Dec. 10, 2004
Georgia Tech, which has moved up a spot to No. 3 in the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today rankings this week, is looking for its sixth straight victory to start the season Saturday when it meets Air Force at 2:30 p.m. at Philips Arena.
The game, regionally televised on FSN South, is the nightcap of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Classic for Kids. Georgia faces Oregon State in the opener at 12 noon. Radio coverage can be heard over the Georgia Tech/ISP Sports Network, in Atlanta on flagship station WQXI-AM (790).
Tech has had five days off for fall semester final exams, but comes into the game on a roll, having beaten Michigan (99-68) and Georgia (87-49) by an average of 34.5 points last week. The Yellow Jackets have won their five games by an average of 26.4 points, and lead the ACC in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and rebounding.
Air Force is one of seven non-conference opponents on Tech’s 2004-05 schedule to have played in the post-season last year. The Yellow Jackets have already played Alabama State and Illinois-Chicago, both of whom played in the NCAA Tournament, as well as Michigan and Georgia, which played in the NIT. After Air Force, Tech will face Gonzaga in Las Vegas and Kansas in Lawrence.
Georgia Tech has an all-time record of 3-3 in Philips Arena, and are 3-2 in five Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Classic games played in the facility. The Yellow Jackets defeated Saint Louis, 75-62, last year, and have also scored victories over Kentucky and Syracuse in the building.
The Yellow Jackets are led by their five seniors – 6-4 guard B.J. Elder (Madison, Ga.), Tech’s leading scorer who is currently averaging 20.2 points per game, fourth-best in the ACC; 6-6 forward Isma’il Muhammad (Atlanta, Ga.), averaging 9.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game; 6-7 forward Anthony McHenry (Birmingham, Ala.), Tech’s underrated power forward averaging 3.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game; 7-1 center Luke Schenscher (Hope Forest, South Australia), averaging 9.2 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game; and 6-0 guard Will Bynum (Chicago, Ill.), averaging 9.8 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 14.8 points and 5.8 assists per game while also hitting 62.5 percent of his field goal attempts and 94.1 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 until Sunday night, when both started against Georgia and McHenry came off the bench. Jack, Elder and Schenscher have started all five 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-and-a-half games. The senior made 10 of 12 shots from the floor, including 7-of-9 from three-point range, for 27 points against Michigan in his best performance of the season, then went 8-of-14 for a game-high 19 points against Georgia Sunday night. Elder also 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, then went 4-for-8 from three-point range against UALR.
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. He has 22 assists and just four turnovers in his last three games. Schenscher posted his first double-double of the season Sunday night with 12 points and 14 rebounds against Georgia, following a 10-point, 9-board performance against Michigan, and is making 57.6 percent of his shots from the floor.
Muhammad has been a force defensively while also hitting the boards at a rate of 7.6 per game, including 10 against Alabama State and eight each against Michigan and Georgia, while hitting 50 percent of his shots from the floor.
Tech is getting 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 3.6 rebounds and blocked a team-high nine shots in five games while averaging 13.2 minutes.
Mario West, a 6-4 guard from Douglasville, Ga., gives the Jackets a lift defensively off the bench, and has averaged 3.0 rebounds in little more than six minutes per game.
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, 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 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. 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.
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 against Michigan, while Fredrick played a season-high 16 minutes, drained 2-of-3 from behind the three-point arc and had two assists.
QUOTING COACH HEWITT
On Tech’s defense – “There are certain cuts you’re going to see throughout the season, whether you play against the Princeton offense, or what I call the spring screen, or you’re going to play against the flex cut, or the UCLA shuffle. Throughout practice, we’re going to take a segment of practice and work against this today, and work on how you play the flex cut properly, because you never know when you’re going to see it in a game, or in a segment of a game. It’s kind of like preparing for exams. We have certain principles that we want to stick to. They’ve got to be ingrained, so when they see a double screen, they know exactly how we want to play it, before we starting working on a scouting report.
On who has made the most improvement defensively – “I would day Will Bynum. Last year there were times I felt I couldn’t keep him in the game if he wasn’t scoring. Now I feel very comfortable with him. Against Illinois-Chicago, he didn’t score, but he did some very good things defensively and I felt comfortable leaving him out there. Against Michigan, he scored, and he defended. He was great. It was probably the best defensive effort he has had.”
More on defense – “I decide if a kid can play a position if he can guard the position. Right now, Theodis Tarver can play the four, because he can guard a four, especially a four in the ACC. Isma’il Muhammad can play the three, because he can guard a one, two or three. That’s the hardest thing to decide. A lot of people think you can play a spot because you can score from that spot.”
On Air Force and its Princeton offense – “They do a great job with it. I just hope we’re ready to defend it. That is what they do. That is who they are. If you don’t defend it well, then their confidence grows. They have a lot of pride in it. You talk about a battle of wills. The better they run that offense, the more powerful they become.
“It’s a style of basketball that’s pure and unselfish. You pass the ball and set good screens. You read screens. People think it’s a series of plays. It’s a series of reads. They keep the number of possessions down and make you defend 25 or 30 seconds. Even if we press, they will pull it back out and run their offense.”
MOORE, BROOKS COMPLETE TECH GRADUATING CLASS
Lewis, who made the Dean’s List in all but one term during his four years, received his degree in management last May, graduating in four years. Nelson, who had similar success grade-wise, received a degree in mechanical engineering. Robert Brooks and Clarence Moore, both management majors, participate in commencement exercises Saturday, at which former Tech All-America and NBA veteran John Salley was the speaker.
Of the 12 seniors Paul Hewitt has coached at Tech, nine will have their degrees as of Saturday.
TECH VS. AIR FORCE
> This marks the first meeting between Tech and Air Force since the Whack Hyder era. Hyder took two teams to Colorado Springs during his tenure, splitting them, and won all three games at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. This will be the first neutral-court meeting between the two teams.
> Tech has won four of five games overall against the Falcons, and the last meeting was a 75-53 loss for the Yellow Jackets on Feb. 5, 1972.
> This is Tech’s 14th appearance in what is now known as the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Classic for Kids. The Jackets have an 8-5 record in the doubleheader, and a 3-3 record all-time in games played at Philips Arena.
> Air Force won the Mountain West Conference last year and lost to North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
> Tech is 7-2 all-time against current members of the Mountain West Conference.
TECH STOCK TIPS
> Tech squeaked out a one-point victory at Illinois-Chicago, but has won its other four games by an average of 32.8 points.
> Tech has won 27 of its last 30 games against non-ACC teams.
> Tech’s shooting from the floor has steadily improved over the five games it has played, from 40.6 percent against Alabama State, to 41.1 at Illinois-Chicago, to 47.1 against Arkansas-Little Rock, to the season-high of 54.2-percent Nov. 30 against Michigan. Tech shot 53.6 percent Sunday night against Georgia, and has improved its season norm to 47.5 percent (8th in the ACC).
> Likewise, Tech has improved dramatically from three-point range since going 4-for-21 at Illinois-Chicago. The Yellow Jackets have shot 46.0 percent from behind the stripe in the last three games, and stand at 36.2 percent for the season.
> Tech’s top five scorers are all shooting 46.3 percent or better from the floor, three at 50 percent or higher. Jarrett Jack ranks third in the ACC at 62.5 percent, and B.J. Elder ranks 14th at 48.7 percent. Luke Schenscher (57.6 percent) and Isma’il Muhammad (50.0 percent) do not meet the conference minimum for field goals made per game to be ranked.
> 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 61.6 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, and have shot 66.7 percent in the last two games.
> Tech has blocked 33 shots in five games, an average of 6.6 per game that ranks fifth in the ACC. That has helped limit Tech’s opponents to just 33.7 percent from the floor, best in the ACC. The Jackets also top the league in three-point defense (25.3 percent) and are also first in scoring defense (53.4).
> Tech’s last three opponents have gone 2-for-17 (Arkansas-Little Rock), 4-for-15 (Michigan) and 3-for-14 (Georgia), respectively, from three-point range.
> Tech has rebounded well, outboarding its four opponents by an average of 11.4 per game which leads the ACC, and have outrebounded every opponent by at least six.
> Tech has 102 assists on 150 field goals, a rate of 68 percent. The Jackets had 21 assists on 24 first-half field goals against Michigan, and a season-high 28 assists on 39 field goals for the game.
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.
A STUDY IN CONTRASTS
Water and oil will try to mix on Saturday when Georgia Tech, with its fast-paced offense and pressure defense, meets Air Force in its Princeton offense and deliberate style of play. Here are some statistical differences between the two teams.
> Georgia Tech averages 63.2 field goal attempts per game; Air Force averages 42.3.
> Georgia Tech averages 21 three-point attempts per game (33 percent of total attempts). Air Force averages 23.4 three-point attempts per game (55.3 percent of total attempts).
> Georgia Tech averages more than 80 offensive possessions per game (approximate figure arrived at by adding FG attempts and turnovers, plus free throw attempts); Air Force averages less than 55 possessions per game.
> All five Air Force starters have taken at least 17 three-point shots in eight games, and all five are making 34.4 percent or higher. Three reserves range between 10 and 15 attempts over eight games.
> Air Force averages less than 10 turnovers per game, and has a turnover margin of plus-5 per game.
DEFENSE STILL CARRYING
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 33.7 percent (only Michigan has managed 40 percent), which is the best in the ACC.
> Tech’s last three opponents have gone 2-for-17 (Arkansas-Little Rock), 4-for-15 (Michigan) and 3-for-14 (Georgia), respectively, from three-point range. The Jackets’ are allowing only 25.3 percent success from behind the arc, also best in the ACC.
> Tech has forced 16.4 turnovers per game thus far, blocked 6.6 shots and taken 8.0 steals per game. Its rebounding rate of 44.8 leads the ACC.
> Tech has allowed only 17 teams in its last 42 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.).
> 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).
JACKETS GET EXTRA CREDIT
Georgia Tech found three-point shots tough to get in its first two games of the season, making just 9 of 42 attempts from behind the arc. But the Yellow Jackets improved to 9-of-21 (42.9 percent) against Arkansas-Little Rock, 13-of-23 (56.5 percent) against Michigan and 7-of-19 (36.8 percent) against Georgia.
Tech has improved its success rate on threes to 36.2 percent for the year, and currently is fourth in the ACC in three-point field goals per game (7.60).
In the first four years that Paul Hewitt has been Tech’s head coach, the Yellow Jackets have connected on 36.7 percent of their three-point attempts.