Feb. 17, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
It’s not like head coach Brian Gregory and his team haven’t had enough to cope with, what with so many injuries and roster issues that Georgia Tech has not contested an ACC game with more than nine scholarship players and has played with as few as seven.
So tonight, here comes No. 5 Duke, breathing fire like Smaug.
The Yellow Jackets played the Blue Devils darned tough for well over a half on Jan. 7 before falling 79-57. Duke appears considerably better now than then.
As a matter of fact, the Blue Devils were fairly smoked their next time out after beating the Jackets. After a 72-59 loss at Clemson, they were 12-4 overall and 1-2 in the ACC.
In nine games since, their only loss came in overtime at No. 1 Syracuse – by a skinny bucket.
So whether point guard Trae Golden (groin) returns to action tonight or not, and Gregory says he questionable, and even if Kam Holsey is able to play after wrenching a knee in last week’s win over Boston College, the Jackets (13-12, 4-8) will find themselves scrambling.
Duke (20-5, 9-3 ACC) is averaging 81.7 points per game, and depending on whose metrics you use, the Blue Devils are the nation’s most efficient offensive team.
They take and make more 3-point shots than any team in the ACC, and if you happen to do a nice job getting out and defending the long ball they’re quite adept at taking advantage of whatever an opponent did defensively.
“In transition, they’re very good at finding the open man. It’s amazing; you’ll have guys back and they’ll pop someone open,” Gregory said. “They’re very good on offensive rebounds at kicking the ball out for open 3s . . . they have shooters running behind the ball.
“They are an unbelievable penetration team . . . so good driving the ball. As you help [defensively from] off the ball [on a driver], it creates kick-out opportunities for open 3s.”
More often than not, those kickouts will end up in the hands of guard Andre Dawkins – who is having a fine season after sitting out last season to deal with the death of his sister – and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood.
The Jackets are, believe it or not, getting healthier.
Sophomore forward Robert Carter Jr. figures to be better still in his third game back after missing 10 following knee surgery than he was in the past two.
He’d better be; although he’s likely to again come off the bench rather than start, Carter will be one of several Tech defenders tasked with matching Duke freshman phenom Jabari Parker. The frosh has improved since Tech last saw him. Carter did not play in that game.
“I feel like I’m almost back to full strength in the knee . . . I’m jumping off it, cutting off it,” Carter said .”I think it’s definitely going to be a challenge. I like to play against good guys. I think it’s going to be a good matchup. I want to play against him, see what it’s about, I guess.”
Oddly, Carter said he considers the 6-foot-8 Parker more of a small forward than anything else, yet Gregory said Duke is playing the Chicagoan chiefly at power forward and even moving him to center when the Blue Devils go “small.”
Parker appears to the Tech coach to be, “More aggressive, more comfortable,” than when last these teams met.
Carter looked that way, too, when he had 10 points and five rebounds in Wednesday’s 74-71 win over Boston College. In his return game, Feb. 8 against Virginia, he looked rusty with five points and two rebounds.
“I was pleased with what he did the other day with his rhythm, and being more in the flow. He practiced well,” Gregory said. “I’d say he’s still a week away from being where he was, the leading rebounder in the ACC and getting from 10-15 points every game.”
The Jackets will need Carter’s rebounding, his real rebounding. After they were walloped on the boards in a 64-45 loss to Virginia, they did the same kind of damage on the boards to B.C.
They’re going to need to play serious defense, too.
“We have to guard one-on-one,” said sophomore swing man Marcus Georges-Hunt. “When a play breaks down, they go to a five-out [offense] and do a high ball screen most of the time . . . they have a lot more freedom coming off the dribble-drive to create plays for each other.
“When they feel like they’re cutoff, they always have that one person on the strong side and they’re really good at shooting so that’s a plus for them. We have to have the toughness to make it difficult for them one-on-one.”
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