Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Meet the Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech has had a rough go of things so far this season. Some ugly non-conference losses (at home to Penn St. and Illinois-Chicago, at USC by about 20) and an 0-2 record to start ACC play (good enough to tie the Heels for last place in conference - ah, that's fun to write while it lasts) suggest that this team may be lucky to get post-season play past the ACC tourney. Like the Seminoles, Georgia Tech has really struggled on offense so far this year. They've failed to hit a point per possession in over half their games and have posted offensive ratings below 90 in four games, including the last two. After FSU's performance against NC State tonight, the Jackets are now statistically the worst offense in the ACC.

Georgia Tech's woes largely come from shooting and turnovers. On the shooting side, this is a team that simply can't score outside of the paint. They shoot a respectable .498 on 2s, but just .289 from 3s and .589 from the line, both last in the ACC. As a result, they score a higher percentage of their points from 2 than any other team in the league, which is not the most efficient way to go about offense. The Jackets have also struggled holding onto the ball, epitomized by the performance against Maryland on Saturday, when they had 18 turnovers in the first half alone.

On defense, the Jackets are better. Only four teams have scored over a point per possession, and only two (Penn St. and Alabama) have really shredded them. The Jackets play good field goal defense, are decent at forcing turnovers, and are excellent at keeping their opponents off the glass.

Tech is led by super-soph Gani Lawal. He uses over 25% of the possessions, and is the Jackets' leading scorer and rebounder. He scores over 30% of Tech's points and gathers an impressive 22% of available defensive rebounds while he's on the court. Lawal has dramatically improved his turnover rate, but his poor free throw shooting (just 54.5%) keeps him from being a highly efficient offensive player. Joining him on the front line is senior Alade Aminu (older brother of Wake's Al-Farouq Aminu). Aminu's had a breakout senior season, becoming the Jackets' second-leading scorer to go along with strong rebounding and shot-blocking. He shoulders the second largest share of scoring and is the most efficient offensive performer of Tech's starters. Like Lawal, his Achilles heel is the free throw line, although he's also more susceptible to turnovers than his front-court mate. Starting at the wing is Zach Peacock. Peacock came to school as a jump shooting center and has gradually improved his handling and quickness to enable him to play on the perimeter. He's run hot and cold all season, with a tendency to disappear (4 games of 5 points or less). On balance, he's a thoroughly average player, capable of big offensive performances, but equally capable of being a non-factor.

Tech's frontcourt has been the team's strength. The backcourt, well, that's another story. Tech is cursed with two players who are offensive black holes on the perimeter. One is freshman point guard Iman Shumpert, who's been handed the reins since day one and largely struggled. He turns the ball over on almost 30% of his possessions, and is a very poor shooter (45.1% on 2s, 30.6% on 3s, and 63.5% on FTs). His offensive rating is 91.16, which is bad in general, and especially bad when you consider his high usage. No one who uses as great a share of his team's possessions (23.36%) is as inefficient on offense. Actually, he's rivalled in his combination of inefficiency and high usage only by Lewis Clinch. Clinch is an abject lesson in not relying only on counting stats - his 14 ppg average loks alright on its face, but he's had to take 110 shots to get his 113 points. 5 of his 8 games have featured offensive ratings under 85. On the season, he's got a 92.02 rating while using 23.26% of Tech's possessions. Simply put, these guys actively hurt their team on the offensive end.

The bench for Tech is thin, and made moreso by the loss of senior D'Andre Bell for the season. Maurice Miller is now the 6th man, losing his spot in the starting lineup to injury and the return of Lewis Clinch. He's been a terrible shooter thus far - barely 40% on 2s and a woeful 0-21 from 3, for a .255 efg% that's by far the worst in the league. Lance Storrs, Nick Foreman, and Brad Sheehan are all extremely low usage guys. Storrs essentially does little but turn the ball over - 23 in just 78 possessions used. Foreman, like Miller, is a poor shooter - just .294 from 2, but his extreme turnover avoidance makes him relatively efficient, if super-low usage - he's the least involved offensive player in the ACC, even less so than Dave McClure. Finally, Sheehan is a big body - he's a 7 footer - who doesn't do big man things. He's not a good rebounder, he doesn't block shots, and he's not a good interior scorer.

All told, this very well might be the least talented team Paul Hewitt has ever put on the court. Nonetheless, their defensive effort has kept them in games this year, and they'll try to win with defense again tomorrow night. Even if their defense plays well tomorrow, it's hard to imagine this Tech team having a breakthrough offensive performance against this Duke defense.

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