Dec. 30, 2004
Georgia Tech, ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today rankings last week, plays its final non-conference game of the 2004-05 season Saturday when it visits No. 2-ranked Kansas Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
It is the second trip to Lawrence in Tech’s basketball history and the first since 1972. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN. Radio coverage is provided by the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, and can be heard in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790).
Tech (9-1) bounced back from its first loss of the season (85-73 to No. 22 Gonzaga in Las Vegas) by whipping Charleston Southern (90-48) and Lafayette (92-58) in its last two games. The Jackets have an average scoring margin this season of plus-24.3 points, with only one of their games having been decided by less than 12 points. Kansas (8-0) has not played since a 73-62 victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Dec. 22, and has won its games by an average of 21.3 points.
The Yellow Jackets had been sluggish offensively in three games since the end of fall semester exams, averaging just 69.7 points in games against Air Force, James Madison and Gonzaga, but has scored 90-plus points in two straight games since. Tech shot 60.8 percent in its victory over Charleston Southern, the best floor shooting percentage in four-plus seasons under head coach Paul Hewitt, and 57.1 percent in the second half of the win over Lafayette.
Tech remains the ACC leader in several defensive categories, including points allowed (54.7), field goal percentage defense (.344), three-point defense (.254) and rebound margin (+8.1).
Saturday’s game is the second for Tech against a Top-25 team this season. The Yellow Jackets lost to No. 22 Gonzaga, 85-73, on Dec. 18 in Las Vegas. Kansas is also the highest ranked opponent Tech has played since No. 1 Duke visited Atlanta last Jan. 31.
Tech, who last played a New Year’s Day game in 1955, is playing on an opponents’ home floor for only the second time this season. The Yellow Jackets survived a trip to Illinois-Chicago with a 60-59 victory on Nov. 22. Tech is 8-5 in opponents’ arenas since the beginning of last season.
Georgia 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 14.2 points per game, 13th-best in the ACC; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 10.1 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 4.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per game; 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 9.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game; and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), averaging 11.4 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 13.1 points and 4.9 assists per game while also hitting 56.3 percent of his field goal attempts and 87.1 percent of his free throws.
From those six have come Tech’s starting five in each game so far. Jack, Elder and Schenscher have started every game, while the other three have taken turns coming off the bench.
Elder, a preseason candidate for the Wooden and Naismith player of the year awards, has struggled over his last four games, reaching double figures only once (16 pts. vs. Gonzaga) and hitting just 29.7 percent of his shots from the floor (5-of-18 from three). For the season, Elder stands at 43.8 percent from the floor and 38.3 percent from three-point range.
Jack, making a case for himself as one of the nation’s top point guards, has boosted the Jackets’ outside shooting, hitting 40 percent of his three-point tries. He ranks fifth in the ACC in assists and third in free throw percentage. Schenscher, who ranks fifth in the ACC in rebounding and blocked shots, is Tech’s leader in field goal percentage (59.4) and has averaged 11.0 points and 8.4 rebounds over his last seven games. Jack scored a career-high 29 points against the Jayhawks in last year’s overtime NCAA Tournament victory in St. Louis.
Bynum led Tech with a career-high 28 points in its loss to Gonzaga, and has reached double figures in four straight games, while Muhammad topped the Jackets with 16 against Charleston Southern and has made 51.4 percent of his field goals.
Tech’s freshman class, rated No. 2 in the ACC by Bob Gibbons, has shined in the last two games, combining for 26 points against Charleston Southern and 41 against Lafayette. The trio of Ra’Sean Dickey, Anthony Morrow and Zam Fredrick all played career-high minutes against Charleston Southern and also logged major minutes against Lafayette.
Dickey, a 6-9 forward-center from Clio (pronounced KLY-oh), S.C., has shot 66.7 percent from the floor for the season (20-of-30), and scored a career-high 15 points in Tech’s last game against Lafayette (6-of-10 FG) with six rebounds and two blocks. He has become Tech’s No. 2 center behind Luke Schenscher.
Zam Fredrick, a 6-0 guard from St. Matthews, S.C., and Anthony Morrow, a 6-5 guard from Charlotte, N.C., have added scoring punch from the perimeter. Morrow scored a career-high 11 points against the Buccaneers, then topped that effort with a game-high 20 points off the bench against Lafayette. He was 6-of-9 from three-point range in that game. Fredrick scored six points in each game, knocking down a pair of threes against Lafayette.
Theodis Tarver (Monroe, La.), a 6-9 junior who has shown no ill effects from the dislocated knee that kept him out of 13 games last season, is logging more minutes at the power forward position in the absence of freshman Jeremis Smith (dislocated kneecap). Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., gives the Jackets a lift defensively on the perimeter.
QUOTING HEAD COACH Paul Hewitt
On Kansas playing without Wayne Simien – “Not having Wayne is a big hole for them, but they’re very talented. Langford is playing extremely well, Giddens is playing extremely well, and Miles is as well. Giles is very impressive. There’s no way you can replace a guys like (Simien), but they’re team is talented enough and deep enough, plus, we’re playing on their homecourt.”
Does Jack go for 29 points if Elder is healthy last year? – “I wish I could script it that easily. I’m sure Bill (Self) and his team will have something to do with whatever Jarrett does in the game. He got to the basket, but Jarrett just had one of those games. One of the things about our team is that when we’re playing well, we spread the ball around and don’t look for any one person. That game last year just happened to be Jarrett’s day. He got a lot of touches.”
On the matchup between Jack and Miles as one of the better point guard matchups in the country – “No question. Aaron’s assist-turnover numbers are very impressive. They also have Russell Robinson playing well for them. We recruited Russell very hard last year, and he adds good depth to that position for them.”
What you remember about last year’s game – “I couldn’t wait for it to be over. I was exhausted. I can’t imagine what the players felt like, but it was a great game. I do remember one sequence when we were up seven and ran a side-out-of-bounds-play. We got the look we wanted, and the young man didn’t take the shot. Sure enough, the young man made a pass, Langford stole the ball and got a three-point play, and they were right back in the game. The overtime was just a blur, both teams were playing so hard.”
What is different about Kansas this year? – They’re players are improved. Langford is really the one standing out in my mind, with the early tapes that I’ve watched.”
Both teams have most of their players back, only the venue has changed. Do you see Kansas as having any revenge in its mind? – “I’m sure that plays some into it. But once the game starts, it doesn’t really matter. A lot of these kids are very familiar with each other. If anything, there’s a friendly rivalry there. I’m sure they’re looking forward to competing against each other, and there’s a lot of respect for each other. You’re playing New Year’s Day, it’s the only (basketball) game on in the country, and everybody is watching, so I’m sure they’re looking forward to that.”
Your team hasn’t yet been in that kind of atmosphere yet. Are they prepared for something like that? – “This is an experienced team. They’ve played in a lot of tough places – Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina. Most of these guys have played in those places multiple times. We’re looking forward to playing there. We’ve heard so much about Allen Fieldhouse. But it should come down to who plays better.”
On B.J. Elder – “He got off to a great start. In yesterday’s game, he didn’t shoot it very well, but he started to regain more of the aggressiveness that I want to see out of him. I expect him to start playing better basketball here shortly.”
How is the team progressing after going so far after last year’s run? – “It’s a different team. There are things we have to work on, things we’ve got to improve. Comparisons to last year really don’t apply. Yes, we have our core of six guys back, but they can’t do it by themselves. They need help from our freshmen. Thankfully, our freshmen have been showing steady improvement. We’re a little bigger than we were last year, probably a little more athletic on the boards.”
Is it hard to prepare for Kansas without Simien? – In one of the games I watched, they put Giddens in the four spot, and that creates a matchup problem. I don’t know how much they play Galindo at the four, but he is a very good three-point shooter.”
Is it too early in the year to make too much of this game? – “I think it is, but that’s not going to stop anybody from doing it (laughs). It’s way too early. It’s going to be a good basketball game, a great atmosphere, the prime game that day. I know our guys are excited to go out there and play. Whoever wins or loses this game, it’ll be forgotten by the time we get to March.”
TECH VS. KANSAS
> Kansas leads the overall series with Tech, winning three of four meetings. After three straight losses, Tech finally got the best of the Jayhawks last year with a berth in the Final Four on the line. The Yellow Jackets went to overtime to defeat KU, 79-71, and moved onto San Antonio. Junior guard Jarrett Jack scored 29 points in that game to lead Tech, which still stands as his career high in points.
> This will be Tech’s second trip to Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks won, 93-65, in 1972 when Whack Hyder was the Yellow Jackets’ head coach. The teams played twice while Hyder was at Tech, including the Jackets’ only homecourt meeting with Kansas, which occurred during the senior year of Tech’s all-time leading scorer Rich Yunkus. He scored 24 points, but the Jackets lost, 84-71.
> The teams also met in 1999 in the Great Alaskan Shootout, when the Roy Williams-led Jayhawks took an 84-70 victory over the Bobby Cremins-coached Yellow Jackets.
> Tech coach Paul Hewitt is 1-0 against Kansas, while Jayhawk top man Bill Self is 1-1 vs. Tech. Self was at the helm of a No. 3-ranked Illinois team which routed the Yellow Jackets, 105-66, in Las Vegas on Nov. 23, 2001.
TECH STOCK TIPS
> Tech is playing on New Year’s Day for the first time since the 1954-55 season, when it opened the New Year with a 68-62 loss to Georgetown at the Queen City Tournament in Buffalo, N.Y.
> Kansas is the seventh non-conference opponent for Tech that played in the post-season last year. The Yellow Jackets have already played Alabama State, Illinois-Chicago, Air Force and Gonzaga, all of whom of whom played in the NCAA Tournament, as well as Michigan and Georgia, which played in the NIT.
> Tech began the season with its highest national ranking since the 1985-86 squad held the top spot in the preseason AP poll. Tech has been nationally ranked for 25 consecutive weeks dating back to last Dec. 1, when the Jackets were No. 13 following their Preseason NIT championship.
> After making a season-low 40.3 percent from the floor against Gonzaga, Tech has shot 53.2 percent in its last two games, including 60.8 percent against Charleston Southern, a high for the Yellow Jackets under Paul Hewitt.
> In the last six games, Tech has been to the free throw line 25.6 times on average, compared with 17.3 times over the first four games. The Jackets have made 66.2 percent from the stripe over that stretch.
> Since going 0-for-2 from three-point range against Air Force, breaking a 546-game streak with at least one three, Tech is 33-for-93 (35.5 percent) in the last four games.
> Tech’s three freshmen are averaging 12.9 points a game combined.
> Tech and North Carolina are the two most experienced teams in the ACC, each with 45 or more total starts among juniors and seniors. Tech has the most starts by seniors, with 40, along with 10 starts from junior Jarrett Jack. The Tar Heels have 21 starts from seniors, and 28 from juniors.
> Tech has played only one game closer than 12 points, a 60-59 victory at Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 22. The average margin of the other games has been 29.6 points.
> Tech has held eight of 10 opponents under 60 points this season, and has held five of those under 50.
> Tech has won 31 of its last 35 games against non-ACC teams.
> Tech’s top five scorers are all shooting better than 43 percent from the floor, three at 50 percent or higher. But all of them fall short of the NCAA minimum of five field goals made per game to be ranked among the conference or national leaders (an indication of Tech’s offensive balance). Luke Schenscher leads at 59.4 percent, followed by Jarrett Jack at 56.3 percent and Isma’il Muhammad at 51.4 percent.
> Tech leads the ACC in several key defensive categories, scoring yield (54.7), field goal percentage defense (34.4), three-point percentage yield (25.4) and rebound margin (plus-8.1). Tech is third in rebound average (41.8).
> Tech has 182 assists on 288 field goals, a rate of 63.2 percent, and ranks third in the ACC in assist average (18.2 per game).
GOT THE RUNS
Georgia Tech has taken control of each victory, 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.
> Tech held Charleston Southern to just four points over the first seven minutes of the second half, expanding a 43-27 halftime lead to 59-31 on the way to a 42-point victory.
> Lafayette scored just three points (no FG) over more than seven minutes of the second half, while Tech expanded a 55-47 lead at the 11:27 mark to 82-50 before the Leopards scored their next field goal at 4:15.
DEFENSE REMAINS TECH’S FOUNDATION
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 34.4 percent (only Michigan and Gonzaga have managed 40 percent), which is the best in the ACC.
> Tech leads the ACC in scoring defense at 54.3 points per game. The Yellow Jackets have held five opponents under 50 points, and seven of nine 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, and 14 by James Madison in the first half.
> For the season, Tech has allowed teams to shoot just 26.2 percent from three-point range, the lowest yield in the ACC. The Jackets have held four teams to less than 25 percent.
> Tech has forced 17.2 turnovers per game thus far, blocked 6.1 shots and taken 8.8 steals per game. Its rebound margin of plus-8.1 leads the ACC, and its rebound average of 41.1 is third-best.
> Tech has allowed only 17 teams in its last 46 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.).