What to Do About the Threes

Dec. 10, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– Today’s mission is to spin a lemon pie out of lemons, and I say that (write it, actually) partly because I’m tired of the phrase about turning lemons into lemonade. Plus, I’m of a non-standard opinion here.

The basketball team.

Let’s talk.

Folks, it’s not as bad as you think, and if this team — like its fans — can learn to stop overcompensating for its inferiority complex, then more good times than bad can be had.

There is a tendency to go into or talk about all situations regarding the Georgia Tech men’s basketball team with an agenda, consciously or otherwise.

Here, we are not going into all of that. And I’m not opining on the long-term.

But I’m telling you this team is . . . that . . . close to being good although today’s home game against Savannah State (1-9) might not exactly be a litmus test.

The Yellow Jackets are 4-4, but played well in two losses – a four-point fall against No. 9/10 Syracuse, and in Tuesday’s one-point loss against Georgia.

I hate to say this, but UGA’s better than decent and tracking upward (which is not good).

Losing to the Bulldogs stinks in the worst way, and to lose on a 3-pointer made with about 18 seconds left made it worse. Yeah, there were some end-game issues, and yada-ya . . .

Yet consider:

Turnovers are down considerably. Tech’s coughing it up nearly three fewer times per game than last season. Free throw shooting is comparable with the top efforts of recent years. The Jackets have a trio of freshmen big men who are promising, two of them more promising than anticipated as Daniel Miller and Nate Hicks are ahead of projections in their own ways. They’re rebounding quite well.

But the Jackets are doing a better job of defending against the outer world’s preseason perceptions of themselves as under-sized than they are the teams they’re trying to beat. Read on; you’ll see.

When Tech re-takes the floor today for a 4 p.m. game in Alexander Memorial Coliseum, snapping a three-game losing streak will be priority one. The Jackets can take a step in that direction – not so much today as in generally — by better remembering to defend shooters.

Tech has surrendered 12 3-pointers in each of the past two games. Opponents have made 10 or more 3-pointers in three of eight games, and the Jackets lost them all (Kennesaw State made 10 of 23, Northwestern 12 of 19 and Georgia 12 of 22).

“Tuesday night was a case of us playing zone, basically daring them to shoot it [because Georgia had struggled with the long ball most of the early season],” Hewitt said. “Northwestern is just a good 3-point shooting team. Kennesaw, we just didn’t defend.”

There is irony in this.

The Jackets this season are, as anyone who knows anything about the team knows, under-sized and what size they have is young (the only three players taller than 6-feet-6 are freshmen).

Yet Tech has out-rebounded six of their past seven opponents, including a 43-30 edge in Tuesday’s 73-72 loss to Georgia. Only Northwestern has grabbed more caroms than Tech in that span, and they had a modest plus-four edge.

So the good news is everybody is crashing the boards.

But that’s part of the bad news, too.

Too often the Jackets sink inside both to rebound and to help young center-forwards Miller, Hicks and Kammeon Holsey defensively as they continue learning how to battle through screens and the like. When this happens, the perimeter is too often left poorly tended.

“The guys on the perimeter know they’ve got to come back and rebound the ball,” Hewitt said. Well, yeah, but they also have to be mindful of what their teammates and opponents are doing.

The Jackets don’t need everybody to crash the boards.

Partly for sake of their quest to make up for a lack of size and experience inside, they’re going at the glass like banshees and that explains partially why entering the week Tech was ranked No. 214 in the nation in 3-point field goal defense, giving up 35.4 percent.

And that was before Georgia made 12 of 22 (54.5 percent). NCAA statistics are calculated every Monday, or I’d give you an updated ranking.

Tech gave up that bomb against the Dogs because, “We left a shooter when we shouldn’t have,” Hewitt said. An assistant told all five players during the last timeout not to let that shooter wander off, but . . . shoot happens.

Hewitt’s not happy with the way the season has unfolded to date, but he’s not pessimistic like so many fans are; he believes the Jackets can do damage if they can re-calibrate.

After throwing out the Kennesaw State game as one of the worst any Tech team has played in a long time, and including Northwestern as another very bad one, the Jackets are a whisker from being 6-2 and having a better idea of who they are this season.

As it is, they’re still searching for themselves . . . and those shooters.

“The Georgia game, I’ll put that on the scouting report because we wanted to see if they could make some shots,” Hewitt said. “The last 3, though, was inexcusable.”

I say lemon pie instead of lemonade because I’ve aged out of all-sour anything. The pie has some sweet so I’m going that direction. Comments: stingdaily@gmail.com.

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