Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Georgia Tech Preview

Duke, meet the Jackets. Jackets, meet Duke. It's February 27th and you're playing each other for the first time. But hey, enjoy that ACC football championship game check.

All snarkiness about expansion and the unbalanced schedule aside, this is the first and only meeting of the season for Duke and Georgia Tech. The Jackets set themselves up with a non-conference schedule that assumed the presence of Javaris Crittenton and (possibly) Thaddeus Young. Both became first-round draft picks. The schedule also assumed the presence of Ra'Sean Dickey, who promptly became injured and out for the season. In case you're scoring at home, that's 3 starters Georgia Tech expected back who suddenly were no longer there. A lineup of Crittenton, Morrow, Young, Smith, and Dickey would have been formidable. A lineup of Miller, Clinch, Morrow, Lawal, and Smith is, well, 11-14.

Things haven't been all negative for Coach Hewitt's squad. For a six game stretch, they played as well as anyone in the ACC, winning 4 and losing the others by just 1 (against UNC) and 2 (against Maryland). Since then, the wheels have fallen off (or, if you were looking to make a bad pun about last Thursday's non-game, the roof has started to cave in). The offense stalled out in losses to Clemson, UCon, and Miami, and the defense rolled over against Virginia Tech - it is a really, really poor performance to give up 92 points to the Hokie offense.

So the Jackets hit the road to take on Duke as losers of four straight. Although their ACC road record of 3-3 beats their home record of 1-4, they're not really a better road team - the Jackets have outscored their opponents at home despite the record, and have been outscored on the road. Tech will likely go at least nine deep - in addition to the 5 mentioned above, Zach Peacock, DeAndre Bell, Alade Aminu, and Matt Causey are all likely to see significant playing time, and Lance Storrs may get in on the action as well. The Jackets are a thoroughly average offensive team and a poor defensive team, in the bottom third in the country in three defensive categories (efg%, orb%, and FT rate). The Jackets have been very generous both in letting teams put the ball in the basket and in giving them second chances when they miss. This should be another game where Duke's offense can shine. When Georgia Tech has the ball, its point guards (Miller and Causey) are very turnover prone, especially on the road. It's a bit of a sloppy offense. To beat Duke in Cameron, Causey needs to hang on to the ball and create opportunities for himself and others, Morrow needs to have a hot shooting game from outside, and Lawal needs to play dominantly in the post (this has been trouble for him, for while he's shown flashes of brilliance in his freshman season, he picks up fouls like Lance Thomas).

Around the ACC

Virginia Tech inches one step closer to a berth. It's far from a sure thing, even if they finish 10-6. And I firmly believe they would be the worst at large team in the NCAA tournament - AD Vassallo and Jeff Allen are really the only guys on the team who know how to play offense. But the defense is shut-down good, and when you play D like they do (excepting the UNC game) you'll always have a chance to win.

In other action tonight, Miami and Clemson meet up in a game that Clemson really needs. Miami's remaining schedule is easy enough that they can still finish 9-7 even with a loss tonight. But Clemson has two potentially tough road games (at Maryland, at Georgia Tech) before finishing at home to the Hokies. Lose tonight, and the Tigers are staring 8-8 (or even 7-9) in the face. Although this Tiger team is highly regarded, it simply couldn't feel comfortable at 8-8, even with a "20" in the win column. And "20" is the other point at stake tonight - the winner becomes the third ACC team with 20 wins this season.

Also, FSU and NC State play. It's pretty much a meaningless game.

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