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ACC Preview # 7 - Georgia Tech

Wake
Forest
|
NC State |
Carolina|

Maryland
| Virginia
| Clemson
Let's get rid of formalities first: after the sentimental farewell to Bobby
Cremins, Paul Hewitt took very little time to make an impression. Basically, he
was superb.  He didn't have time to recruit much, and took a team
Cremins couldn't do much with and made the tournament. Who expected that? 

We didn't. We had a suspicion that they might be better than anyone thought,
though not as good as they turned out to be. Here's what we said last year:

"So there's at least some talent on the team. Not as much as other ACC
schools, but some. Hewitt promises to put out a superbly conditioned team. We've
already gotten an inkling of the difference that is making for UNC, and if Tech
is in better shape and playing more players, then who knows? They could exceed
expectations."

But a tourney team? We thought Hewitt was a rising star, but not that fast.

  Hewitt is rapidly putting his own stamp on Tech, but it will be a
young team this season.  Fortunately for Tech, Tony Akins is a senior, and
it's always good to have a senior point guard to calm the young kids down. 
The other seniors are mostly Bobby Cremins practice players - Winston Neal,
Patrick Harpring, and perhaps the most disliked player in the ACC since Makhtar
Ndiaye, Michael Isenhour, widely regarded as a dirty player.

So basically one meaningful senior. No juniors, four sophs, and five
freshmen. So you can see how important Akins is - he has to teach those guys and
keep them in line.  Not an easy task.

The guy last year who shocked us  -- and a number of people, Tubby Smith
included -- was Halston Lane.  He's a tough kid and an excellent shooter.
He'll get his minutes.  Clarence Moore is a kid with potential. We didn't
see enough of him last season to know a ton about his game, but he's a
legitimate ACC player.  Marvin Lewis held his own, and Robert Brooks was
recruited as a kid who would (hopefully) develop.  He wasn't ready last
year.

Hewitt came with a rep as a recruiter, and he started to live up to it
immediately, bringing in Barry Elder, Ismai'l Muhammad, Ed Nelson, Anthony
McHenry, and Luke Schenscher. 

The last name is pretty important, and also a wild card.  A 7 foot
Aussie, Schenscher towers above his teammates, and Tech will have to hope he is
ready.  After Michael Southall flamed out and ruined his college career a
second time (after being arrested again), Tech had to scramble and got pretty
lucky. After him,  Nelson and  Isenhour at 6-8 and Brooks at 6-7 are
the next biggest guys. This is a very small team after Schenscher, although
Nelson created a bit of a frenzy in recruiting circles for being a really
powerful forward. Others thought that he was fundamentally limited, and his
weaknesses would be exposed in college.

On the other hand, though, given the style Hewitt prefers, it might not be so
bad to be small. These guys are going to run and press, and stay out of the
half-court game as much as possible, and for teams like Maryland, which suddenly
has a somewhat lumbering frontcourt, or UNC, which also does, or even Duke in
certain situations - they have the potential to run by those big guys like they
were standing still.

On the other hand, they have to rebound and defend, though we could see
Nelson coming through in that role.

In some respects, the inside play might be the key to Tech's season. They are
young, as noted, but increasingly talented, and certainly well-coached.  In
a radical contrast to the Cremins era, when a six-man rotation was normal,
Hewitt will have to play Akins a lot, but otherwise, he can shuffle in 
Elder (6-4), Muhammad (6-6), Lane, (6-4) Moore (6-5), Lewis (6-3), and McHenry
(6-6).  That's  a lot of depth and a lot of versatility - and some of
these guys are pretty beefy as well.

Still, it is a very young team, and possibly undersized. If they get decent
work out of Schenscher and Nelson, that could be neutralized. Then the question
is how quickly the kids adapt to a higher level of basketball.  A lot of
Tech's players aren't proven yet, but in the ACC, really only UVa has a similar
roster of mid-sized athletes, and you can see what Pete Gillen has done with
them.

Youth and size argue against Tech, but Hewitt is, we believe, emerging as a
truly great coach. When we analyze teams, talent has to come first, because even
Dean Smith and Coach K lost when they had no talent.  But after that,
coaching is the next great variable. We would suggest keeping a very close eye
on this team, because while it could flounder while learning some painful
lessons, it could just as easily blow by a lot of people.  And you may be
witnessing the emergence of the next great ACC coach.