Saturday, December 09, 2006

Hoops - Another Head Scratcher

So they Jackets continue their long losing streak on opponent's home floors by losing to Vandy today. I'm frustrated like you, and much of this is quite baffling. There is a lot of talent on this team, a lot of athleticism, but honestly, there is not a lot of cohesion and chemistry quite yet. The problems are primarily on defense.

Once again, winning or losing hinged on one thing - our opponent's ability to hit open shots. Make no mistake - our opponents are getting plenty of them. It's only a matter of if they are hitting. Vandy went on a hot streak early, building a lead. How? They hit a bunch of wide open shots. Then the Jackets battled back to actually take a small lead before the half. How? Primarily because Vandy started missing a bunch of wide open shots. In the 2nd half Vandy took the lead again for good. How? They started hitting their wide open shots again.

So what's happening here? Why the struggles? Here are my thoughts:

#1 - Inexperienced freshman.
Part of the problem is trying to get 3 guys fresh out of high school to play big-time collegiate level defense. There were something like 25 (not sure exactly) turnovers by the Jackets tonight, and the frosh had their fair share. This is always going to be an issue, particularly when one of those guys is running the point. But honestly this cannot be put at the feet of the frosh. They have a long way to go, but plenty of the upperclassmen share guilt here. However, note that Javaris Crittenton did not start tonight.

Now, to drive the point about experience home, take this recent quote from Jeremis Smith:

Jarrett Jack "could talk you into the right spot on defense," Isma'il Muhammad was "someone who could cover a man-and-a-half, two men," and 7-foot center Luke Schenscher could "block plenty of shots."

"I was in the middle of a lot of veterans, and all I had to do was guard a half-man and they'd guard everybody else," Smith said.

#2 - Communication
This team does not seem to do a great job at times talking to one another. They don't always communicate well. Two guys will pick up the same man, leaving a wide open guy who inevitably gets a wide open shot. Help defense is often late. A lot of guys running into one another or scrambling to pick up a man streaking free. Part of this comes with chemistry and work together and will take time.

#3 - Fundamentals
Hate to say it, but the defensive play seems to lack basic fundamentals. Move your feet. Careful on the overplay. Keep yourself between the defender and the basket. Help defense. Switch man with high picks. Hands up and out in the passing lanes. A lot of these types things come with coaching and repetition and they are not happening. Our guys get beat off the dribble a lot.

#4 - Protect the Ball
We give up a lot of possesions. A lot. tonight we had a ton of turnovers. A ton. A lot of them were not even forced by the defense. Just mishandling the ball on the dribble, poor passing. and lack of offensive half-court cohesion.

Coach Hewitt certainly has a task on his hands. He was correct in telling the media that they were wrong to put this team in the top 25. However, he has incredible talent on this team. He has athleticism. He has depth. He has a healthy rotation. He has a lot of things that have allowed him a pass on losing, but the deck seems to be in his favor this time. It's still incredibly early and too soon to start panicking at all. But honestly, I did not realize that we had not won a road game on an opponents home floor in two seasons (Feb 2005). That's amazing actually.

Coach Hewitt has shown his ability to have his teams ready to play in the post-season. However, he never got that chance last season, and believe it or not, fans are getting almost as uneasy with Coach Hewitt as they have with Coach Gailey. You can hear the cracks in the armor for some people. However, once again, let's not jump off the bridges quite yet. Have patience. Coach Hewitt is definitely the right guy for Georgia Tech. Just don't freak out. Coach preaches defense and most of that is focus, desire and intensity. If we can add communication and stronger fundamentals to the mix, we can put this thing together.

At the end of the day, elite teams win on the road. Coach Hewitt teams have always seemed to struggle with that (as most do in the ACC), but let's enjoy this ride and see where it takes us. Things are just getting started. There's a lot of ball to be played.