UNC | N.C. State | Wake Forest | Clemson | Maryland | Virginia
At times, it must be tough being Paul Hewitt. His most memorable comment as Georgia Tech's coach was when he said "we're nobody's damn caddy," referring to the dominance Duke and UNC have enjoyed in the league. But while he's been able to approach the top, even playing in the national title game, Hewitt hasn't been able to sustain success at Georgia Tech, at least not at the levels hinted at. This season may involve some more struggles.
Last season, Tech took some time to incorporate some star freshmen, but eventually, they became a pretty good, though not great, team, finishing 20-12. But it wasn't easy.
Tech turned it around after a four-game losing streak which left them at 13-8 and reeling. But they found their identity and made the NCAA Tournament, although, like Duke, they were one-and-done.
After the tournament, though, Tech had what is by now a normal off-season in Atlanta, losing their most promising freshmen, Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton, to the NBA.
In fact, this has been happening at Tech since Bobby Cremins was the coach, with the losses of Stephon Marbury and Dion Glover coming as pretty much the final nails in his coffin.
Unlike Cremins, Hewitt tends to shoot for a deep roster, but things in some respects aren't that different. After losing Jarrett Jack a couple of years ago, Hewitt's teams struggled with mediocre point play. Crittenton fixed that, at least by the middle of the season, but he's gone now, too, off to the Lakers to, well, caddy for Kobe.
Thaddeus Young is off to the Sixers and the tender love of Philly fans. Should be an interesting experience.
But being Tech, that's not the end of the personnel problems. They lost Mario West, who became a great team leader, to graduation. Paco Diaw packed up his bags and headed West, or at least that's what it appeared he was intent on doing (there was some confusion in the press but he's not on the current Tech roster). And while last season, Tech lost Lewis Clinch for violations of the honor code, which one can reasonably assume involved plagiarism of some sort, this year, they lose senior - senior! - Ra'Sean Dickey for the first semester to academic woes of his own.
On the bright side, Tech does now get Clinch back, and they have seniors Jeremis Smith and Anthony Morrow to provide leadership, even if Dickey has failed that test.
They also have Hewitt's normal complement of athletic players beyond those four (Dickey can return in time for the ACC season).
At 6-8, Zach Peacock briefly supplanted Dickey last season, and while he proved a bit of a hothead - this has become something of a Hewitt tradition, if not an actual role on the team - he is talented and will cause problems for a lot of team. At the very least he's a solid defender.
Alade Aminu, whose little brother notably committed to Wake Forest earlier this year, is another talented, athletic big man. At 6-10 and 225, his biggest drawback is a relative lack of experience, as he's only played team basketball for five years. He's as good a candidate as anyone in the conference to have a major breakthrough season.
Tech also has Senegalese import Mouhammad Faye, another (stop us if this sounds familiar) highly athletic big man who can cause immense defensive hassles. At 6-10, he's big enough (although still light at 208) to defend inside, but he's also athletic enough to put just about anywhere in Tech's defense. It would be fun, in fact, to spend a few games just running him right at opposing point guards as often as possible.
Finally, Tech also brings in rookie Gani Lawal, a 6-8 freshman who is, yes, highly athletic and versatile. Think Coach Hewitt has a type he likes? Lawal is probably more skilled than most of his other frontcourt mates, but will have to prove it at this level.
Tech's latest entry in the Parade of Points is Maurice Miller, a 6-1 player out of Memphis. He doesn't really have to shoot to help his team; all he absolutely has to do is to hang on to the ball and get it where it needs to go. And put pressure on the ball on defense. Tech has a really big need at point, and he's a likely candidate to fill the position.
Clinch returns, as mentioned, and he is an excellent outside shooter and a guy who can probably develop into a clutch player for Tech. Hopefully he has learned from his mistakes and won't get into trouble again.
Tech also returns DeAndre Bell, a solid if unspectacular 6-5 guard who hasn't really distinguished himself at this point.
Matt Causey will provide some minutes as a backup point. He transferred from Northern Georgia, where he teamed with his brother, former Duke walk-on Mark Causey.
When you look at the talent on this team, despite some issues at point guard and obviously center, at least for the first semester, you have to think good things should happen. But the problem, as it always seems to be for Paul Hewitt, is a) there are always guys who leave inconveniently, and b) so often with his teams, the pieces don't seem to quite mesh.
Almost all of these guys are ACC-level players, and given the talent, Tech should play tough defense. But we've been here before - Tech has had talented teams which never quite put things together.
We expect them to be solid and tough, we expect Smith and Morrow to provide passionate leadership, and that Morrow and Clinch will open up the inside, and if Miller is a competent floor general, then so much the better. But: who will take advantage?
Dickey is in the doghouse, and no one else, other than Peacock, has done much for Tech down low. It's nice to have the athletes, it's nice to have the parts, but it's also nice to have someone to coalesce around. In fact, it's pretty much a necessity.
Last year, Crittenton was becoming that guy. This year? Ideally, it'd be Smith or Morrow, possibly Clinch, but who knows? One of the great appeals of Paul Hewitt's system is that it is radically different from Bobby Cremins', which rarely saw more than seven players getting minutes. But the flipside of that difference is that Cremins always seemed to get guys who really knew how to play. From Mark Price to Craig Neal to Kenny Anderson to Dennis Scott to whoever the heck else you want to call out, they knew how to get it done. Part of that was coaching, but part of it was being smart enough to know your guy when you see him, and Cremins had a knack for that like few people.
Hewitt has a great eye for athleticism, but what we haven't often seen is a great eye for identifying leaders and risk-takers. He has three guys on the current team who have shown somewhat questionable judgment (Clinch, Dickey and Peacock), and, well, you might not be able to call it a trend, but you can't ignore it, either. Hewitt's been at Tech long enough to leave his mark. At this point, is it fair to question his ability to judge temperament? Possibly so. Still, Tech has talent, and talent should win out in the end.