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Carlos Previews Tech!

The landscape of the ACC can change suddenly and no team illustrates that more than the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Just 5 days ago they appeared as if they were going to make a major move towards securing a spot in the NCAA tournament during coach Paul Hewitt’s first year with the program. The Yellow Jackets were sitting at 2-2 in the league but the two wins were back-to-back victories over Wake Forest and Virginia, both of which were in the top 15 at the time. Even more promising was that the two losses came at the hands of UNC and Maryland, leaving Duke as the only upper tier team left on the first half of the Tech schedule. A 6-2 or 5-3 finish was certainly possible.

All that changed when the Yellow Jackets stumbled in Raleigh last Tuesday at the hands of the then winless (in the ACC) Wolfpack. While ACC road wins are always scarce commodities and the Wolfpack had been very competitive against several opponents, Tech was still expected to win. Instead NC State put together two solid halves of basketball to pull out a 12 point victory that postponed construction on the offices of the Herb Sendek Insurance Agency.

That game aside, the Tech season to date has been filled with plenty of reasons to be happy. The Yellow Jackets have played a brutal out of conference schedule that former coach Bobby Cremins may have put together as his final gift to the program. The team has faced off against Iowa, UCLA, Georgia, Kentucky, Stanford, and Harvard. Okay, scratch that last one. Just for extra degree of difficulty the Iowa, Stanford, and UCLA games were on the road. Although Tech lost big to both the Hawkeyes and the Cardinal they did pull out a road victory against UCLA to go along with their other major out of conference win- an 86-84 defeat of Kentucky.

Expectations were not very high this year for Tech. Hewitt inherited a team that finished last year at 13 – 17 overall and 5 – 11 in conference play, landing them in 8th place. Most predictions had Tech fighting it out with Clemson to avoid an appearance in this year’s return of the Les Robinson invitational game. Hewitt has been able to defy the expectations by employing a more up-tempo style than previous teams and also getting some improved play out of key contributors.

While the Yellow Jackets are coming off a bad performance the Blue Devils are coming off half a bad performance. The first half of the Boston College game was one of the worst 20 minutes of basketball the Devils have put on the floor in the last two years. The team played so poorly that many fans kept glancing towards the bench expecting to see Dick Vitale coaching the game. Fortunately Dick was off annoying fans of other teams with his praise of Duke and Krzyzewski was still sitting on the Duke bench. When Duke went to the half with a 4 point lead most people expected the team to stay in the locker room right up to the 1 minute mark only to emerge after a blistering explanation of how their play failed to live up to Coach K’s standards.

The blistering explanation of failing to live up to Coach K’s standards actually turned out to be a realization that they had failed to live up to their own standards. Apparently the team met without Coach K, knew they had played horribly, and got themselves motivated to play better in the second half. The finished product was a 22 point victory over a BC team who played a very scrappy game. That’s the kind of resolve the team will need to finish with a 5th straight ACC regular season title.


A big component in the success of the Tech team this year has been the development of senior center Alvin Jones (6-11/265). Jones has always been a good defensive player. He’s led the league in blocked shots for three straight years. In a league that includes Brendan Haywood that’s saying a lot. Jones has also led the league for three straight years in ominous looks and generally surly behavior. In a league that includes Kenny Inge that’s really saying something.

In fact, Jones’ development has always been hampered by his emotions, which often cause his attention to drift. Over the course of his career Jones has consistently found himself in foul difficulty and ends up sulking on the court which typically results in turnovers and other lapses in concentration. Jones’ career at Tech was going nowhere since he burst on the scene as a freshman and recorded a phenomenal 141 blocks in the season. That number has declined every year he’s been at Tech to the point where last year his production had dropped to nearly half that of his freshman year. Conversely his turnover totals increased each year to the point where last year he had more turnovers than blocked shots.

But, everybody likes a happy ending and Jones has given everyone cause for hope this season. While he still exhibits a demeanor that is not likely to win him any congeniality contests, Jones has elevated his game and is on track for his best season ever. He’s currently scoring 14.4 points per game and is on track to finish the season with over 100 blocks. His turnover totals are still high – just under 3 a game – but his offensive production is much better than in previous seasons.

Hewitt and his staff have done marvels with Jones who has shown improved footwork and shooting range. His offense can still be pretty raw at times (he’ll often drop a shoulder to initiate a post move) but he is now a legitimate offensive threat. That improved shooting range though stops at around 10 feet and anything further out can be an adventure. Further out also includes free throws where he’s shooting just 60%.

Jones may also be the loneliest guy in the ACC as Tech no longer has the twin tower look from last year. In 2000 the other tower was All-ACC selection Jason Collier who was the only player from the league last year to make a professional roster. This year Jones is paired with the Tower of Babul – Jon Babul that is. At 6-7 Babul is undersized for the power forward spot, a problem that is further complicated by the fact that he appears to be fighting a different gravitational pull than the rest of guys out there on the floor. Instead of a 6-7 power forward that can utilize good leaping ability and slashing quickness in the mold of Virginia’s Chris Williams, Babul is a guy who must try and use his strength.

Now in his 8th year of college Babul does offer the Yellow Jackets some leadership and maturity. He’s actually only been around for 5 years, having redshirted in the 1998 season but like former Wake Forest center Ralph Kitley, he seems like he’s been in the league forever. On offense he’s not going to score much, if at all. For his career his best season was his sophomore year where he averaged 5.3 points per game. This year is much the same as he’s averaging just 5.1 points per game and, as a result of having to play power forward at 6-7, converting on just 28% of his field goal attempts. If he can get to the free throw line he can be very effective as he’s hitting on 86% of his shots.

There’s not much size available off the bench either with only two other players on the team measuring over 6-8. One of those is freshman Robert Brooks who plays about as many minutes as Babul. Brooks is generously listed at around 6-9/220 lbs. and has the open court athleticism that is better suited to play in Hewitt’s up-tempo offense. He’s a much better offensive player from the field than Babul although he lack’s the senior’s touch at the free throw line where he hits a team-low 31%. That poor free throw shooting could keep him on the bench in close, end-of-game situations.

The Jackets can turn to Michael Isenhour for additional size up front. The 6-8/248 lb. junior transferred to Tech from the Air Force Academy after an unremarkable freshman year. Last year, in his first season of eligibility, he played sparingly, seeing most of his action after Jon Babul went down with his annual injury. This year, with the departure of Collier and a disappointing recruiting season in the wake of Cremins departure, the Yellow Jackets are forced to play Isenhour more than they would probably like.

Because of the Yellow Jackets’ lack of size (they start a three guard lineup) play a great deal of halfcourt zone defense. Part of that is also to protect Jones and Babul who are both foul prone- Jones due to his aggressive defense and Babul due to his lack of size in the post. While that zone may help them keep Jones and Babul in the game it may also allow Duke to shoot them out of the game. The Blue Devils lead the league in 3 point field goals made and much of that success is because of Shane Battier. When the Devils are facing a zone Battier can be particularly effective. Not only must the opponent deal with his 48% accuracy, they also must contend with the problem that as Duke’s power forward, Battier gives the Devils four guys on the floor who can all shoot the three. Battier is especially dangerous because at 6-8 he can usually shoot over the smaller perimeter defenders at the top of traditional zone defenses.

The elements are in place for Battier to have a big game against Georgia Tech as he matches up well against their zone defense or against Jon Babul in a man defense. The elements are also in place to present a formidable challenge for Carlos Boozer. Unless Duke can get some penetration from its perimeter players Boozer could find himself facing a lane crowded with defensive players and Alvin Jones lurking in the background. Boozer has traditionally had some difficulty with larger centers although this year he had a huge game against Clemson’s Adam Allenspach. Jones is clearly a better defensive player than Allenspach but Boozer could still have success taking the ball at him and trying to draw fouls.

Duke continues to try and develop a solid 7-man rotation with Matt Christensen seeing around 10 minutes a game. At 6-10/247 lbs. he allows Duke to sit Boozer to avoid fatigue and foul troubles during close games. Christensen’s performance may be the key factor in Duke’s run for a NCAA title as the team has struggled the most when Boozer or Battier have fouled out of the game.

If Duke can get a large enough lead, Casey Sanders (6-11) and Reggie Love (6-5) may see some action.


Tech’s size problems really show up on the wings where they start 6-3 Shaun Fein and 6-3 Marvin Lewis. Shaun Fein is a particularly versatile performer who, in addition to being the political wing of the IRA, also has a sweet jump shot. He’s leading the Yellow Jackets in scoring at 15.2 points per game and hits on 43% of his three point attempts. Fein is a solid ballhandler who, while not likely to take the ball to the rack off the dribble, is a good enough shooter to hit mid-range jumpers off. He’s also pretty conservative with the ball and although he doesn’t have a great number of assists he still sports a solid 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Fein sealed the Tech win at Virginia with an off-balance three point shot late in the game with the shot clock winding down. He benefits from the various Tech zones that hide his average quickness and relative lack of size.

Flanking Fein on the other wing is the freshman Lewis who, like Fein, is also a good outside shooter. Lewis is hitting 42% of his three point attempts that account for just under half of his 11 points per game. He is especially effective along the baseline and wing. Lewis uses the threat of his jump shot to set up nice drives to the basket where he is equally dangerous at distributing the ball to Jones underneath. On defense his quickness and athleticism is ideally suited for Hewitt’s pressing style.

Despite the loss of senior Clarence Moore to an injury early in the season, Tech still has some depth on the wings. Halston Lane is another great shooter for the Yellow Jackets and at 6-6 he can give them some much-needed size. However, despite his size he’s not especially fond of life in the paint. Only 16 of his 38 field goals have come from inside the three point line and his rebounding total of 2.4 is anemic for a player his size. But he can shoot and at 45% he leads the team in accuracy from the three point line. Hewitt has to make some sacrifices to get him in the game as he lacks the foot speed of Tech’s other wing players and consequently limits the effectiveness of their press.

If Hewitt is looking for a little more experience off the bench he can go to senior Darryl LaBarrie, proud owner of the ACC’s biggest ‘fro. At 6-3 LaBerrie doesn’t offer as much size off the bench as Lane but he does give them more quickness. LaBarrie is a decent shooter who is currently hitting 43% of his three point attempts although he only takes about one a game. He scores most of his points in transition or on drives to the hoop.

Duke’s Nate James is coming off one of his less productive outings of the season. After averaging 19 points over his last 5 games James scored only 6 points against Boston College. His rebounding totals were also well below his season average. With the exception of that last performance though it would be pretty tough to find any negatives associated with James’ season so far. At 6-6 and with a long wingspan he has stepped up to become a real defensive stopper as Will Solomon and Anthony Grundy will attest. James will spend plenty of time with Shaun Fein on Saturday afternoon and his size should give the Tech guard some trouble.

While James is likely to start out on Fein he may also see plenty of time guarding Lewis and the other Tech wing players as the Duke defense takes advantage of the versatility of the team by constantly switching. At the other wing spot 6-9 sophomore Mike Dunleavy has the size and defensive instincts to give opponents a great deal of trouble, especially when they are in the 6-3 range like most of Tech’s players. While not a particularly quick defender Dunleavy still ranks in the top 5 in the league in steals. He accomplishes that by relying on his instincts to overplay the passing lanes or strip ballhandlers from the weak side.

Offensively both James and Dunleavy are good, but streaky, three point shooters. James has seen his percentage fall from the mid-40’s all the way down to 33% before a recent hot streak that has pushed it back up to 35%. Dunleavy has been less inconsistent but has seen his accuracy slip to around 41%. Against the Tech zone both guys could be able to hit the boards for offensive rebounds. NC State was particularly effective on the offensive glass against the smaller Yellow Jackets, outrebounding them 18-8. While Duke isn’t as strong an offensive rebounding team as the Wolfpack they may still be able to exploit the Tech size problems.

Duke doesn’t have much depth on the wings – hey, they don’t have much depth anywhere. But what depth they do have is quality stuff. Freshman Chris Duhon continues to turn in some incredible defensive performances. In the Virginia game it was the open court strip of Roger Mason. In the BC game it was the incredible way in which he ran down an outlet pass to break up a potential Eagle fast break. The play was unique because Duhon actually outran the bounce pass before diving on the floor to break up the play. Along the way he continued his fine offensive play by dishing out 8 assists to just one turnover.


Sophomore Tony Akins is in his third year of starting at point guard for the Yellow Jackets and has averaged double figures in each of his previous seasons. This year he’s averaging a well-balanced 13.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game. His assist-to-turnover ratio is a solid 1.8 and he’s second on the team with 21 steals. Akins is a quick point guard who can shoot the ball effectively from the outside. Although he has a good vertical leap he has trouble finishing around the basket owing in part to his 5-11 size.

Akins is backed up by senior TJ Vines who at 5-10 doesn’t do much to add size to the lineup but does give Tech an aggressive defender on the press. Vines is a decent ballhandler but poor shooter.

Both Vines and Akins will have their hands full when they face off against the Blue Devils and Jason Williams. The fortunate news for the Tech point guards is that with their zone defense Williams is more likely to spread the abuse out among several defenders rather than repeatedly embarrassing a single one. Williams’ last game against BC was one for the time capsule. He finished with a career high 34 points along with 9 assists and 5 rebounds but the stat line doesn’t even begin to tell half the story.

On defense he was magnificent against the Eagle’s high-scoring guard Troy Bell. Bell finished the game with 16 points but needed 16 attempts from the field to get there and ended up just 2-7 from the three point line. He was also limited to 3 assists and forced into three turnovers. But beyond that was the way in which Williams took over the game in the second half. He repeatedly scored down the stretch on a variety of drives to the hoop and three point shots. On one play he completely crossed up Bell by a fake crossover dribble at full speed that resulted in a dramatic reverse layup finish.


The Yellow Jackets new look includes a number of full court presses, most of which are designed more to control the tempo of the game and shorten the amount of time their opponent has to run their offense. Tech is in the middle league in turnovers forced per game. In their game against NC State the Yellow Jackets forced a reasonable, but not exceptional, 17 turnovers but were also able to get the Wolfpack offense to commit 3 shot clock violations.

Achieving similar results against the Blue Devils may be tougher as Williams, Duhon, and Dunleavy give Duke exceptional ballhandlers who are difficult to press. The Tech press is unlikely to produce many turnovers and it is even less likely to make the Devils go deep into the shot clock. Whereas State favors a more deliberate offensive style, the Blue Devils thrive on the type of transition basketball that can result from a press. Against that pressing defense Duke may prefer to attack the basket and draw fouls against Jones.

When the Yellow Jackets fall back into their zone they’ll play a point zone, a form of a 1-3-1. The zone is Hewitt’s best choice for a number of reasons. It keeps Jones close to the basket where he is the most effective on defense. It can make it easier for the defensive team to get out and run as they already have defenders out on the wing. It is effective against larger teams as it keeps four defenders near the paint. And it capitalizes on the strengths of Tech’s smaller, quicker defenders by placing them in the passing lanes where they can disrupt the other team’s offense.

But what it also does is leave the Yellow Jackets vulnerable to a team with good ball movement and solid outside shooting. In other words- a team like Duke. The 1-3-1 is very similar to the matchup zone that Temple plays. If Tech aligns their defense like Temple did in the first contest, with the perimeter defenders stepping out to stop Duke’s three point shooting, then Williams and Boozer could have a big afternoon. A sound defensive effort by Jones could offset that but he could also encounter foul difficulties. The other option is for Tech to keep their defense close to the lane and run the risk of Duke having a hot night from the beyond the three point line. James in particular could have a big afternoon as the 1-3-1 zone can leave the deep corner shot open.

Tech can use other zones, all of which offer some sort of susceptibility to penetration and outside shooting. They also play some man-to-man defense but against Duke they’ll have some significant matchup problems, specifically with Battier. Duke can also look attack the offensive glass where Tech, with their small lineup and zone defense, could be weak. Alvin Jones is a great rebounder at 9 boards a game but after that and Marvin Lewis’ 5.4 boards per game there aren’t that many strong rebounders on the Tech team.

On defense Duke must look to find a way to stop a Tech attack that features 5 guys hitting over 40% from the three point line. At the same time they have to contend with Jones inside who has greatly improved his offense. The way Duke will do that is, as always, to pressure the ball and over-play the passing lanes. Tech is averaging around 16 turnovers a game but most opponents exceed their average when they face Duke. The Yellow Jackets have some reliable ballhandlers in Fein, Akins, and Vines but they also have some guys like Lewis, Lane, and especially Jones who will commit turnovers.

A big key for Duke will be how well Boozer is able to defend Jones who will have a size advantage in the low post. Boozer will look to use his strength to push Jones out to the edge of his range. Boozer can expect some defensive help from Battier as Babul lacks enough offensive punch to keep him honest. After that it’s a matter of keeping Fein and Lewis in check, a task that will fall to Dunleavy, James, and Duhon.

If things get tough for the Yellow Jackets they can always bring Neal and Harpring off the bench. Unfortunately that’s Winston and Patrick, not Craig and Matt. They would like to have the latter available because while the Yellow Jackets could pull off another upset it’s not a great probability given the personnel they have at the moment. But give Hewitt a couple of years to play the game with his own players and that could change.