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Jackets Set to Face Wake Forest in ACC Tournament

March 6, 2007


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Georgia Tech is the No. 6 seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and plays its first-round game Thursday at 9:30 p.m. against 11th-seed Wake Forest at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla. The Yellow Jackets tied Duke for sixth place in the ACC regular season and earned the No. 6 seed in a tiebreaker.

The winner of Thursday night’s game advances to a 9:30 p.m. game Friday against third-seeded Virginia Tech. Other first-round games Thursday include No. 8 Clemson vs. No. 9 Florida State at 12 noon, No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 12 Miami at 2:30 p.m., and No. 7 Duke vs. No. 10 NC State at 7 p.m.

All games in the ACC Tournament are televised on the Raycom/Lincoln Financial Network, and can be seen in Atlanta on WATL-TV. Radio coverage for all tournament games is provided by the Georgia Tech-ISP Sports Network and heard locally on WQXI-AM (790). Tech games can also be heard on WTSH-FM (107.1), while student station WREK-FM (91.1) will carry Tech’s games, if played, on Friday and Saturday. XM Satellite Radio channels 191, 192 or 193 will have all tournament games.

Tech is 20-10 overall, 8-8 in the ACC, having won seven of nine games since the beginning of February. That includes a 6-2 mark in the second half of the ACC schedule, the most dramatic turnaround for the Yellow Jackets since since the 2001-02 team finished 7-9 in the conference after an 0-7 start. The Yellow Jackets’ overall mark is a nine-win improvement over last year’s record and a game better at this point than that of the 2004-05 team that reached the finals of the ACC Tournament and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Tech finished the regular season with victories over eighth-ranked North Carolina (84-77) and Boston College (74-60) last week. Sunday’s win gave the Yellow Jackets 20 overall wins for the third time in the last four years and the 12th time in Tech history.

Wake Forest, 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the ACC, finished its regular season with five wins in its last nine games, including a 78-72 triumph over Virginia Saturday. Virginia Tech, 20-10 overall and 10-6 in the ACC, earned the No. 3 seed out of a three-way tie for third place in the regular season with Boston College and Maryland. The Hokies closed out their regular season with losses to Virginia (69-56) and Clemson (75-74) last week.

Tech in the ACC Tournament

Georgia Tech is playing in its 28th ACC Tournament, and has a 19-24 all-time record in the event. The Yellow Jackets have won three championships, in 1985, 1990 and 1993. Tech has been a runner-up three other times (1986, 1996, 2005).

Tech has been the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament six times previously, compiling a 4-6 record from that position. Three of those wins occurred in 1993, when the Jackets captured the tournament title in Charlotte.

Tech has a 4-6 record in the tournament with Paul Hewitt as its head coach, including a runner-up finish in 2005 in Washington, D.C. The Yellow Jackets have won at least one tournament game in three of six years under Hewitt, including first-round victories over Virginia (2001) and North Carolina (2004), plus wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina in 2005 to reach the finals.

Tech and the RPI

> Georgia Tech has an RPI ranking of No. 34 following last week’s victories over North Carolina and Boston College and the 25th-toughest schedule in the country.

> The Yellow Jackets are 8-8 vs. teams in the top 50 of the current ratings, and 9-8 vs. the top 100. Only four teams in the country have more wins against the RPI top 50 than does Tech, including North Carolina, UCLA and Maryland, all of whom the Yellow Jackets have played. Duke and Virginia have eight such wins, Boston College and Virginia Tech have seven.

> Tech has moved up 16 spots (60 to 34) in the RPI since Feb. 1.

> Tech is 4-5 against teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25, defeating No. 11 Memphis, No. 11 Duke and No. 25 Clemson (Feb. 3) and No. 8 North Carolina (Mar. 1), while losing to No. 5 UCLA, No. 23 Clemson (on Jan. 6), No. 4 North Carolina (Jan. 20), No. 24 Virginia Tech and No. 24 Virginia.

Another Strong Finish for the Jackets

Georgia Tech enjoyed its best February since the 2001-02 team closed out the regular year with eight wins in 10 games, including seven-of-nine in the ACC. Tech’s 5-2 record for February was its best since that year and better than any of the Yellow Jackets three NCAA Tournament teams under Paul Hewitt.

Tech has closed the regular season with seven wins in the last nine games, and has improved its March record under Paul Hewitt to 20-12.

Tech’s 2004 Final Four team was 4-4 in February before making its remarkable March run, and the 2004-05 group went 4-3 in February. The 2001 NCAA team was 4-4 during the month.

Quick Look at Tech

Georgia Tech has utilized the same starting lineup for eight of its last nine games, led by freshmen Javaris Crittenton at the point guard spot and Thaddeus Young at the small forward. Juniors Anthony Morrow, Jeremis Smith and Ra’Sean Dickey have filled the off-guard, big forward and center positions. The only exception occurred on Senior Day against Boston College, when Mario West replaced Morrow.

Crittenton, a 6-5 point guard from Atlanta, who was named third-team All-ACC Monday, averaging 14.5 points (16th in the ACC) as well as 5.7 assists per game (second in the ACC), while hitting 37.5 percent of his three-point field goal tries. Crittenton has averaged a team-high 16.0 points in Tech’s ACC games, ninth-best in the ACC) and second among league freshmen, and was a unanimous choice for the ACC’s All-Freshman team.

Young, a 6-8 small forward, has averaged 16.8 points and 5.3 rebounds while hitting 49.1 percent of his shots over Tech’s last four games, including a career-high 25 points Mar. 1 against North Carolina. The Memphis, Tenn., native averaged 14.0 points per game for the season, including a 13.1 average and a 48.1-percent field goal success rate in ACC games.

Tech’s third perimeter player is Anthony Morrow, a 6-5 junior from Charlotte, N.C., who has reached double figures in 13 of Tech’s last 18 games, including 18 points against North Carolina and 11 against Boston College to finish the regular season. Morrow has started eight of the Tech’s nine games since Feb. 3 against Clemson, and is Tech’s third-leading scorer (10.6 ppg) in ACC games. He has made 41.7 percent of his three-point attempts in ACC games, 40.3 percent in all games.

Tech’s inside game is carried by two veterans in Jeremis Smith, a 6-8 junior from Fort Worth, Texas, and Ra’Sean Dickey, a 6-10 junior from Clio, S.C. Smith, the only Tech player to start every game this season, gives Tech muscle inside on defense and on the boards, averaging 8.4 points and a team-high 5.8 rebounds. He has made 59.2 percent of his field goal tries this season and has averaged 7.0 boards over Tech’s last six games.

Since returning to the starting lineup for the Centenary game on Dec. 18, Dickey has posted nine double-figure efforts and has made 63.6 percent of his field goal attempts in ACC games (team-high 59.5 percent overall). Dickey averages 9.1 points per game against the conference, 8.2 points and 5.3 rebounds overall this season.

Off the bench, Mario West, a 6-5 senior guard from Douglasville, Ga. (4.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.6 steals), has been the Jackets’ catalyst on defense and logged important backup minutes at point guard, and has come through on the offensive end in three of Tech’s bigger wins this season. Tech has gotten a big lift recently from 6-10 post player Alade Aminu, a sophomore from Stone Mountain, who has averaged 4.8 points over the last nine games after not having appeared in any of Tech’s first eight ACC games.

Also averaging double-digit minutes is 6-8 freshman Zach Peacock of Miami, who started the first nine games of the season and averages 5.6 points and 3.0 rebounds as Tech’s backup center and power forward, and 6-5 sophomore D’Andre Bell of Los Angeles, who gave Tech a spark in the last eight games with excellent defense and 2.6 points a game. Red-shirt freshman Mouhammad Faye, a 6-10 forward from Dakar, Senegal, has been slowed recently by a bout of the flu, but his biggest contributions come on defense, where his 7-foot-3 wingspan has caused havoc in Tech’s press and in halfcourt defensive situations.

Smith Joins West as Co-Captain for Post-Season

Junior forward Jeremis Smith, whose down-and-dirty work inside on defense and on the boards during Georgia Tech’s last month of the season has been one of the keys to the Jackets’ hot streak, was named a co-captain for the Yellow Jackets following Sunday’s win over Boston College. Mario West, the team’s lone senior, had been Tech’s only captain throughout the regular season.

Smith has overcome a dislocated kneecap as a freshman to become one of the best rebounders and interior defenders in the ACC, and has helped set the tone for Tech’s stretch run this year by averaging 7.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals over the Jackets’ last nine games. He averages 8.4 points and a team-high 5.8 rebounds for the season, ranks in the ACC’s top 10 in steals, and has hit 59.2 percent of his field goal tries.

“You may look as Jeremis’ rebounding numbers and not be impressed, but when I watch tape, he does an unbelievable job of clearing traffic so other guys can get uncontested rebounds,” said head coach Paul Hewitt. “For what he has done, and Mario West has done, that’s how we need to play.”

Series vs. Wake Forest

> Wake Forest leads the overall series with Georgia Tech, 33-29, having won seven of the last 11 meetings and 12 of the last 18. The teams have split their regular-season meetings the last four years.

> Tech and Wake split their regular-season games, each winning at home. The Demon Deacons took an 85-75 victory on Jan. 30 in Winston-Salem, and the Yellow Jackets evened the slate with a 75-61 win on Feb. 21 in Atlanta.

> Wake Forest has won all three of its meetings with Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament, including a 75-74 triumph in the 1996 championship game in Greensboro.

> Tech is 26-22 against Wake Forest since 1985, including 12 straight victories from 1985-91.

> Tech is 6-9 against Wake Forest under head coach Paul Hewitt. The Jackets are 5-8 against Skip Prosser-coached Wake Forest teams.

Quoting head coach Paul Hewitt – ACC Championship Press Conference

Opening Statement: “I am very happy for Mario West, who hopefully played his last home game at the coliseum yesterday against Boston College. After the game I also named Jeremis Smith co-captain for his tremendous job this season. He has helped turned this team around. Mario and Jeremis exemplify what we are trying to do in terms of playing with a great deal of effort and good defense to get us to play more consistent basketball. That is why we decided to name him (Smith) as a co-captain.”

On game plan against North Carolina: “We were not trying to foul him (Tyler Hansbrough). I have taken the approach this year to not argue with the officials because a lot of the times I go back to look at the tape and I see that they are right. We were not trying to foul but just play good physical defense like we always have when we were successful. There were no intentional fouls. There was a play in the early part of the game where Mario West went up and contested it hard, but he got mostly ball and a little arm and they put Hansbrough at the line but that was not our plan. Our plan was to not let Tyler Hansbrough touch the ball around the basket by fronting him in the post but that young man works really hard to get good post position.”

On the team’s turnaround: “It sounds so simple and boring but it came down to us concentrating on the details defensively and particularly on the defensive position like boxing out. Yesterday we only gave up three offensive rebounds, that’s a big statement for us. When we were 2-6 in the ACC, we were giving up 14, 15, 16 offensive rebounds a game. In the second half of the season, I don’t think we have given up double-digit offensive rebounds in a game. I don’t think we have done anything spectacular or put in any new plays, it was just when the shot went up we found a body and started checking people out. The reason I think we have improved is Jeremis is a big part of it. He has set a good tone defensively and on the boards but our younger guys now have a bigger appreciation for how big the little things are. As great a year that Javaris Crittenton has had, he was one of the worst box out guys I have ever seen. When the shot went up, he would just watch it go up and guys would run around him and get set. As well as Thaddeus Young, who now appreciates the little things.”

On Javaris Crittentons’ improvement in the second half of the season: “He is a great player and is very talented. Every game he has gotten better and better. He watches tape. He has been in with Charlton Young, one of my assistants. Young was a point guard at Georgia Southern, a shooting point guard so he and Javaris get along very well. He is just getting better and continuing to improve.”

On best and worst case scenarios of seeding in the NCAA tournament from results at ACC Championships: “Obviously, anyone who goes into this tournament and does well, I think about the year we played Duke in the finals, we went in as a quote on quote bubble team and got to the finals and made it all the way to a fifth-seed. I guess if you are looking for a precedent that would be a good on there.”

On the key of relying on freshmen in the NCAA tournament: “If I could remember, that Syracuse team (2003) had a couple of veteran guys who could really focus there team. When you have leaders that can set everyone straight in terms of what the priorities are especially offensively and the especially makes sure everyone buys in and does things defensively, then you have a chance to be successful. For us, I think we are playing some pretty good basketball right now and what I can point to as our recent consistency is Mario West and Jeremis Smith.”

On the freshmen in general: “Thaddeus has been playing the small forward position for the first time in his life. That is exclusively what he has played for us all year. He is getting more comfortable on the perimeter defending; he is getting more comfortable on the perimeter offensively, moving with out the ball, handling the ball. He is the guy who is going to show major improvement every time out. Javaris is just learning how to play that position, when I say learning, I mean in high school he was asked to do a lot of scoring and handling. Now he has to run our basketball team and has to understand when he runs our team we are really good.”

On playing Wake Forest: “They are good and getting better. They are much like us, who are young and improving. L.D. Williams is playing really well, Anthony Gurley had a big game against us here at home. Of course Visser is probably going to be a first-team all league selection. They are a team that is constantly improving but we are improving also.”

On the difference between the beginning of the season and now: “Taking care of the ball and not giving up second shots. Our turnovers are down and again we are just doing a much better job finishing our defensive possessions.”

On the wide open ACC: “Every year, I get on this call and I hear that question. I think it really speaks of the quality of the ACC. I thought there were nine teams capable of making it to the NCAA tournament and if they were going to pick it today you would have to pick nine teams from this league to go to the NCAA.”


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