LITTLE ROCK — Undersized but nonetheless defensively feisty and effective, the Arkansas Razorbacks are on the road for the first time in 2019-20 to face a Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets squad that has size and can flex some defensive might of its own.
Arkansas (5-0) and Georgia Tech (2-1) are set to tip at 6 o’clock CT tonight in Atlanta in matchup being televised by ACC Network. The Yellow Jackets are 5-1 in the all-time series against the Hogs, winning five in a row including a 59-55 victory last season at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Arkansas is 2-7 all-time in road games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents, last winning nearly 21 years ago (over Wake Forest, 75-59, in December 1998).
Both teams enter tonight’s tilt with some noteworthy national defensive rankings. Following games played on Saturday, Arkansas boasted the nation’s No. 1-ranked three-point field-goal defense (13.6%), second-ranked scoring defense (47.8 points per game), sixth-ranked overall field-goal defense (33.7%), No. 10 in steals (11.4 per game), and the Hogs came in at No. 4 in the nation in scoring margin (plus-28.2 points per game) and No. 5 in turnover margin (plus-8.6 per game). Meanwhile, Georgia Tech is No. 1 in blocked shots (10.0 per game), No. 4 in defensive rebounds, and No. 4 in overall field-goal defense (two spots ahead of Arkansas).
Ironically, in the two categories that each team leads the country (Arkansas in 3-point field-goal defense and Georgia Tech in blocked shots), both teams are ranked No. 32 when you flip those categories (Arkansas in blocked shots and Georgia Tech in 3-point field-goal defense).
Breaking down the numbers, Georgia Tech has been dominant through three games on the interior whereas the Hogs have been an elite perimeter defensive team that has been good enough inside — so far.
“We’ve got to rebound Monday night, I can tell you that,” Eric Musselman said following his Hogs’ 77-56 win Friday night against South Dakota that closed out a 5-game homestand. “They have one of the nation’s top shot blockers. Georgia Tech has a really active four-man. They’ve got a guard coming off a game where he had 34 points. He’s a crafty scorer. We’re going to be rebounding against a different team on Monday than we were tonight from an athletic standpoint and a length standpoint.”
Arkansas has won only two rebounding battles on the season and averages 35.6 boards per game, whereas Georgia Tech comes in notching 43.0 rebounds per contest. The nation’s best shot-blocking team may have an advantage inside the 3-point arc against a Razorbacks squad that has so far underachieved shooting from distance (only 30-of-113 for 26.5% from 3).
But the Hogs can counter by taking care of the basketball while turning the Jackets over: Arkansas is plus-43 in turnovers on the season while Georgia Tech is minus-4. Having the bigger and more effective interior team coupled with playing at home might play into an advantage in getting to the free-throw line, but so far the Jackets are shooting only 62.5% (45-of-72) from the line with Arkansas ranking 21st nationally at 79.1% (72-of-91).
The Yellow Jackets have played two fewer games than Arkansas, but their strength of schedule has been superior so far with a split in two road games coming in the form of a one-point overtime win at North Carolina State to open the season and a more-recent four-point loss against in-state rival Georgia.
Sophomore 6-5 guard Michael Devoe had the 34-point game in the loss at Georgia, and he leads the ACC at 26.0 points per game (59.1% field-goal shooting, including 11-of-15 from 3 for 73.3%, and 78.9% free throws) to go with 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 36.0 minutes per game. Senior 6-10 forward / center James Banks — a Georgia native who played his first two seasons at Texas before transferring — is averaging 11.7 points (on 50.0% field goals and 64.7% free throws), 8.3 rebounds, and a national-best 5.7 blocks per game. Sohomore 6-7 wing Khalid Moore has been a jack-of-all-trades vale for Tech while junior 5-10 guard guard Bubba Parnham has been a big part of top-6 rotation and stands to get heavy minutes tonight.
Georgia Tech will be without junior 6-0 guard Jose Alvarado, who hung 20 points and 9 rebounds in the Jackets’ win last season over the Hogs. But he has been slowed by an ankle injury while averaging 6.0 points and 4.5 assists in two games, and Tech head coach Josh Pastner announced Monday afternoon that his star guard would be out a second game due to the injury.
Arkansas’s two returning leading scorers from a season ago — 6-5 guards Isaiah Joe and Mason Jones — are tied atop the team’s scoring board each averaging 17.4 points per game. Jimmy Whitt, Jr. is coming off a performance in which he led the Hogs and had a career-high-tying 24 points in the win over South Dakota. That backcourt trio will not only be counted on to produce offensively, but also rebounding the basketball while providing the so-far reliable smothering perimeter and help defense. Senior 6-6 forward Adrio Bailey is Arkansas’s leading rebounder (6.4 per game), but Whitt (5.8), Jones (5.4), and Joe (4.4) are next in the pecking order on the glass.
Arkansas closes out the November portion of its ’19-20 schedule with a home game Saturday against Northern Kentucky (4 p.m. CT, live-stream via SEC Network Plus), marking the fourth and final home game in a series of matchups billed as the Collegiate Hoops Roadshow.