Nov. 28, 2004
Georgia Tech, ranked No. 3 nationally in the Associated Press media poll and by the coaches, has won its first three games of the season as it prepares to host defending NIT champion Michigan at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The game is being nationally televised on ESPN. Radio coverage can be heard in Atlanta on WQXI-AM (790), the flagship station of the Georgia Tech/ISP Radio Network, and on Tech student station WREK-FM (91.1).
The Yellow Jackets defeated Alabama State, 74-37, in their season opener at home on Nov. 19, survived a 60-59 scare at Illinois-Chicago on Nov. 22 and routed Arkansas-Little Rock, 79-54, at home last Friday night.
Michigan (3-2) comes into the game with two straight losses, falling 61-60 to No. 17 Arizona in the semifinals of the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden last Wednesday, then dropping a 72-63 decision to Providence in the third-place game on Friday.
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 21 consecutive weeks dating back to last Dec. 1, when the Jackets were No. 13 following their Preseason NIT championship.
Tech, which was 12-3 at home last season, has won 29 of its last 34 games at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The Yellow Jackets have won 17 consecutive non-conference games at home, and have a 136-8 mark against non-conference opposition at the Thrillerdome since the 1981-82 season.
Tuesday night’s game begins an important week for Tech, which also hosts state-rival Georgia on Sunday night, its final game before fall semester final exams. Tech plays only two games outside of Atlanta before the end of December, last week’s game at UIC and a Dec. 18 tilt against Gonzaga in Las Vegas.
Tech vs. Michigan
> The series between Georgia Tech and Michigan is knotted at three wins apiece. The teams last played on Dec. 1, 1999, in a game won by the Wolverines, 80-77.
> This is the first time Tech and Michigan have met on either team’s home court. All previous meetings have been at neutral sites, including two at Madison Square Garden and one at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass.
> The first meeting of the series occurred on Dec. 28, 1966 in the Bruin Classic at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, a 101-70 Tech victory. The Yellow Jackets also took a 78-70 decision on Mar. 24, 1971 in the quarterfinals of the post-season NIT at Madison Square Garden. Two meetings at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic followed in 1985 (a 49-44 loss) and 1993 (an 80-70 loss). Tech got its third victory of the series in the third-place game of the 1995 Preseason NIT by a score of 77-61.
> This is Tech’s second encounter against Tommy Amaker as a head coach. The Jackets defeated Amaker’s Seton Hall team, 88-78, at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in 1998, his first year as the Pirates’ head coach. Tech was 6-5 against Duke during the years Amaker played for the Blue Devils.
> Tech is 13-27 all-time against the Big Ten.
Tech in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge
Tech and Michigan will be meeting for the second time in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. the Wolverines won the first meeting, 80-77, at Philips Arena in 1999, the first year of the annual event. The Yellow Jackets are 2-3 in their previous ACC-Big Ten Challenge meetings, including a 73-53 victory at Ohio State last December and a 62-61 win over Wisconsin in 2001, their only other homecourt game in the event. Tech has also played at Iowa (lost 85-67 in 2000) and Minnesota (lost 64-63 in 2002).
Tech in the Thrillerdome
Georgia Tech is playing its 49th season at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at McDonald’s Center, and the Jackets have a record of 480-163 (.746) in the building, which opened Nov. 30, 1956 with a 71-61 Tech loss to Duke. Since the 1981-82 season, Tech is 242-62 (.795) in its on-campus home.
The Yellow Jackets were 12-3 at home last season, and have won 29 of their last 34 games in the Thrillerdome dating back to the final two home games of 2001-02.
Tech is 135-8 against non-conference opposition at Alexander Memorial Coliseum since the beginning of the 1981-82 season. Three of those eight losses occurred in the 2001-02 season to Penn, Tulane and IUPUI. From 1981 through last season, the only other non-ACC teams to win at the Thrillerdome were Georgia (2000), Penn State (1998), College of Charleston (1993), Louisville (1989), and Richmond (1987).
Georgia Tech played to sellout crowds every home game after its run to the Preseason NIT championship, and that included all of Tech’s home games during the break between fall and winter semesters. The Thrillerdome has been sold out for this entire season since early summer.
Quick Look at Tech
Chief among Tech’s returning players are five seniors – 6-4 guard B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.), Tech’s leading scorer last year who is currently averaging 18.3 points per game; 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 10.7 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 4.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 8.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per game; and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), averaging 8.3 points and 3.0 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 5.3 assists per game while also hitting 56.5 percent of his field goal attempts and 90 percent of his free throws.
From those six will come Tech’s starting five throughout the early part of the season. Muhammad started Tech’s opener against Alabama State and Friday night’s game with Arkansas-Little Rock, while Bynum replaced him in the lineup for Tech’s game at Illinois-Chicago. The other four have started both 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 over Tech’s last three halves of basketball. The senior hit a trio of big three-point baskets in the final 10 minutes of Tech’s win at Illinois-Chicago, which proved to be the Yellow Jackets’ only field goals during that stretch, when went 4-for-8 from three-point range Friday night against UALR.
Muhammad has been a force defensively while also hitting the boards at a rate of 7.3 per game, including 10 against Alabama State, while hitting 58.3 percent of his shots from the floor. Schenscher is shooting 58.8 percent from the floor, and knocked down two big free throws with 25.9 seconds left to provide Tech’s winning margin at Illinois-Chicago.
Head coach Paul Hewitt expects quality help off the bench 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 4.3 rebounds and blockes seven shots in three games while averaging 15 minutes.
Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., gives the Jackets a lift defensively off the bench. The sophomore had seven steals in an exhibition against LeMoyne and nine rebounds against Alabama State.
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. The Yellow Jackets’ depth from this group took a blow Friday night, however, when Jeremis Smith, a 6-6 forward from Fort Worth, Texas, suffered a dislocation of his right kneecap late in the game and is out indefinitely. Smith had averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 points in two games.
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. He saw his first action Friday night against UALR and scored four points with three rebounds. 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.
Tech Stock Tips
> Other than Jack, Muhammad and Schenscher, Tech did not shoot the ball well from the floor in its first two games (40.8 percent), but managed 47.1 percent from the floor and went 9-of-21 from three-point range Friday night against UALR. Tech is now at 43.1 percent for the season overall, 28.6 percent from three-point range.
> Tech, which historically has struggled from the free throw line early in the season, has gotten off to a poor start again this year, hitting only 57.9 percent from the stripe thus far. The Yellow Jackets generally have improved in that area as the season has progressed, topping 71 percent in conference games last year.
> Tech has blocked 22 shots in three games, including a career-best six by Theodis Tarver against Alabama State, and has had only one of its own shot attempts blocked. Tech has allowed opponents to shoot just 31.2 percent from the floor in three games, best in the ACC.
> Tech has rebounded well, albeit against smaller teams, outboarding Alabama State by 18, Illinois-Chicago and UALR each by six. The Jackets have taken 47 offensive rebounds and turned them into 44 total points.
> Tech has 57 assists on 81 field goals, a rate of 70.4 percent.
> Tech has taken exactly 21 three-point shots in each game. The Jackets made nine Friday night against UALR, by far their best effort of the season.
> Tech has trailed at halftime in one of three games (Illinois-Chicago).
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 two opponents to shoot just 31.2 percent (32.8 percent by UALR, 34.4 percent by UIC, 25.5 percent by Alabama State), which is the best in the ACC.
> Tech has allowed only 16 teams in its last 41 games to shoot 40 percent or better from the floor. Only four have reached 50 percent.
> Tech ranked first in the ACC in field goal percentage defense in all games (38.8 pct.) last season, was first in league games only (40.8 pct.), and was 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 also was first league games only (32.2 pct.).
> Tech’s FG percentage allowance last year was the fifth lowest in school history, and the three-point yield was a school record.
> Tech also ranked third in the ACC and 30th nationally in blocked shots (4.53 per game), and ranked second in the conference in league games only (5.5 per game). So far this season, the Jackets have averaged 7.3 per game.
QUOTING HEAD COACH Paul Hewitt
On Tech’s offensive performance against UALR
“I was happier. It thought that Morrow looked was getting into the flow. We looked less confused out there. Ra’Sean Dickey, as I was saying before, might be our best back-to-the-basket scorer. He’s got tremendous footwork, excellent moves. He’s just got to get stronger with the ball.”
“Their athleticism is very impressive. They’ve got a point guard in Daniel Horton who is as good as anybody in the country. Dion Harris is shooting the ball very well. If they get Abrams back healthy, they’ll have an outstanding perimeter. With their athleticism on the glass and on defense, they’re going to give a lot of people problems this year. If we don’t take care of of business on the backboards, they’ll give us a lot of problems.
“They’re easily the biggest and strongest team we’ve faced this year. If we don’t box out they can really hurt us.
“The stereotype of the Big Ten is a lot of walk-it-up, a lot of low-post play. But this is a team in Michigan that is as comfortable getting up and down as they are in the halfcourt. They like to get out and pressure, get in the passing lanes. They can shoot the three. They can get out in transition with anybody. Then they’re also strong inside.”
“We’ve done a very good rebounding the ball, but I think we’re capable of better. We have done, statistically, a nice job (of defending). I actually thought we could have done better. But we had some turnovers that led to layups. We have been giving up too many low-post touches. Fortunately for us, Luke has enough size that with the people we’ve been playing, he can contest their shots well. Against Michigan, they are too big and strong.”
On Tech’s rotation without Jeremis Smith
“We’re toying with a couple of ideas. We may go smaller, or we may put Theo (Tarver) at the four. Theo is starting to show me that he can guard out on the perimeter pretty well. With his type of athleticism and long arms, he can contest a lot of shots. I like what Morrow is doing. I didn’t play Mario West a lot the last game, but you can expect to see his minutes increase also.
“It’s unfortunate (Smith’s injury) because he was really making strides. Teams have to be able to overcome this type of thing. It’s part of the game. But personally, you have to feel really bad for him, because he had made some tremendous strides, and he worked so hard. He was really on his way to having a good stretch of basketball. You could see it.”
“He’s a matchup problem both at the three and the four. His athleticism, both offensively and defensively, creates matchup problems. He needs to slow down just a little, and you’ll see his turnovers go down and his assist numbers go up. The other night, he was 6-for-10 from the floor. He’s really improved his mid-range game, and everybody knows he can get to the basket. I’m waiting for him to shoot the ball with confidence the way he’s been doing in practice. His game has expanded.”
On Tech’s freshmen developing slowly
“A couple of them were in my office today talking about some of the games that have been on TV, and commenting about how some of the heralded freshmen aren’t getting playing time. I tell them, what do you expect? It’s a big difference. They’re playing at a whole different level now. The game is faster, the players are stronger. They don’t know how to get their shot off yet. I tell them not to feel bad, that they’ll be factors.
“Through practice, they’re going to earn longer stretches on the court. I know that it’s tough to find you’re rhythm when you’re in an out of the game. The other night, I felt we couldn’t afford to have a freshman mistake on defense. Jeremis played very, very well in the first half. So we decided to play it conservatively. It was just the second game of the year, and we obviously wanted to win it. I thought that was the best way to go.
“I had discussed the possibility of red-shirting with him. That’s one of the reasons he didn’t play in the first game. We discussed it for a little while, but he prefers to play.
“He has a tremendous ability to score with the basketball. But he does not play strong enough with the ball right now. You saw how he ended practice (with a strong dunk over his defender). He can do that anytime he wants. But most of the time he catches it and goes up like he’s going against some 6-foot-6 guy. He’s had moments like that. He’s probably our second-best back-to-the-basket scorer. But the problem is that with each one of those, there are more turnovers. “He can score. He’s good. He’s strong, had great hands and a great touch around the basket. He has excellent footwork. He needs to protect the basketball better.”