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Carlos Previews Tech!

H-S | W-S
| N-R | Atlanta
| Atlanta
The engravers may not have finished putting Paul Hewitt’s name on the ACC
Coach of the Year award, but they are likely at least into the "w" at
this point. Sure, there are still several contenders for the award, but none of
them has the inside track like Hewitt. Mike Krzyzewski could win it – but the
Blue Devils would have to almost go undefeated in the league. Roy Williams could
win it – but the vote would have to be limited to Chapel Hill zip codes. And
Skip Prosser could win it – but the voters would have to forget those four
straight losses that were as helpful to his prospects as a post-caucus yelp in

The Georgia Tech coach has earned the frontrunner position by taking a group
that underachieved their way to the middle of the league last year and pushing
them into the Top 20 this season. That feat is all the more remarkable in light
of the lack of depth in the frontcourt. Georgia Tech’s problems in the
frontcourt started when Chris Bosh went to the NBA and Ed Nelson went
temporarily insane. Bosh’s decision was a pretty clear one as his combination
of size and ability to handle the basketball on the perimeter make him an ideal
NBA player.

Nelson’s decision was more curious. The 2002 ACC Rookie of the Year left
the team over a lack of playing time in his sophomore season. Had he stayed, he
would have been the team’s most experienced returning big man and likely
played as many minutes as he could stay on the floor. Instead, he’s gone and
Hewitt was left with a roster that was heavy on guards and forwards and short on
interior players. Few coaches are better prepared for the task of winning with
that type of team than Hewitt. That’s pretty much the template he used for
success during his time at Siena where he fielded up-tempo, pressing teams that
would force an open court game.

Still, no one would have predicted the success that Hewitt and Georgia Tech
have enjoyed this season. Most observers had them picked somewhere between fifth
and seventh in the league and another trip to the NIT seemed like a lofty goal
at the start of the season. All of that was before the Yellow Jackets ran off 12
straight wins to start the season and climbed all the way to the third spot in
the polls. Included in those wins was a 16-point win over then #1 Connecticut
where the deeper and quicker Tech team ran their way to victory and left the
floor littered with more exhausted Huskies than the Iditarod.

The Yellow Jackets have stumbled a bit since that fast start, going just 4-3
over their last seven games and causing people to take a closer look at the
team. The early success for Georgia Tech came mostly against teams without a
strong interior threat that could take advantage of the Yellow Jackets’
biggest weakness. That’s even the case against Connecticut where center Emeka
Okafor was hampered by back spasms. Hewitt also feels that the team’s recent
troubles could be because teams have had a better opportunity to prepare for the
Yellow Jackets’ style of play. Call it the Dontrelle Willis syndrome after the
Florida Marlin’s rookie who went 8-1 before the All-Star break and just 6-5

Saturday’s game against Duke is a huge contest for both teams, but for Tech
it will go a long way towards validating that strong start. The Yellow Jackets
appeared to have returned to form 3 games ago when they went into Winston-Salem
and beat Wake Forest, but a subsequent loss at NC State and a sluggish win over
Clemson at home make the Duke game even more important.


Running the show for Hewitt is his 6-3 sophomore point guard Jarrett Jack.
After a freshman season marked with the inconsistencies that come with being a
freshman, Jack has emerged as one of the best point guards in a league filled
with talent at the position, including his cousin, a kid named Duhon. When he
arrived in Atlanta Jack carried the reputation as a scorer who would
occasionally attempt to do too much by himself. Now, after a season of maturing,
nobody’s talking about trying to do too much by himself.

Jack’s best asset is his strength which allows him to take a hit while
driving the lane and still finish. He’s a reasonable shooter from the outside
and is an outstanding rebounder from the point guard position. Defensively he
has long arms and pressures the ball all over the court.

BJ Elder, a 6-4 junior, starts at the shooting guard spot for the Yellow
Jackets. A third-team All-ACC selection last year, Elder can score from almost
anywhere on the floor. He’s a dangerous outside shooter, but he’ll also post
up a smaller defender or attack the basket if he gets a lane. He had been in a
slump over the last few games before following Hewitt’s advice and getting
more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor. He exploded for 36 points
against Clemson in Tech’s last game, going 6-10 from three-point range.

Tech is likely to start three guards with 6-4 senior Marvin Lewis at the
small forward position. Lewis is the best shooter on the team, which given the
number of guys on the Tech squad that can hit the jumper is a significant
statement. He’s most comfortable coming off a series of screens to get an open
look but will also take the ball to the hoop.

In yet another example of the rich getting richer, the Yellow Jackets added
an additional backcourt star when Will Bynum became eligible in the second
semester this year. The 6-0 junior transferred to Georgia Tech after a season
and a half with Arizona. Bynum was once shared the focus of a local TV show
chronicling high school hoops in his native Chicago with Duke’s Sean Dockery.

After several weeks getting accustomed to his new teammates Bynum had a
breakout game with 25 points against Maryland and then followed that up with a
20-point game and a 17-point game. He’s primarily an outside shooter first,
but if his shot is not falling he will use his tremendous quickness to attack
the basket.


Tech’s frontcourt misfortunes extend beyond the departures of Bosh and
Nelson. They also lost sophomore Theo Tarver for the early part of the season
due to a knee injury and just recently lost Clarence Moore, a senior who missed
the last game because of a turf toe injury. At 6-5, Moore isn’t the largest
inside player in the league. But he plays an aggressive, physical game inside
– something in short supply with the rest of the Jackets’ frontcourt
players. He’s listed as doubtful for the Duke game.

Even with all the great athletes in the Tech backcourt the player most often
associated with the team’s high-flying, exciting style is "call me"
Isma’il Muhammad. The 6-6 junior may be able to shoot the ball or pass, but no
one really remembers. What you really remember is Muhammad flying in for the
two-handed power dunk over a hapless defender. Or Muhammad catching the ball and
doing a reverse dunk off an alley-opp. Or Muhammad jumping over 4 guys and
slamming home a putback dunk. You get the idea – he can jump and he can dunk.

With Muhammad, Lewis, Elder, and Jack, the Yellow Jackets have 4/5ths of the
most athletic backcourt in the league. And then there’s the center spot.
Without Bosh, and without even Nelson, the Yellow Jackets use the force, Luke…..
Schenscher. If Peter Jackson were casting Lord of the Rings using only ACC
players, Schenscher would be a lock for the role of Treebeard, the Ent. He has
all the credentials:

  • Tall
  • Scraggly Hair
  • Complete Lack of Lateral Quicknesss

That lack of lateral quickness limits his effectiveness on defense. Smaller
centers – and just about every center he faces is smaller – are able to
exploit him in that area to move away from his size. More than one center has
had his best game of the season against the 7-1 junior from Australia. On
offense he’s not particularly aggressive with the ball, but 7-1 is 7-1 and he’s
going to get some rebounds and points just by virtue of his size.

Off the bench Hewitt as a number of available frontcourt players, none of
whom are bringing much to the team offensively. The aforementioned Tarver is a
6-9 sophomore who played well for Tech in their NIT run last season. If he was
healthy he would be the team’s best shot-blocker and would also allow
Schenscher to be more aggressive as the additional depth would alleviate any
concerns about foul trouble. However, Tarver is still showing the signs of his
knee injury and has struggled rebounding and scoring from in close.

Hewitt’s other options are Anthony McHenry, a 6-7 junior who is primarily a
defensive specialist and Robert Brooks. McHenry can defend several positions on
the floor, but with the depletion of the team’s frontcourt he’s been seeing
most of his time at the power forward spot. Brooks is a 6-8 senior who has
played little in the month of January.


After riding the hot hand of JJ Redick and strong overall perimeter play for
the past several games, the Blue Devils find themselves in a different type of
contest. Duke may be able to run up and down the court with Tech and win in
Atlanta. But against a deeper and more athletic opponent and coming off a late
game just 2 days earlier, Krzyzewski may not wish to get into an up tempo
contest. That’s especially true as the Blue Devils should have a decided
advantage on the interior of this game.

The biggest key for the Blue Devils is to exploit their strength on the
offensive boards. In most of their losses this year the Yellow Jackets have been
out rebounded and in their close win over Clemson they were manhandled on the
boards. Losing Moore for the game hurts an already poor rebounding team. For
Duke, after a sub par rebounding effort against Florida State, they will have to
put forth a better effort on Saturday in order to turn this into a halfcourt
game. By pounding the ball inside for high percentage shots and hitting the
offensive glass to keep the Yellow Jackets from getting defensive rebounds, Duke
can limit Tech’s open court opportunities. If they are successful, Hewitt will
have to gamble a little more to get the faster pace game that he wants. Watch
for Tech to press Duke, particularly coming out of a time out.

Look for Duke to also go out of their way to get Deng back in the offensive
flow of the game. He has become more of a jump shooter in recent games and when
he limits is game in that manner, and when Ewing isn’t hitting from the
outside, Duke becomes a much easier team to defend. Teams can collapse in the
middle to prevent any penetration or post entry passes, and focus on stopping
only Redick on the perimeter by rushing defenders at him. If the Blue Devils can
work Deng free for some intermediate jump shots or post moves it adds an element
that complicates things for that defense.

Saturday’s game should be the steepest hurdle Duke has faced on the road
this season. It also marks the front end of a pair of games that could firmly
establish Duke as the odds-on favorite for the regular season crown. If the
Devils are able to dictate tempo and control the boards they have an excellent
opportunity to pick up a tough road win. If they can’t then the engraver can
move on to the next letter on Hewitt’s Coach of the Year award.