumstances. (As things would have it, Fisher himself was fired months after leading Michigan to the NIT title amid an NCAA investigation.)
Record for Georges-Hunt
With his expected start Wednesday night, guard Marcus Georges-Hunt will tie the school record for most career games played at 130, shared by Malcolm Mackey, Marvin Lewis and Anthony McHenry. (Apparently, having a name that starts with M somehow helps with avoiding injury.) Georges-Hunt has not missed a single game in his Tech career and, barring unforeseen circumstances, will tie the record despite having only played past the ACC tournament just this once. (He also benefits from the expanded regular season. Tech has played in 122 regular-season games in the past four seasons, all of which Georges-Hunt has appeared in. During Mackey’s career, Tech played in 110 regular-season games.)
The game will also be his 129th start, which will extend his career record that he set against South Carolina. Georges-Hunt’s only missed start was in the fourth game of the season, in a Thanksgiving tournament. I believe it was due to a disciplinary matter for a relatively minor indiscretion, like being late for a dinner.