Josh Pastner and the Yellow Jackets hit the road for the second time this season on Wednesday, heading to Evanston, Illinois to take on the Northwestern Wildcats. The game is part of the annual ACC/B1G challenge and will tip at 9:15 pm on ESPNU.
The Yellow Jackets are competing in the challenge for the 18th time and have a record of 7-10. You might be thinking that Northwestern is a familiar foe. You would be correct. This will be the fifth time that Georgia Tech and Northwestern face off in the challenge. The two met in 2010, 2011, 2014, 2017 and again this year. In the four previous match ups the Jackets are 3-1, including two wins at Welsh-Ryan Arena and each of the last three games. The average margin of victory is 8.8 points in those four games, the largest being 20 (Northwestern) and the slimmest being 1 (Tech last season).
Currently, according to KenPom, Northwestern is a 68-61 favorite. Georgia Tech is currently 77th in the Pomeroy rankings, while Northwestern is 46th.
While Georgia Tech is mostly led by freshman and sophomores, Northwestern has a lot of veteran leadership. Seniors Vic Law and Derek Pardon have a combined 187 collegiate contests under their belt at the Big 10 level. Two very talented transfers, Ryan Taylor (Evansville) and A.J. Turner (Boston College), bookend the Wildcat staples with 158 more games played. All four players average double figures on the season. The leader of the group is Law, who after a somewhat underwhelming career, has seemingly come into his own as a senior. He currently leads Northwestern in points (18.5), assists (3.0) and blocks (1.5).
Northwestern's strength this season is their defense. While some of the numbers are currently skewed by their offensive tempo, they are currently surrendering 61 ppg (27th in the nation) and allowing 31% from behind the arc. Of course, their strength of schedule is also currently 254th in the country.
Northwestern is led by Chris Collins, who is currently in his sixth season in Evanston. He has compiled a record of 93-78 overall and a 36-54 in the Big 10. The Wildcats are still seemingly cruising after a 2016-17 season that saw them go 24-12 with an invitation to the prom for the first time in program history. That season was highlighted by a last second shot by Derek Pardon versus Michigan. They ended up losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Gonzaga. They parlayed that success into a preseason top 25 ranking last year but ultimately under-performed. They were out of the rankings by week 3 and have yet to return.
If this game was in Atlanta I would be tempted to take the Jackets. Though Georgia Tech performed well in Knoxville, I still can't get behind such a young team on the road. I expect the good guys to cover but the Wildcats to win. They have the star power in Law and a quality big man in Pardon that could ultimately negate James Banks, who is still rounding into form. Taylor and Turner have the length and experience to handle players like Brandon Alston, Curtis Haywood and Mike Devoe.
Then again, Northwestern doesn't have a point guard. Georgia Tech has one with an attitude. One that really hates to lose. One that just recently willed his team to victory in a game in which they struggled a great deal. Can you really bet against Jose Alvarado when he plays with a chip on his shoulder? Will Haywood and Devoe combine to go 1-7 from deep two games in a row? Smart money says, emphatically, no.
I have no idea who is going to win, but I think it is going to be extremely tight wire to wire.