Can Georgia Tech Pull An Evansville?

Matthew McGavic

In what has been billed as the biggest upset so far in this young college basketball season, the Evansville Purple Aces marched in to Rupp Arena back on November 12th, and came out of Lexington with a 67-64 win against the then #1 overall Kentucky Wildcats. A 25 point underdog, it was the third biggest college basketball upset in the last 15 years, and it broke Kentucky's 52 game win streak against unranked non-conference opponents at home.

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets don't find themselves in quite the same situation as the Purple Aces, but to some it might feel that way as the Jackets are coming off a brutal 34 point loss to Syracuse at home. Given the daunting task of facing a top 10 Kentucky Wildcats team on their own floor, Tech is a 14 point underdog and has only a 10% chance to win come Saturday (KenPom).

However if Evansville proved anything, it's that it's still possible to win at Rupp. So what must Tech do that Evansville did in order to emerge victorious?

Take Advantage Early

Right out of the gates, Kentucky came out sluggishly. They connected on just 5 of their first 17 shots of the game, and committed 9 turnovers in the first 14 minutes of the game. Instead of struggling themselves, Evansville took advantage of the early opportunities. The Purple Aces got themselves 9 points off turnovers during that span and made 10 of their first 22 shots. This gave Evansville a 24-16 lead at the 6:13 mark of the first half. 

Georgia Tech been the victims of slow starts themselves so far this season, and if there's any opportunity to right the ship and learn from their mistakes, now is the time to do so.

Control The Tempo

Thanks in part to the start to the game that Evansville had, they were able to control the tempo and make Kentucky play at their pace. Over the course of the game, the Wildcats were able to go on runs of 5-0 or better just 3 times. Evansville did it 6 times, including a 9-0 run that gave the Purple Aces the 24-16 lead. From start to finish, they played played with high energy that allowed them to not let Kentucky get on a momentum swinging run.

There have been times where Georgia Tech's defense has not allowed opponents to score for extended periods of time, but conversely they cannot generate any offense themselves and truly take control of the game. It was exceedingly true against Syracuse, where even forward Moses Wright said he was unsure as to why Tech did not play with the energy that they normally play with.

Out-Rebound & Hit Free Throws

On top of capitalizing on momentum shifts, Evansville out-performed the Wildcats in two very crucial categories. They able to crash the glass better than Kentucky and they hit their free throws, particularly down the stretch. Both the Purple Aces and Wildcats had 27 defensive boards, but Evansville had 3 more offensive rebounds than Kentucky to give them the overall rebounding advantage. On top of that, they missed only 1 free throw in the entire game (went 12/13).

Georgia Tech has done fairly well with rebounding, although only having a +4 rebounding margin against Nebraska, who had the second worst rebounding margin in all of Division I heading into that game, left much to be desired there. However, free throws are one of the two glaring sore spots on the team (the other being turnovers). They're connecting on only 58.6% percent of their shots from the charity stripe, which is the 11th worst mark in Division 1

While seemingly unlikely that the Jackets can correct all of their woes in just one game, in theory it is still possible. Time will soon tell, with tipoff coming this Saturday at 5:00pm EST on ESPN.

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