Last year when Northwestern met Georgia Tech in Evanston the game wasn’t all that much of a challenge for NU, but this year the ‘Cats are on the road in Atlanta and new Tech head coach Brian Gregory (an NU assistant under Kevin O’Neil) has the Yellow Jackets playing some pretty good basketball. Tech sits at 4-2 on the season and is 3-0 in home games (though this is actually the first game at Philips Arena for Tech in seven years) with all three wins coming in blowout fashion. This will be Northwestern’s first true road game of the year, but the ‘Cats are 3-0 away from Welsh-Ryan with three wins in the Charleston Classic. Whether or not the Philips Arena setting makes this more of a neutral court game remains to be seen, but despite the fact that NU’s JerShon Cobb should have a large contingent of family and friends in the stands, the crowd should be pretty partisan in favor of Tech.
The Jackets feature a three guard lineup around 6-11 center Daniel Miller who averages 9.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He’s also a good shot blocker and an overall decent athlete. He’s potentially a difficult matchup for NU’s Luka Mirkovic, however, Mirkovic’s best game of the season was against Seton Hall’s Herb Pope who is probably the best player NU has faced this season. However, Luka has massively underachieved in most of the other games the ‘Cats have played this year so it is hard to know what to expect. I’d say that a good game from Luka and his backup Davide Curletti will probably propel the ‘Cats to victory, but NU could win without their tag-team centers doing a lot of damage—it’ll just be a lot harder.
While Miller is a good player, Tech’s biggest star is Glen Rice, Jr. Rice was suspended at the start of the season and didn’t start when he came back, but he still has scored double figures in three consecutive games. He’s shot pretty much lights out with 66.7% overall and 42.9% from three being his season marks. If NU goes to the man-to-man look for Cobb, Drew Crawford, and Reggie Hearn to get a rotating assignment on Rice in order to slow him down and potentially tire him out. It’ll also help NU’s case if Rice has to play defense on either Crawford or John Shurna when the ‘Cats are on offense.
It would really help NU in this game if Shurna shows up from start to finish. Looking at Tech’s roster I’m not sure who their best bet to play Shurna man-to-man would be. You know whoever does it will work hard because Coach Gregory learned from Tom Izzo how to teach defense (a maybe a little from KO as well), but I can’t tell if Rice or 6-8 Kammeon Holsey (he averages 12.3 and 5.2) would be the best bet to defend Shurna. Rice is more athletic, but smaller and Holsey might be the type of player that Shurna can beat from the perimeter.
Brian Gregory is a good coach (he actually was rumored to be some NU administrators preferred choice for head coach when Kevin O’Neil left and Bill Carmody got the job). However, he’s new to his team hasn’t had a ton of time to prepare them for the Princeton Offense and 1-3-1 zone. Yes, some of the players saw it last year, but Tech has several new starters as well. In addition, I think a lot of what Tech does mirrors what Michigan State does and while NU hasn’t had great success versus the Spartans, at least they are familiar with the concepts of how to approach such a team. Combined with Tech not really having a home arena and hopefully NU getting a big game from JerShon Cobb as he comes back home, I like Northwestern to win this one. I predict: Northwestern, 71 Georgia Tech, 61