6 Georgia Tech (20-15) vs. 8 Cal St. Bakersfield (25-9) NIT Semifinal Game Madison Square Garden (New York, NY) 7:00pm ET ESPN
Now narrowed down to the final four, the semifinals of the NIT will claim the primetime spotlight tonight with Rod Barnes and the eight-seeded Cal St. Bakersfield Roadrunners of the WAC taking on Josh Pastner’s sixth-seeded Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets of the ACC. Cal St. has been on a mission in this tournament and has been the surprise of the NIT, coming on strong as an 8th seed to win all three games on the road: upsetting the Pac-12’s Cal Golden Bears (21-13), 73-66, taking care of Colorado State (24-12) of the Mountain West, 81-63, and pulling off another upset over the class of the Sun Belt, in UT Arlington (27-9), 80-67. Georgia Tech has looked equally impressive: upsetting a blue blood of the Big Ten, Indiana, 75-63 at home, handing a home beat-down to the Ohio Valleys best, Belmont (23-7), 71-57, and pulling off another ATS upset on the road in Ole Miss of the SEC, 74-66. The Yellow Jackets are looking to make it to their second NIT final in school history, while the Roadrunners only recently joined Division I in 2007, and are making their first NIT appearance.
It has been a successful season for Georgia Tech in Josh Pastner’s first year, for a team that wasn’t really expected to compete in the ACC, the Yellow Jackets went 8-10 in conference, with some big wins over the likes of VCU, North Carolina, Florida State, and Notre Dame. Georgia Tech starts a rather seasoned lineup; with 2 seniors, 2 juniors, and 1 freshman they were the 121st most experienced team in college basketball this year. Freshman SF Josh Okogie and Junior SG Tadric Jackson were the stars of the show on offense, while 6-10 Junior C Ben Lammers (21st Block% NCAA) anchored one of the best defenses in the country (6th NCAA). This formidable defense held opponents to a 45.8% FG% on the year (19th), specializing in locking down the interior (13th), as one of the best shot-blocking teams in the nation (3rd). What is most impressive, is that they do it all without fouling and sending teams to the free-throw line (28th), a testament to discipline and fundamental acumen of this Pastner defense. The offense (267th) has been quite a different story, grading out at the lower end of the spectrum in nearly every statistical category. They try as much as nearly every team in the country (2nd) to get the ball inside, but only shoot a 47.3% FG% from two (259th). They are even worse from three (297th), and have struggled mightily with turning the ball over (238th), and creating extra possessions with offensive rebounding (228th). The Yellow Jackets will face a major test, tonight, against a Cal St. defense (15th) that has been unforgiving of offensive mediocrity.
In its 2nd year in the WAC, and 10th year in Division I, Cal St. Bakersfield under Rod Barnes experienced its second-straight and second-ever winning season. They finished with the best record in the WAC (12-2), but lost in the conference tournament championship game to New Mexico State. Their biggest tests of the year were on the road against Arizona, (L, 78-66), and SMU (L, 49-43) both of which they kept relatively close and were far from disappointing defeats. The Roadrunners, starting 3 seniors and 2 juniors, are one of the most experienced teams in the country (15th). Sophomore G Daminye Durham comes off of the bench and is the “go-to” offensive player on the team, but they spread the ball around for the most part, looking to get points off of turnovers from their much maligned defense. Defense (15th) really is the calling card for this Cal St. team, holding teams to a 3rd best nationally 43.5% FG%. Surprisingly, as a very short team in terms of average height (318th), their defense is best on the interior (3rd), but still very strong on the perimeter (28th). The Roadrunners are also very aggressive, looking to create turnovers at every opportunity (9th), by way of steals (19th), and thereby speeding up their opponents offense to a faster tempo than with they are comfortable (17th). Similarly, to Georgia Tech, while great on defense, the Cal St. offense (244th) has been nothing to write home about. They do have a couple of strengths in offensive rebounding (66th) and getting to the free-throw line (82nd), but for the most part the offense hasn’t been spectacular. They too will look to get to the basket (91st) as opposed to shooting threes (263rd), but only shoot 47.3% inside (261st). Turnovers have been their biggest issue on offense this year (312th), which actually may not come to hurt them all too much against a Georgia Tech defense that is only average in terms of turnover production (157th).
Both defenses will hold a major advantage in this game, and anything other than a low-scoring defensive struggle would be shocking. Both teams shoot a very low percentage and will therefore will look to attack the basket to generate points as they normally do. This is where Georgia Tech may hold quite an edge in that they hold a substantial height advantage (30th to 297th, effective height). Georgia Tech will have to avoid turnovers and giving up points off of these turnovers, however, for turnovers have plagued the Jackets all year, and the Roadrunners of Cal State will be relentless in their effort to take the ball away and run this Georgia Tech offense off of the road.
Georgia Tech is 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games.
Georgia Tech is 13-3 ATS in their last 16 games vs. a winning team.
Cal State is 10-1 ATS in their last 11 games following an ATS win.
Opening at Tech -2 -110 off-shore, the Jackets have received 66% of the spread bets, and yet the +2 on the Roadrunners is juiced at -115. This reverse line movement is suggestive of a sharp lean towards Cal State at 2.