Basketball Scouting Report: Georgia Tech

The Vanderbilt Commodores are the Chicago Bulls of college basketball: They're losing bodies left and right, turning a promising season into a grim and punishing endeavor. When each team's previous basketball campaign ended, the Commodores and the Bulls both felt they could do something special in the season to come. Now, the two teams seem to be stuck due to a lack of health and depth.


Forget the notion of a breather on the schedule. With Josh Henderson out of the lineup, Vanderbilt and head coach Kevin Stallings have just eight scholarship players available. Welcome to a world in which you'll see a lot more zone defense, which is necessary to save players' legs when the rotation is limited and the bench isn't deep. Yet, Vanderbilt's opponent this Saturday, Georgia Tech, is an excellent rebounding team. Zone defenses make it harder to box out, so the Commodores find themselves between a rock and a hard place as the Yellow Jackets come to Memorial Gym. How can the Commodores find solutions in a context of scarcity?

GEORGIA TECH AT-A-GLANCE

Brian Gregory made two NCAA tournament appearances in eight seasons at Dayton, winning one game in the Big Dance in 2009 (against West Virginia in the Midwest Region). Gregory also won the NIT with the Flyers in 2010, but coaches don't live for NIT titles. They live for deep runs in March. Gregory's time at Dayton grew stale, and so when Paul Hewitt was pushed out of the picture at Georgia Tech, Gregory jumped at the chance to coach in the ACC. In his first two seasons, he had to inherit – and endure – what Hewitt left behind. Now in his third season in Atlanta, Gregory hopes to be able to make a run at the tournament.

Gregory's team has produced mixed results to this point in the season, defeating Illinois and Georgia but losing to Dayton, Ole Miss, and St. John's. Georgia Tech needs this win just as much as Vanderbilt does in terms of building a resume (and perhaps more accurately, avoiding a damaging loss) that, if coupled with a strong conference season, can amount to something a few months from now.

Some teams, just six weeks into the season, offer a murky kind of profile, one that's hard to get a read on. Moreover, it should be conceded that even a clear profile after six weeks can be deceiving if a cupcake-rich schedule is fattening up certain kinds of statistics that – in conference play – are subjected to different forces and trends. Yet, with that having been said, it does seem clear that Georgia Tech owns a pronounced identity, one Vanderbilt can use in formulating its game plan and its midstream adjustments on Saturday.

Georgia Tech is 13th or worse in the 15-team ACC (remember, Notre Dame is part of the league in basketball this season) in terms of field goal shooting, three-point shooting, and effective field goal shooting (which incorporates three-point shooting into overall field goal shooting). The Yellow Jackets are not going to beat you with their shooting ability.

What's Georgia Tech's best offense? A missed shot.

The Yellow Jackets win with rebounding and defense. They're a top-60 team in the nation in terms of rebounding percentage, overall rebounds per game, field goal percentage defense, and two-point field goal percentage defense. If you can execute your halfcourt offense and stay even on the glass against Georgia Tech, you'll gain a lot of leverage against the Rambling Wreck.

Starting Lineup

Center – Daniel Miller –
Senior, 6-11, 275 2013-14: 10.1 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, 1.8 blocked shots per game

Miller is Georgia Tech's only player who is taller than 6-8. He definitely uses his size and width to good effect. He's hard to outwork on the boards, and he swats almost two shots per contest while altering many more. Miller's statistical output to this point in the season suggests that he's more of a force on defense than offense. A polished low-post scorer with Miller's body should be averaging in the mid-teens at the very least in terms of points. An effective back-to-the-basket scorer with Miller's girth would be able to carve out a spot in the middle of the paint and use a six-foot half-hook or jump hook on a regular basis. Defenders would not be able to block that shot. (Think of Patric Young at Florida, who has not been able to become a better low-post scorer over the course of his career to date. Young averages only 10.2 points per game, and he doesn't have that reliable six-foot hook, either.) Vanderbilt must contain Miller on the boards while getting him out of position on defense. As long as the Commodores can do those things, they will feel good about their matchup with Georgia Tech's center.

Forward – Robert Carter, Jr. – Sophomore, 6-8, 247; 2013-14: 11 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 1.4 blocked shots per game

It's apparent that Georgia Tech's frontcourt will be a load for Vanderbilt, especially with Josh Henderson out of the lineup as a second rotating big man who can steal minutes for Kevin Stallings. Carter doesn't have Miller's size, but he's very powerful and muscular, and he's quicker on his feet. Carter reacts well on defense and is able to outjump opponents for loose balls. All three of Georgia Tech's main frontcourt players (including reserve Kammeon Holsey, whom you'll read about shortly) are formidable rebounders, but Carter is clearly the standout performer in this trio.

Guard – Trae Golden – Senior, 6-2, 205; 2013-14: 12.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.8 assists per game

This player is – for Vanderbilt – a "Golden Oldie." The Commodores are intimately familiar with the former Tennessee guard, who has been consistent over the past two and a half seasons, but not necessarily the player he could have or should have been. Golden has not developed as a player. His sophomore season as a Volunteer was statistically better than anything he's been able to produce in subsequent years. His three-point shot remains poor, which is why it's easy for Vanderbilt and other opponents to take away Golden's driving lanes, forcing him to shoot instead. Golden's presence in this game makes him a natural emotional and tactical centerpiece. Will Golden try to do too much and hijack Georgia Tech's chances of winning, or will he play within himself and become an effective part of the Yellow Jackets' offense? The answer to that either-or question could very well determine the outcome of this game.

Guard – Chris Bolden – Sophomore, 6-3, 216; 2013-14: 4.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg

Bolden is still feeling his way through the season. On a team with noticeable frontcourt power and a veteran transfer guard (Trae Golden), Bolden is finding it challenging to blend into his surroundings. How Bolden emerges (or doesn't emerge) in Atlantic Coast Conference play will shape the trajectory of Georgia Tech's season. In this game, Bolden figures to be a role player who will be asked to play strong defense. If he can give that to Brian Gregory, he will have done his job.

Guard – Marcus Georges-Hunt – Sophomore, 6-5, 219; 2013-14: 12.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.3 apg

Georgia Tech's power and ruggedness are not restricted to the frontcourt. Georges-Hunt is a muscular guard with size and a thick-cut frame. This physical makeup is what enables him to compete on the glass. You can see that with Miller and Carter also on the floor, Georgia Tech will be able to put three quality rebounders on the court at the same time as long as Georges-Hunt is part of the mix.

Bench

In what is generally a nine-player rotation filled mostly by backcourt performers, Gregory turns to guards Solomon Poole, Corey Heyward, and Stacey Poole, Jr. Of these three players, only Solomon Poole leaves a noticeable statistical footprint, scoring 6.6 points per game and averaging 2.5 assists per contest. Georgia Tech is scrambling to fill the void left by the season-ending injury to freshman guard Travis Jorgenson on Nov. 21. Jorgenson had been doing a little bit of everything for the Yellow Jackets, scoring a handful of points, grabbing two boards per game, handing out 2.5 assists per game, and swiping just over one steal per game. Jorgenson's ability to make himself useful in various non-scoring elements of the sport at both ends of the floor is something Georgia Tech must be able to eventually replace, but the Jackets just aren't at that point yet.

At the forward spot, Kammeon Holsey is the Jackets' main answer, replacing either Carter or Miller. Holsey makes himself useful on the glass, snapping down just under six rebounds per game while averaging only 17.7 minutes. Grabbing roughly one rebound every three minutes will ensure a meaningful place on a roster throughout a season. Vanderbilt will need to pay attention to Holsey when he checks into the lineup on Saturday.



Keys to the Game

1) Team rebounding, especially when playing zone defense.
It's just a fact of life that if eight players have to carry the load for Vanderbilt, with no other options on the roster, Stallings will have to play zone for at least a few minutes here and there. Can Vanderbilt send all five players to the glass and neutralize Georgia Tech's power? That's a huge question in this game.

2) Play the first half to set up the second. With a limited roster, Stallings will probably need to substitute liberally in the first half so that he'll have a fresher team in the second. It's true that Vanderbilt will need to take advantage of fast-break opportunities when they emerge; making shots (especially easy ones) will do a lot to minimize the Yellow Jackets' rebounding advantage. Yet, Vanderbilt can't overextend itself in the first half. Playing at a restrained pace, at least in the first half and the early stages of the second, will represent the smarter course for the Dores against a deeper opponent.

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