After a successful excursion in the Cayman Islands, Nebraska basketball will face Georgia Tech on Wednesday in a game between two teams at different skill levels.
Though Georgia Tech’s record (3-2) and few years of mediocrity may make the game appear equal, it has done well this season against opposition significantly better than what Nebraska has played. The Yellow Jackets opened the season with a victory against a formidable NC State team, and only narrowly lost to Arkansas in overtime.
Much of Georgia Tech’s early season success must be attributed to its offensive engine — sophomore guard Michael Devoe. Devoe, a prospect from the acclaimed Montverde Academy, has started the season blazing hot. Devoe is scoring 23.4 points per game on a 53.9 percent field goal percentage and 62 percent 3-point percentage. The 62 percent 3-point percentage is partly due to Devoe only attempting 4.4 such shots per game, with most of his production coming inside.
As the primary ball handler on the team and play initiator, much of the game will come down to Devoe’s production. With a 27.2 percent usage rate, Devoe will present a problem for the Huskers. The Huskers have had a difficult time containing high usage-rate guards, especially if those guards can shoot. Southern University’s senior guard Micah Bradford had a 24.4 percent usage rate against the Huskers and shot a clean 11-20 from the floor.
Devoe, along with his shooting, is able to get to the line often with a free-throw rate of .402, which means for every field goal attempt, Devoe will take .402 free throws. He converts these at a reasonable rate of 71 percent and Devoe will be able to create offense even if he has a poor shooting night.
A small hole in Devoe’s game is that he’s not a distributor, only averaging 2.0 assists. Much of this is down to his green-light from the floor, but it can still be exploited. Devoe is also slight of build despite standing at 6-foot-5, and can be bullied on his drives in an attempt to exhaust him late in the game.
Nebraska may employ some variant of the Jordan Rules on Devoe and will do so in a well-executed manner. The Jordan Rules were the defensive strategy the Detroit Pistons employed to eliminate Michael Jordan’s effectiveness. While Devoe is not Jordan, he shares a similar playing style. This defensive strategy consists heavy on traps and double-teaming, with another emphasis on forcing contact layups or preventing the drive all together. Building a wall to prevent easy lanes for Devoe’s drives will be important, and such a strategy will be well-known to Nebraska since it also employed this defensive scheme against junior forward Douglas Wilson of South Dakota State, limiting his efficiency significantly.
At best, any shot he doesn’t take is a win for the Nebraska defense.
Nebraska will hope to continue its 3-point shooting hot streak against Georgia Tech, taking advantage of a newfound confidence gained since the game against Southern. This task may seem more monumental because Georgia Tech has the No. 52 3-point defense in the country. However, given that Georgia Tech’s 2-point opposition rate is fifth-best in the country according to kenpom.com, Nebraska may wish to add more 3-pointers to the distribution than usual.
3-point shooting may also be important due to the rim protection of Georgia Tech senior center James Banks III. One of the top returning players in the ACC, Banks leads the nation in shots blocked per game with just over five per game, also nearly averaging a double-double with 13.4 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game. Banks will surely lock down the paint and Nebraska will be forced to go outside for most of the game.
Nebraska’s porous defensive rebounding against Southern, which led to a differential of -26, gave way to slightly more reasonable rebounding in the Cayman Island Classic. Against George Mason, Nebraska was embarrassed again, getting outrebounded by 23. But against Washington State, Nebraska was only outrebounded by three and against Southern Florida, the Huskers were outrebounded by 10.
There’s reason to believe that Nebraska will be able to rebound slightly better against Georgia Tech, as Georgia Tech is a poor offensive rebounding team with an offensive rebounding rate of 23.7 percent. Not allowing second chance opportunities will be crucial to keeping Georgia Tech from running away with the game, given the fact that it is an already efficient team.
Georgia Tech is also an interesting matchup for Nebraska since it’s one of the slowest teams Nebraska has played so far, with an adjusted tempo that’s below average compared to the rest of college basketball. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Georgia Tech is a bad team,rather it slows down the game. How Nebraska responds to this style of play will have ramifications later when the Huskers play other grit-and-grind Big Ten teams.
“The thing you have to do is try and establish it [tempo] early,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ve faced teams where we think we’ve done a good job of dictating tempo. We get what we call our ‘answer back.’”
Georgia Tech is a better team than Nebraska. Its primary ball handler is electric and its rebounding, though poor, is still better than the Huskers’ equivalent. Playing faster will mean little unless Nebraska can rebound offensively, or can exploit a Georgia Tech team’s conditioning, which may not be able to cope with Nebraska’s pace. At the same time, if Georgia Tech can rebound offensively and fashion second-chance opportunities, Nebraska’s chances will be slimmed further.