The Houston Cougars did precisely what they needed to do against an over matched Portland team on Sunday afternoon, setting up a Monday evening (or early afternoon if you’re out in Hawaii) showdown with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
There is one very familiar face, Houston native and Yellow Jackets head coach Josh Pastner. Someone much more cynical than me would characterize his rise in coaching circles as an exhibit A of “who you know” being much more important than “what you know” sometimes, even in Division 1 men’s basketball.
Me? I would never say that Pastner wouldn’t have even sniffed a Division 1 staff without his wealthy father’s AAU team. I’ll just stick with the facts of his career.
Cougar fans will likely remember Pastner as Memphis’ head coach from 2009-16, immediately following John Calipari. The peak of Pastner’s success was 4 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, highlighted by the 2012-13 season where the Tigers finished the year with 31 wins and didn’t lose a single CUSA game, regular season or postseason. Notably, that team and none of Pastner’s other teams made it to the 2nd weekend of the tournament.
After 2 disappointing non-tournament seasons, Memphis and Pastner parted ways and Georgia Tech (who had just let go of current USF coach Brian Gregory) surprisingly took on Pastner.
To his credit, in his first year in Atlanta the Yellow Jackets dramatically overachieved preseason expectations, won 21 games and made the NIT. Since then, they’ve had 2 losing seasons and thanks to recruiting violations and resulting NCAA sanctions will not be eligible for the 2020 NCAA Tournament.
As of Monday morning, the current iteration of Tech basketball is 1-4 against top 100 KenPom teams with the lone win coming over NC State in OT in one of those weird season-opening conference games that were a vehicle to promote the new ACC Network. The Jackets’ 2nd best win was their Diamond Head Classic opening round 74-60 win over Boise St last night, a game where they turned the ball over 20 times and somehow won by double figures.
On the loss side of the ledger, the Jackets’ last home game was a 65-47 loss to Ball State and the game before that was a 97-63 loss to Syracuse. Last night’s win over Boise was actually the first time since opening night that this team won away from their home court.
Its worth noting that Tech has been missing a critical player in junior Jose Alvarado much of this season and Alvarado returned for last night’s game against Boise, contributing 14 points and 2 steals.
To this point, sophomore Michael Devoe has probably been the most effective scorer, shooting 39.6% on 3-pointers and by a wide margin leading the team averaging 17.9 points per game. Junior Moses Wright has been a pretty consistent scorer at the power forward spot and leads the team with 8.1 rebounds per game. Junior Jordan Usher, a transfer from USC and guard/forward ‘tweener, became eligible after the end of the fall semester and has played a bunch in the Jackets’ last 2 games.
While they’ve been surprisingly poor at rebounding for being the 60th tallest team in Division 1 (235th- Off Rebound %/148th- Opponent Off Rebound %) the combo of Wright and senior center James Banks have blocked 49 shots in 10 games. It’ll be an interesting match up, as the Cougars have statistically been the best team in the country at not having their shots blocked.
As a team, the Jackets have been atrocious on the balance offensively this year. KenPom has 18 offense-specific categories in a team’s scouting report and Tech is worse than 300th in 5 of them (for reference, there are 353 Division 1 basketball teams): Turnover % (339th), 3-point Field Goal % (324th), Free Throw % (343rd), Steal % (327th), Non-Steal Turnover % (320th).
There is not a category I can isolate where Tech has done well offensively, though their defensive metrics are excellent. They’re 35th nationally in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, 20th in Opponent Effective Field Goal % and 17th in Opponent 2-point Field Goal %.
The path to the Jackets winning this game would involve making this a slow-paced, offensively ugly game played in the 50s or 60s (not unlike the Coogs’ loss to Oklahoma St). Oddly enough for being as bad as they are offensively, the Jackets like to play fast and are 69th in Adjusted Tempo coming into tonight’s game.
While the Coogs are rightly a favorite to win this game, they’ll need to prove they can score consistently against a team that can be tough defensively and that’s not something that’s been a given so far in the 2019-20 season.