Breaking Out Of A Funk

Jan. 15, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

There are some times when who you play matters more than others, and tonight’s game against North Carolina is one of those examples for Georgia Tech.

The Yellow Jackets are in a funk of multiple sorts.

Their defense is at times decent, but then goes AWOL for huge stretches. Their offense is decent when the ball moves, and shot selection is, well, select. But when it moves too much, Tech outthinks itself.

When in a funk there are two primary recipes for rebound (with variations in between, of course); you either beat up on an underling, or play above yourselves against a greater opponent.

North Carolina (12-4, 2-0 ACC) is not the powerhouse of most years, at least not yet, but the Tar Heels are playing fairly well and their reputation precedes them. The crowd in Alexander Memorial Coliseum will likely indicate that, and the Jackets would do well to tap into the energy in AMC and play as if they have something to prove with a national television audience watching.

They should not, and apparently are not, endeavor however to prove anything to the ACC, or whomever opts to watch the game. They should play for themselves, for their sense of pride.

There’s no way Tech’s performance in the second half of Wednesday’s loss at Clemson is reflective of the talent on the Jackets’ roster.

The Jackets (7-8, 0-2) need to prove they’re not what they’ve appeared to be, “More to ourselves,” coach Paul Hewitt said. “We’ve just go to go out and play a full 40 minutes. We’ve shown some good stretches of basketball, but not enough.”

That’s understatement.

Hewitt’s strategy this season has been to do anything but throw his team under a bus. Given the way the season has unfolded to date, he has at times been uncommonly gentle in assessing his team’s glitches.

Senior Maurice Miller has been around long enough to see a lot of things. He, too, seems to be doing everything he can to avoid over-analysis, at least in media interviews. In his public view, the Jackets simply need to do more of the right things and fewer wrong things.

That’s about as simple a summation as there could be, right?

“If we can eliminate those bogus plays or being over anxious . . . ” he started the other day. “We have to figure out a way to win.”

Miller refused to suggest that the presence of North Carolina will mean any more than if the Jackets were playing a team from the Atlantic Sun.

I’m not buying that. I doubt that Miller and his teammates are privately looking at this game that way, either. If this isn’t a big game for them, then I’m in Kalamazoo.

Yet there is precaution being taken to avoid calling each other out, and it rolls from coach Hewitt through the ranks.

OK, fine. The Jackets, then, should to a man hold themselves accountable. Play for yourselves, fellas, so long as you play with the idea of elevating not only your play, but your team’s chances. Play to avoid whatever word you would ascribe to the second half at Clemson.

Miller said it didn’t matter who the Jackets were playing tonight, nor that it will be on TV. He kept is simple, avoided the hot buttons.

At times, many times, really, focus has been absent. It’s a tricky deal trying to decide with a lack of intensity or focus is more to explain something going haywire. They’re largely interchangeable intangibles.

Tech’s 3-point defense, for example, has been bad all season. Statistically, they rank near the bottom nationally in that. There’s interchangeable blame there.

That is not a simple thing. The problem may have been borne of a simple concept – like perimeter players early in the season diving too hard into the paint to both help young post players defend, and to help rebound – and a insufficient adjustment back to a more honest, straight-up approach after that.

“We’ve got to do a better job contesting shots at the 3-point line,” Hewitt said. “We’re plenty intense, but we’ve got to be maybe a little more intelligent.”

No arguing the need for more intelligence here. The intensity? Perhaps there needs to be more of that, or maybe it needs to be more routinely applied.

Hard to figure.

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