Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. North Carolina Tar Heels Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (12-4 SU, 7-4 ATS) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (12-5 SU, 5-9 ATS), 2:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, January 16, 2009, Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Georgia Tech +7.5/North Carolina -7.5
Over/Under: 153.5

It’s really unclear how good Georgia Tech and North Carolina really are at this point, but they will settle which team is better when they face off in Chapel Hill on Saturday afternoon.

Both of these teams have been wildly inconsistent this season. Georgia Tech, a team that finished 2-14 in the ACC last season, had much higher expectations this season with a terrific freshman class and the return of every key player. The Yellow Jackets started off fairly strong against a fairly weak schedule. They lost to Dayton and Florida State early on but defeated Siena and USC.

But the last four games have really defined Georgia Tech: inconsistent, especially on the road. The Yellow Jackets started that four-game span with a quality win at Charlotte, 76-67, in a game they had to grind out down the stretch. Coming off that win and looking ahead to a home game against Duke, the young Yellow Jackets lost 73-66 at in-state rival Georgia. Then, they pulled off a huge upset over Duke at home, 71-67, in a very impressive all-around performance, especially on the defensive end.

In their last game, the Yellow Jackets had a classic let-down, an 82-75 loss at Virginia. Georgia Tech has a number of different players capable of carrying the scoring load, which is certainly a good thing. Zachery Peacock led the team in the loss to Virginia with 19 points. Derrick Favors had a solid effort with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but Gani Lawal only had 12 points and four rebounds. The Yellow Jackets need strong efforts from both of them to defeat North Carolina, one of the biggest teams in the country. Georgia Tech shot 52 percent from the field and committed only 11 turnovers, but the Yellow Jackets still somehow lost the game. Other than only forcing seven turnovers, the difference was at the free throw line, where Virginia was 23-for-26 and Georgia Tech was only 3-for-11. That’s a 20-point differential. The Yellow Jackets have to do a better job of pounding the ball inside on offense, making their free throws, and playing solid straight-up defense.

North Carolina has quality wins this season over Ohio State, Michigan State, Nevada and Virginia Tech. But at the other end of the spectrum, the Tar Heels also have a loss at the College of Charleston and a blowout loss at Clemson, as well as losses to Texas, Kentucky and Syracuse.

On Wednesday, the Heels lost 83-64 at Clemson in a game that really was never even close. Clemson’s full-court press forced UNC to turn the ball over 27 times. Freshman Larry Drew II and seniors Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson each had five turnovers. The Heels shot 44 percent from the field and 3-for-12 from beyond the arc. Freshman Dexter Strickland was the only UNC player in double figures with 17 points. Turnovers have been a huge problem for the Heels this season and they must correct that soon if they want to win this game against Georgia Tech and stay near the top of the ACC standings.

Georgia Tech is 6-2 ATS in its last eight road games and 11-4 ATS in its last 15 games overall. UNC is 6-2 ATS in its last eight games following an ATS loss but 1-4 ATS in its last five games overall. The over is 4-1 in Georgia Tech’s last five road games. The over is also 4-1 in the last five games between these teams. The home team is 4-0 in the last four games between these teams, and Georgia Tech is 11-4 ATS in its last 15 games against North Carolina.

Ryno’s Pick: The Tar Heels have at least 16 turnovers in four of their five losses this season. They have to protect the ball and prevent easy fast break baskets for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets aren’t an incredible offensive team but they will run a disciplined offense and try to get the ball inside. Ed Davis and Thompson have to play solid defense on Favors and Lawal. The better frontcourt duo will win the game. Georgia Tech only forced seven turnovers against Virginia, so there’s no reason UNC should turn the ball over more than 11 or 12 times at the most in this game. If Davis and Thompson play well and the Heels hit some outside shots, they should win this game by double digits at home. Take North Carolina to cover the spread vs. a young vulnerable G.T. team.