Dec. 17, 2004
LAS VEGAS –
Third-ranked Georgia Tech tries for its eighth straight win Saturday night when it faces No. 22 Gonzaga in Las Vegas, Nev.
The game, which is nationally televised on ESPN, is the nightcap of the Las Vegas Showdown at the Thomas and Mack Center on the campus of UNLV. The host Rebels will face Oklahoma State in the opener. Tech’s game will tip off at 9:30 p.m. local time on Saturday (12:30 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday, Dec. 19).
Radio coverage can be heard over the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, with flagship station WQXI-AM (790) and WREK-FM (91.1) carrying the game in Atlanta. Nationally, the game can be heard on XM Satellite Radio Channel 180.
It is the first-ever meeting between the two schools, and the first meeting for the Yellow Jackets against a Top-25 opponent this season. The Bulldogs are rated No. 22 by the AP, and are just out of the top 25 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.
Tech comes into the game on a roll, having won its six games by an average of 25.6 points, and its last five games by an average of 28.0. However, the Yellow Jackets have been sluggish offensively in two games since the end of fall semester exams, averaging just 68 points in victories over Air Force (64-42) on Dec. 11 and James Madison (72-47) on Wednesday.
This is Tech’s second trip to Las Vegas in four years. The Yellow Jackets’ current senior players were freshmen on a team which played in the Las Vegas Invitational in November of 2001 at Valley High School. Tech defeated Eastern Illinois, then lost to No. 3 Illinois and Saint Louis.
Tech is led by its five-man senior class – 6-4 guard B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.), Tech’s leading scorer who is currently averaging 16.6 points per game, eighth-best in the ACC; 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 9.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 5.3 points and 3.7 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 10.0 points and a team-high 8.4 rebounds per game; and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), averaging 9.4 points and 2.9 assists.
They are joined by one of the nation’s best point guards, 6-3 junior Jarrett Jack (Fort Washington, Md.), averaging 13.3 points and 5.0 assists per game while also hitting 62.7 percent of his field goal attempts and 90.5 percent of his free throws.
From those six have come Tech’s starting five in each game so far. Muhammad and Bynum alternated in the starting lineup except for the Georgia game on Dec. 5, when both started and McHenry came off the bench. Jack, Elder and Schenscher have started all seven games.
Elder, a preseason candidate for the Wooden and Naismith player of the year awards, has taken on a greater share of Tech’s scoring load and has shot the ball better percentage-wise over his junior season. Elder’s scoring average is up almost two points a game over last season, his 47.3 percent mark from the floor is six percent better than last year, and his three-point marksmanship is improved as well. Before an off-night Wednesday against James Madison, Elder had shot 69 percent (22-of-32) over the previous three games against Michigan, Georgia and Air Force.
Jack, making a case for himself as one of the nation’s top point guards, scored 16 points and dished out a season-high 11 assists without committing a turnover in 30 minutes against Michigan, then went 7-for-7 with three threes for 18 points against Georgia. Over his last four games, Schenscher has averaged 11.5 points and 10.3 rebounds while 63.3 percent of his shots from the floor.
Quality help off the bench comes from 6-9 junior Theodis Tarver (Monroe, La.), who has played very well throughout preseason practice and shown no ill effects from the dislocated knee that kept him out of 13 games last season. Tarver has averaged 3.0 rebounds and has blocked 10 shots in seven games while averaging 12 minutes.
Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., gives the Jackets a lift defensively, and has averaged 2.5 rebounds in little more than six minutes per game. He did not dress Wednesday night and played just one minute against Air Force due to a hip pointer.
Tech’s freshman class, rated No. 2 in the ACC by Bob Gibbons, is coming along slowly but will provide needed help in various roles.
Ra’Sean Dickey, a 6-9 forward-center from Clio (pronounced KLY-oh), S.C., combines with Schenscher and Tarver to give the Jackets good size and strength at the center position. In 10 minutes on the floor against Georgia, Dickey scored 12 points (3-3 FG, 6-7 FT) pulled down six rebounds and blocked two shots. He is 10-for-13 from the floor this season and has blocked four shots.
Zam Fredrick, a 6-0 guard from St. Matthews, S.C., and Anthony Morrow, a 6-5 guard from Charlotte, N.C., can supply added scoring punch from the perimeter. Morrow hit two threes each against Michigan and James Madison, while Fredrick played a season-high 16 minutes, drained 2-of-3 from behind the three-point arc and had two assists against Georgia.
The Yellow Jackets’ depth from this group took a blow, however, when Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, suffered a dislocation of his right kneecap late in the Arkansas-Little Rock game on Nov. 26 and is out indefinitely. Smith had averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 points in two games.
QUOTING COACH HEWITT
On Gonzaga — “This is a great test for us. Ronny Turiaf is one of the best big guys in the country. Adam Morrison is the kind of wing guard we like to have. He’s 6-6 or 6-7, can put it on the floor and shoot it, with great quickness of the dribble. They have size, and they have strength. Despite playing in the West Coast Conference, which is a quote-unquote mid-major conference, this is a high major team.
On Tech’s offense, which has produced just 68 points per game in the last two games — “We’ve got to pass the basketball better. I’ve said that the whole year. When we pass the ball, we’re a very good offensive team. When we don’t pass the ball, we have some trouble scoring. Trust me, we have shooters. But when we don’t pass the ball crisply, we make guys who are good shooters have to catch a short hop or jump up to catch the ball. Now the guys aren’t open anymore. It comes down to us passing the ball well. Defensively, we’re very good and we’ll get better. Fortunately we are a good defensive team, so when our passing is killing us, our defense makes us well again.”
TECH VS. GONZAGA
> Though Tech and Gonzaga have never met, but the two teams were on a collision course in last year’s NCAA Tournament before the Bulldogs lost to Nevada, 91-72, in the second round. Nevada moved on to the St. Louis regional to face Tech instead, and the Yellow Jackets ended the Wolf Pack’s season by a score of 72-67.
> Tech is 2-2 all-time against members of the West Coast Conference. Tech’s last encounter was a 71-66 loss to Santa Clara in December of 1995.
BULLDOGS ARE FIRST RANKED FOE FOR TECH
Five teams in the current Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today coaches Top 10 this week are on Georgia Tech’s schedule, as well as eight of the Top-25. That includes Gonzaga (No. 22 AP), the first ranked team Tech has faced this season, and Kansas (No. 2 in both), whom Tech visits on Jan. 1.
Also in the Top 10 are ACC foes Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina and NC State (No. 9 in coaches poll). Maryland and Virginia are in the Top 25 of both rankings.
> Georgia Tech is 19-27 against Top 25 opponents under Paul Hewitt. That includes an 9-6 mark in 2003-04.
> At home, Tech is 6-10 against Top 25 opposition under Hewitt, and 8-10 against ranked teams in Atlanta (including games at Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome).
Georgia Tech’s shooting from the floor has steadily improved over the seven games it has played, and dramatically so between the first two games and the last five. The Yellow Jackets started slow, hitting just 40.8 percent from the floor against Alabama State and Illinois-Chicago, and 53.0 percent since.
Tech has shot 51.9 percent over its last five games after making just 40.8 percent in the first two. That stretch includes three straight games over 50 percent (54.2 vs. Michigan, 53.6 vs. Georgia, 60.0 vs. Air Force). The Jackets have shot 42 percent from three-point range over that stretch after going 9-for-42 in the first two games.
Now at 48.6 percent for the season, Tech ranks fourth in the ACC in field goal percentage.
After 546 straight games of making at least one three-point field goal, a streak covering 17 years, Georgia Tech failed to make one against Air Force, misfiring on both attempts. The Yellow Jackets did not even try one in the second half.
The fact that Tech tried only two speaks to the way the game went against the Falcons. The Jackets continually looked inside for easy shots from Luke Schenscher, who went 6-for-9. Tech’s four post players combined to go 13-for-18 from the floor, and the Jackets scored 40 of their 64 points in the paint.
The Jackets bounced back Wednesday night with an 8-for-23 performance against James Madison.
TECH STOCK TIPS
> Tech has held six of seven opponents under 60 points this season, and has held the last three under 50. Tech hasn’t limited three straight foes under 50 points since the 1959-60 season (Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn), and hasn’t held three in a row under 60 since the 1985-86 season (Texas A&M, Jacksonville, Texas).
> The last time Tech held four straight opponents under 60 points was the 1984-85 season (North Carolina, Mercer, Syracuse, Illinois). The last time Tech held four straight opponents under 50 was the 1948-49 season (Birmingham Southern, Samford, Chattanooga, Furman).
> Tech squeaked out a one-point victory at Illinois-Chicago, but has won its other six games by an average of 29.7 points.
> Tech has won 29 of its last 32 games against non-ACC teams.
> Tech has averaged 68 points in the two games since final exams, after averaging 93 in the two games before exams. The Yellow Jackets’ over shooting percentage has remained relatively constant, however, 52.8 percent since exams, 53.9 in the two games before exams. The biggest difference in the two stretches has been three-point shooting (32 percent since exams, 47.6 percent in the two games before).
> Tech’s top four scorers are all shooting 47.3 percent or better from the floor, three at 50 percent or higher. Jarrett Jack (62.7 percent), Luke Schenscher (61.7 percent) and Isma’il Muhammad (51.9 percent) all fall short of the ACC minimum to be ranked among the conference leaders. B.J. Elder (47.3 percent) is the only one with enough field goals to make the list.
> Tech has blocked 47 shots in seven games, an average of 6.7 per game that ranks third in the ACC. That has helped limit Tech’s opponents to just 32.5 percent from the floor, best in the ACC. The Jackets also top the league in three-point defense (25.6 percent) and are also first in scoring defense (50.9).
> Tech’s last five opponents have gone 2-for-17 (Arkansas-Little Rock), 4-for-15 (Michigan), 3-for-14 (Georgia), 7-for-33 (Air Force) and 7-for-21 (James Madison), respectively, from three-point range.
> Tech has rebounded well, outboarding its opponents by an average of 9.9 per game which leads the ACC. James Madison was the first opponent to outrebound the Jackets this season.
> Tech has 130 assists on 197 field goals, a rate of 66.0 percent, and ranks third in the ACC in assist average (18.57 per game).
> Tech faces seven non-conference opponents that played in the post-season last year. The Yellow Jackets have already played Alabama State, Illinois-Chicago and Air Force, all of whom of whom played in the NCAA Tournament, as well as Michigan and Georgia, which played in the NIT. Tech will face Gonzaga in Las Vegas and Kansas in Lawrence before commencing ACC play.
GOT THE RUNS
Georgia Tech has taken control of each game, except Illinois-Chicago, with an extended run of strong defense. To wit:
> Tech opened its game against Alabama State by holding the Hornets scoreless for the first 8:18, and led 24-8 with 4:46 to go in the first half. The Jackets also did not allow a point over the final 8:59 of that game.
> Tech allowed Arkansas-Little Rock only two points over the first 10 minutes (a 23-2 run) and led 32-8 at one point.
> Leading 10-9 with 16:58 showing in the first half against Michigan, Tech scored the next 20 points and held the Wolverines scoreless for 4-1/2 minutes.
> Tech outscored Georgia 36-9 in the first 15 minutes of the second half Sunday night, expanding a 43-30 halftime lead to 79-39.
> Tech allowed Air Force only six points in the first 11:30 of the game, building a 24-6 lead, then outscored the Falcons 8-1 heading into intermission for a 32-12 halftime advantage.
> Tech held James Madison scoreless for the first five and a half minutes of the game Wednesday night enroute to a 30-14 halftime lead, then allowed only five points in the first six minutes of the second half.
DEFENSE CARRYING JACKETS
Defensive pressure, both half-court and full-court, was the catalyst for Georgia Tech all last season and has remained so throughout the first part of Tech’s 2004-05 campaign. Tech has allowed its opponents to shoot just 32.5 percent (only Michigan has managed 40 percent), which is the best in the ACC.
> Tech leads the ACC in scoring defense at 50.9 points per game. The Yellow Jackets have held their last three opponents under 50 points each, and six of seven foes have failed to score 60.
> Tech has held foes to less than 20 points in a half four times, including 12 by Air Force in the first half last Saturday, and 14 by James Madison in the first half Wednesday night.
> Among Tech’s last five opponents, the best percentage one has been able to achieve 30 percent (7-for-21 by James Madison), and those five have made only 23 percent from beyond the arc combined. For the season, Tech has allowed 25.6 percent, the lowest yield in the ACC.
> Tech has forced 17.6 turnovers per game thus far, blocked 6.7 shots and taken 9.0 steals per game. Its rebounding rate of 42.3 leads and its rebound margin of plus-9.9 lead the ACC.
> Tech has allowed only 17 teams in its last 44 games to shoot 40 percent or better from the floor. Only four have reached 50 percent.
> Tech’s stout defense is not a new phenomenon. The Yellow Jackets ranked first in the ACC in field goal percentage defense in all games (38.8 pct.) last season, were first in league games only (40.8 pct.), and were the sixth-best in NCAA Division I basketball. Tech also led the ACC in both three-point percentage defense in all games (29.7 pct.) and was first league games only (32.2 pct.).