Vandy's Last Game
The Commodores (5-2) could not find any offensive rhythm against a feisty UIC defense replete with tenacious guards and bolstered by a 7-foot shot blocker. The Flames were able to pack the lane without consequence as Vanderbilt shot just 4-of-24 from three-point range. A.J. Ogilvy rarely had a clean look at the basket as a result, making just five of his 13 shots.
Defensively, the ‘Dores had no answer for the Flames' backcourt of Josh Mayo and Robo Kreps. Tired legs appeared to be the culprit at times, as Vanderbilt's guards were almost always step slow getting to the UIC shooters. Those shooters made the Commodores pay all game long. Mayo scored a game-high 30 points on a blistering 8-of-10 from three-point range, while Kreps added 23 by shooting 10-of-15 from the floor. Every time the home team seemed to begin a run, Mayo or Kreps hit a big shot to nip it in the bud. On this night, the young Commodores were simply outplayed in every respect.
Georgia Tech At-A-Glance
Led by eighth-year coach Paul Hewitt, the Yellow Jackets (4-1) have struggled to find consistency in the early going. Tech lost its top two scorers from last season, Anthony Morrow and Jeremis Smith, to graduation before learning that defensive stalwart D'Andre Bell would miss the season due to back surgery. As if that wasn't enough, talented scorer Lewis Clinch was then declared academically ineligible for the fall semester. Despite the return of heralded sophomore Gani Lawal and the addition of highly touted point guard Iman Shumpert, Coach Hewitt's team has struggled through its first five games.
While Vanderbilt was getting spanked by UIC, the Yellow Jackets were busy suffering a disappointing loss of their own, falling at home to Big Ten bottom-feeder Penn State. Before that, Tech was 4-0, but they needed a frantic second half comeback and an overtime period to beat Mercer before barely scraping by Jacksonville at home.
Due to the aforementioned losses, these Jackets will look somewhat unfamiliar to Vanderbilt fans who watched their team trounce Georgia Tech by a 92-79 score last December. Four of the five Tech starters from that game will not play on Saturday.
This year's edition of the Yellow Jackets relies on an attack rooted in the post and spreading out to the mid-range. Only 18.7 percent of Tech's field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc, compared to 36.1 percent for Vanderbilt. Despite the lack of a consistent perimeter threat, the athletic Jackets thrive in the open court; they average 82.0 points per game, a healthy 13 points more than the Commodores. Georgia Tech is the most equipped to match Vanderbilt's young athletes of any team the ‘Dores will have seen.
Gani Lawal – Sophomore, 6-9, 233 lbs. – Lawal played inconsistently last season while earning the minutes of a sixth or seventh man. This year, though, the former McDonald's All-American has taken his starting gig and run with it. After averaging just 7.2 points a year ago, Lawal has become Tech's leading scorer in his sophomore campaign, averaging 22.2 points through the team's first five games. A match-up problem for virtually any opponent because of his ability to score in the post and facing the basket, Lawal has converted 64.8 percent of his shot attempts. The jumping jack forward also leads his team in rebounding, grabbing 11.2 per game, and blocked shots, swatting 1.2 per contest. The one drawback to Lawal's game is an important one; he is a terrible free throw shooter who is at the line constantly. Averaging eight free throw attempts per game, the sophomore is shooting a dismal 47.5 percent from the charity stripe. Free throw woes aside, Lawal must be the focal point of the Vanderbilt defense. Most recently, he exploded for a career-high 34 points on 75.0 percent shooting against Penn State.
Alade Aminu – Senior, 6-10, 225 lbs. – The lone Tech starter remaining from last year's loss to Vanderbilt, Aminu gives the Jackets a second consistent post scorer. Like Lawal, Aminu has drastically increased his scoring by improving his efficiency around the basket. He's averaging 14.4 points per game on 61.5 percent shooting. A nice complement to Lawal's hybrid game, Aminu patrols the lane almost exclusively, though he can knock down the 15-footer if need be. The senior has taken on his share of the rebounding duties as well, snatching 8.4 boards per game to double last season's average. For a big man with as much skill around the basket, Aminu rarely reaches the free throw line, leaving Tech with almost no production from its bigs at the stripe.
Maurice Miller – Sophomore, 6-2, 185 lbs. – "Moe" Miller is one of two potentially outstanding lead guards in the Tech backcourt. Inexperience and back troubles plagued him throughout his freshman season, but he still managed flashes of brilliance, including a 29-point performance in which he went 13-of-14 from the free throw line. Miller has the ability to become a dynamic scorer, but he's gotten off to a slow start this season. He's shooting 26.3 percent from the field and hasn't made a single three-pointer in 17 attempts. If the sophomore can get his efficiency back to last season's level, when he shot 43.9 percent from the floor and 39.7 percent from long range, his scoring average of 9.0 points per game will soar. Despite his scoring struggles, Miller is dishing out 5.8 assists and grabbing 2.5 steals per game.
Iman Shumpert – Freshman, 6-5, 200 lbs. – Joining Miller in the Tech backcourt is Shumpert, a physical specimen of a point guard who already projects to be a star in the ACC. The freshman is averaging 11.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, and a team-best 6.0 assists through his first five college games. Shumpert combines the size of a wing with the vision and passing skills of a point guard. Add in the ability to finish athletically around the basket and you've got the makings of an impressive guard. The absence of Andre Walker will be felt most against tall, quick, strong guards like Shumpert; in the meantime, don't be surprised to see Charles Hinkle on the court to defend Tech's athletes on the wing.
Zach Peacock – Junior, 6-8, 235 lbs. – Peacock gives the Yellow Jackets a third player in the starting lineup whom they can count on to score in the post. Averaging 11.2 points per game, he had a streak of eight straight games with double-figure scoring snapped in Tech's close win over Jacksonville. Peacock has never been an overpowering presence on the glass, averaging 4.0 per game this season, but he has a knack for hurting opponents on the offensive boards. When he, Aminu, and Lawal are on the court together, the Commodores' interior defense will be tested more than it has been all season. Peacock put up 17 points in Memorial last season.
Paul Hewitt has generally stuck to an eight-man rotation, bringing guards Lance Storrs and Nick Foreman off the bench to spell Miller and Shumpert and using the bulky Brad Sheehan to bolster the frontcourt.
Storrs, a 6-4 sophomore, has been the Yellow Jackets' only three-point threat this season. He's made a team-best six trifectas in 14 attempts. The sophomore has also made his presence felt on the glass and the defensive end of the court – he's averaging 3.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 24.4 minutes per game.
A 6-3 freshman, Foreman fell into playing time when Tech learned that it would be without the services of Bell and Clinch. He's still adjusting to the college game, attempting just seven shots to this point and making only one. It will take Foreman some time to become a factor for the Jackets.
The 6-11 Sheehan doesn't have the scoring ability of the other Jacket forwards – he failed to score in 21 minutes against the ‘Dores last year – but his size allows Tech to rest Aminu, Peacock, or Lawal without losing anything defensively.
Keys to the Game
Match Game – One of the most interesting subplots about Saturday's game will be how each coach chooses to defend the other's stable of match-up problems. Jeff Taylor will likely get the first shot at Lawal, but the Jackets' star has the size to take Taylor to the post. Conversely, Hewitt will probably start with Aminu on Ogilvy, but the big Aussie was nearly perfect against Aminu and the Jackets last season, scoring 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting. As for the freshmen, Shumpert and Taylor could be X-factors for their respective teams, as neither player has a true counterpart on the opposite team.
Outside the Perimeter (Or as any visiting Tech fans know it, "OTP") – Offensively, the Commodores' perimeter game left a lot to be desired on Wednesday. Not only did Vanderbilt go 4-for-24 from beyond the arc, but its guards also failed to enter the ball into the post with any consistency. Far too often, a post entry would result in a kick-out, after which the guards never attempted a re-entry and settled for a contested jumper. When facing as many double-teams in the post as Vanderbilt does, ball reversals and re-entries can give Ogilvy second opportunities to score if the first avenue is closed off. If the ‘Dores can shoot well from the perimeter, they'll spread the floor and make it even easier to give Ogilvy second chances in the paint.
Gut Check – Though it wasn't the Commodores' first loss of the season, Wednesday's game was the first time they have been outplayed for the majority of the contest. Now that they've had time to get their legs back, Saturday's game will give fans an early look at what this young team is made of. Tech has more size and significantly more athleticism than UIC, and the Jackets will hit the ‘Dores in the mouth harder than the Flames did. If the Commodores come out with the same lack of intensity they showed in the first half on Wednesday, they could be looking at another double-digit loss.
Prediction: Georgia Tech is beatable, but both of Vanderbilt's losses offered a lot of evidence that the Yellow Jackets' athletic forwards could severely hamper the Commodore offense. If Vanderbilt has a better-than-average shooting performance, the visitors should eke out a win. However, not a single current Commodore was on the team that played at Tech three years ago, and regaining the shooting touch can be tricky in an unfamiliar gym. Look for Lawal to give the ‘Dores fits as Tech pulls out a close one. Final score: Georgia Tech 78, Vanderbilt 75.