6 Georgia Tech (20-15) vs. 4 TCU (23-15) NIT Championship Game Madison Square Garden (New York, NY) 8:00pm ET ESPN
A champion will be crowned in the NIT this evening at Madison Square Garden as Josh Pastner and the ACC’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets take on Jaime Dixon and the TCU Horned Frogs of the Big 12. A victory tonight would not only earn either team its first NIT championship, but also put an exclamation point on what were turn-around seasons for both programs. With tournaments wins over Indiana, Belmont, and Mississippi, Georgia Tech paved its way to the championship game with a dominant performance over Cal St. Bakersfield in the Semifinal game, 76-61. TCU got here with wins over Fresno State, Iowa, Richmond, and finally made quite the statement with a 68-53 win over UCF in the semifinals. Both teams are riding a great wave of momentum heading into this one, but only one teams run will come to an end with an NIT Championship trophy.
Georgia Tech, in its first season under Josh Pastner, wasn’t expected to make much noise in the ACC, as a team with its last winning season in-conference coming in 2004. They didn’t quite buck that trend, but did finish 8-10 in conference, with big wins over North Carolina, Florida State, and Notre Dame. Upon making their early exit from the conference tournament in round one to Pittsburgh, the Jackets took that week off and brought that extra energy into the NIT Tournament where they obviously have made some pretty big noise.
Georgia Tech features the 120th most experienced roster in NCAA, starting two seniors, two juniors, and one freshman. They are a defensive-minded team to say the least (6th NCAA), touting the 17th best FG% defense in the nation. They are strongest on the interior (12th), with 6-10 JR Ben Lammers manning the middle of the 2nd best shot-blocking defense in the country. They also play disciplined, fundamentally-sound defense, rarely fouling and sending teams to the line (28th), and thereby forcing opponents to beat them from 3, where they still only allow a 33.1% 3P% (75th). The offense (252nd), other the other hand, has been a different story. Only shooting a 47.5% on the year (293rd), the Yellow Jackets have struggled both inside (259th), and out (297th) to put points on the board. It hasn’t just been shooting that has been an issue for this Tech offense, it’s also been turnovers (222nd) and offensive rebounding (227th) that have really limited its efficiency. They will likely try to get the ball inside tonight, as they tend to do as much as any other team in the country (2nd), and matchup-wise could find some success against a TCU defense that gives up most of its points on the interior (61st).
TCU experienced an even more drastic turnaround this season under Jaime Dixon than did Georgia Tech under Pastner, going from 12-21 (2-16) last year under Trent Johnson, to 23-15 (6-12) this year under Dixon. Though finishing the regular season on a downward spiral, and losing its last 7 games, the Frogs turned things around in the conference tournament and made a run all the way to the championship game. They carried that momentum into the NIT tournament, and haven’t looked back, making it all the way to another postseason championship game.
The Horned Frogs are a younger team than Georgia Tech, starting one senior, three juniors, and one freshman. 6-11 Junior C Vladimir Brodzianky is the go-to-guy on offense, for a team that looks to get the ball inside first and foremost (83rd). The TCU offense (38th), shoots 52% when they do get the ball inside (62nd), and 52.6% overall (74th), relying on their height (57th) to establish an interior presence. With that presence they are also strong on the offensive glass (44nd) where they look for second chance opportunities and put-backs as a means of point production. As with Georgia Tech, turnovers have also been a problem for the Horned Frogs (207th), as has been blocked shots (255th), which could be a problem against the 2nd best shot-blocking team in the country.
TCU’s defense (54th), under Dixon, is a fundamentally-sound unit that prides itself on playing a smart and disciplined brand of defense, and not sending opponents to the free-throw line (71st). Though giving up a higher percentage of points inside (61st) than out (195th), the Frogs are actually better in term of FG% inside (148th) as opposed to from the perimeter (235th). They will certainly need this strength inside, as Georgia Tech, as previously mentioned, will look for a large percentage of their points in the paint.
Overall, the defense should reign supreme in this one, and low-scoring slugfest should likely ensue. To win, TCU’s offense is going to have to find some success outside of its comfort zone inside, because they will not have their usual height advantage, and Georgia Tech features one of the better interior defenses in the country. This could prove quite a challenge for TCU, being that they only shoot 35.8% from the perimeter (133rd), and don’t play a single player that even hits the 40% mark from downtown. Georgia Tech is going to have to produce points off of its defense and create some turnovers against this turnover-prone TCU offense, because they will be unlikely to find much advantage in half-court sets. Georgia Tech certainly has the better defense, but TCU’s offense has been drastically more efficient throughout the year than has Tech’s, and one has to wonder if their lack of offensive firepower finally comes back to bite them against a team that can matchup height-wise, athletically, and from a coaching standpoint.
Georgia Tech is 4-0 ATS in last 4 game following an ATS win.
Georgia Tech is 14-3 ATS in their last 17 games vs. a winning team.
TCU is 4-1 ATS in their last 5 following a win.
TCU is 10-2 in its last 12 neutral site games.
Opening off-shore at TCU -3.5, in-spite of Georgia Tech receiving 62% of the spread bets, this line has move to TCU -4. Pinnacle is still showing a slight lean to TCU at 4 with a little extra juice on that 4, showing the smart money to be on the Horned Frogs, certainly at 3.5 and possibly even at 4 as well.