We wish we could pretend this is just another non-conference home again versus a team playing in a world where conference affiliation doesn’t matter. But it does. Saturday 20th ranked Georgia Tech swarms into Halton Arena (7 PM start time, VERY few tickets remaining) marking just the 2nd time an ACC member has had the testicular fortitude to play the Niners in a true home game.
GT enters the game sporting the same 10-2 record as the Niners, though this will be just their 2nd true road game of the season. Most recently, GT defeated Winston Salem State 78-43. That game was the second already against a common foe for the Niners. The Yellow Jackets also bested Mercer, whom the Niners played on Tuesday, by 11 points -the same margin as the 49ers victory. The two losses for GT came against quality competition: a 4-point loss to A10 pre-season favorite Dayton in Puerto Rico and a 7-point OT home loss to Florida State in their conference opener.
Georgia Tech has one of the better frontcourts in the country and they use their size effectively gaining a considerable rebounding advantage (+8.3 rpg.) and scoring about 58% of their points inside the arc. The Yellow Jackets also get to the line regularly averaging 22 trips each game to the charity stripe. Upfront, GT is lead by sensational freshman Derrick Favors, a 6’10″ force in the paint. Favors is 2nd on the team in both scoring (12.9 ppg. on 60.4% shooting) and rebounding (9.0 rpg.) and is a likely lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft. He’s joined up-front by equally impressive6’9″ Jr. F Gani Lawal. Lawal leads Georgia Tech in both scoring and rebounding (13.7 ppg. and 9.7 rpg.), and like Favors shoots at a very high percentage from the field. Also look for Lawal to potentially go in the first round of the NBA draft should he declare after the season.
Another talented Fr. for GT is G Mfon Udofia, who like Favors, was a heralded addition to the team. Udofia leads the team in assists and scores 11.4 ppg. He’s also a modest threat from the perimeter hitting 34% from behind the arc. Zach Peacock and Brian Oliver are a pair of bench forwards who also see frequent action and have the ability to stretch perimeter defenses with their strong outside shooting. Rounding out the key players for GT is So. G Iman Shumpert who returns to action after missing a month of action with a torn meniscus. Shumpert is the top distributor for the GT offense and was leading the team in assists at the time of his injury. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact, if any, his return has for the Yellow Jackets squad; Niner fans will recall An’Juan Wilderness was limited in his return as he lacked both game conditioning and cohesiveness with the rest of the team.
As a team, GT is stout defensively, particularly at defending the perimeter. The Yellow Jackets are limiting opponents to just 27% from behind the arc, meaning the Niners likely will have to go inside to win this contest and not rely on shooting from outside -though that’s been the case much of the year. It will be an exciting matchup to see Phil Jones, Chris Braswell, and especially Shamari Spears go against the dominant front court of Georgia Tech. Should the Niners win the scoring battle inside and keep the rebounding margin close, winning what should be an intense battle will be much easier.
If the Niners do have to turn to the arc for open shots, fans should feel relieved at the performance of Derrio Green against Mercer. Green, perhaps finally getting back to 100% after his bout with plantar fasciitis, erupted for a season high of 23 points and was much more aggressive in going to the basket. Derrio also showed improvement on defense, picking up 3 steals with one leading to a fast break dunk and another drawing an intentional foul. With 1/3 of the three headed-monster at guard spots looking better, hopefully a little of the magic will rub off on DiJuan Harris and Shamarr Bowden who both appear mired deep in a funk.
This will no doubt be a tough contest for the Niners but we think they’re up to the challenge. With a huge shot of confidence from what we expect to be a raucous Halton Arena crowd, the Niners can prevail if:
- They remember it’s Georgia Tech that should fear our team, our arena, and our fans, and not the other way around.
- Phil Jones and Chris Braswell put in solid performances on both sides of the ball. That doesn’t mean 20 points each, but it means 20+ rebounds between them.
- DiJuan Harris breaks out of his funk and can deliver or set-up points in transition
Otherwise Georgia Tech will succeed by:
- Dominating the inside play and forcing a precarious Niner perimeter attack to win the game
- Keeping Shamari Spears from scoring from the field or the line
- Winning the turnover battle