Friday, November 09, 2007


Well, it took me awhile to get into hoops, but it is certainly made easier by the struggles of the football team. With the home opener against UNC Greensboro tonight, I thought I would provide some thoughts.

There are some key questions that need answering that will ultimately determine how the book is written on this team. In my mind, the key storylines are:

1. Who will play the point and will they get it done?
2. Will this team play solid defense?
3. Can this team win on the road?
4. Will the loss of JC, RY and Rio send us backward or will it be 2004 all over again?
5. Which frontcourt players are going to win playing time?
6. Will the senior class of Morrow / Dickey / Smith put their stamp on a season?

So let's take a look at the key areas of the team:

The loss of Javaris Crittenton is certainly disappointing, but life goes on in the form of transfer Matt Causey, freshman Mo Miller and junior D'Andre Bell. It looks like Causey and Miller are going to battle it out in terms of starting but both are sure to play. Each brings some slightly different skill sets to the court. Causey is a better shooter while Miller is a better penetrater (although not to the level of JC). Miller is more physical and might end up being a better defender. Causey has been around the collegiate block, with GT his 3rd stop, so he might be considered more of the grizzled veteran.

Neither of these guys has the skill set of Javaris Crittenton - however, they are both pass-first type point guards. I see that as a refreshing change. While it's possible that D'Andre Bell sees some action at the point, I see this more as a last resort than anything else. He's probably our best on-ball defender, but unless things have changed in the off-season, he wasn't the best option at the point.

So what's the prognosis? Well, point guard play drives everything - particularly with Paul Hewitt's system. I am not buying into the popular storyline of looking at 2004 after losing Chris Bosh and Ed Nelson, then playing for the national title. This year we lost JC and Thad Young - so can we pull that stunt again? I don't see it. That 2004 team had a veteran, experienced ACC Point Gaurd. This edition does not. We're stacked everywhere else on the court, but PG is the true x-factor. It's the one place you just can't hide a weakness.

Anthony Morrow is in the best shape of his collegiate career. He claims he has a new focus on defense, which will be interesting to watch. He is still the dead-eye shooter he always was and will likely be looked to for a few game-winning shots this season.

Lewis Clinch is back after missing most of last season and immediately becomes the best scorer on the roster. We are all hoping he has improved his defense as well. Having Clinch will take a lot of heat off other guys so they can make plays. He's a true scorer and we will need him 100%.

D.Bell is likely to see most of his time at the 2/3 spot and should provide a steadying defensive influence and nice little mid-range jumper every once in awhile. Freshman Lance Storrs looks to bring his shooting touch to the court and has looked good early. However, he will likely have a
hard fight for minutes once the ACC slate starts.

Lastly Mouhammad Faye has the most unique physical presence of any wing player we have (6'10" with a wingspan over 7'). Unfortunately I see Faye ending up as a lost man this season. Yes, the long arms make getting off shots against him tough. However, his lack of strength and limited lateral quickness could prove difficult against some of the quicker 2-guards in the league. Offensively, he doesn't pass up too many shots we he gets them. I expect Faye to see decent action prior to the ACC season, but I expect the minues to dry up after that.

Overall, we are in great shape with Clinch and Morrow offensively and Bell defensively. If these guys can take a cue from Bell and play tougher D we should see a lot of production at the wing.

Bodies bodies everywhere, but which bodies will end up where? There are truly lots of guys that could earn their PT down low before the last whistle blows. With Ra'Sean Dickey and Zach Peacock likely out until December, there are going to be opportunities to step up. Dickey will return for the new semester after having academic difficulties. The question about Ra'Sean is the same as it always has been - can he bring it every minute of every game and can he improve his defense? Offensively this guy has weapons as good as anyone in the ACC. Great footwork in the post. He's learning how to pass from the post, which was a problem early in his career. He has a beautiful jump shot that probably extends to 3-pt range if they let him. With Dickey, it's just all about focus and motivation........ and defense. He has so much upside, but these same questions still linger heading into his senior campaign.

Jeremis Smith is the anchor in the 4-spot with his gritty, physical play. He is undersized for the position, but has a knack for using his body in space. We have heard about a better jump shot, but I will believe it when I see it. However, Jeremis is also the leader of this team, so look for him to speak up when needed.

Zach Peacock is out for awhile nursing an injury that they are trying to heal before it becomes a full blow stress fracture. Peacock has a nice skill set too, with solid post moves and a jump shot that definitely extends to 3pt range. Zach is a physical guy who often got into foul trouble, but he does play good defense which will probably earn more PT when he returns. He should stick in the rotation when games get tight.

Alade Aminu looks the most ready to step in make a statement in the next few weeks. He's tall, athletic, bouncy and fast. What I like most about watching his game is his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. He just seems to have a good feel for "space" - where to slide over, when to move back, when to fight for position. He got a lot of easy shots last season because he could find the weak spot in the defense. In addition, he has the ability to jump over guys for rebounds without getting the over-the-back call. I like his game a lot. It's hard to believe he's already a junior, but Alade is the case of a guy who has done a lot of growing and maturing while at Georgia Tech. He came in as a freshman with only a handful of seasons playing organized ball, so he's had to learn the game. In addition, he's learned a bit about prioritizing and focusing on what's important as evidenced by some comments from Coach Hewitt last season.

Brad Sheehan rips off the redshirt to show us what he can do. The 6'11" 220lb Latham, NY native has a nice jump shot out to 15 feet. Down low, when he gets the ball above his waist and he keeps it there, he seems to be very effective. He still struggles when attempting to put the ball on the floor. In addition, he continues to try and add strength and muscle to his thin frame. I expect Sheehan to see a good bit of action in the coming weeks, but see it trail off further into the season.

Gani Lawal is the all-out overdrive motor of a freshman who comes to Tech with some high expectations. He has a reputation as a guy who doesn't stop running and working. A big strong 6'8" body, nice work in the post and probably a very very short range jumper are what to look for. Evidently he's also quite the personality and joker, so it should be interesting to watch his interaction with teamates.

Jeremis Smith is the captain, and personally I wouldn't mess with him if I were on the team. Chemistry is one of those things that are so important. One wrong guy or one right guy can make all the difference. Was losing Ed Nelson (one wrong guy) more important than losing Chris Bosh (one right guy) to the NCAA tourney run the following year? Was Clarence Moore (one right guy) or Anthony McHenry (another right guy) the real difference? Was losing Zam Fredrick (one wrong guy) more important than adding JC / TY (two right guys) that helped go from a losing season to 20 wins and a trip to the dance?

Who knows, but don't underestimate the importance of how these guys get along, how they treat one another, how they lift each other up. In the Fox Sports South GT Hoops preview show, they interviewed J.Smith, and he jokingly said that Zach Peacock "is my man" but that they can't leave the locker without arguing about something. Now, I'm sure that's all in good fun and I'm sure that they get along great, but how they get along matters. How this group trusts one another matters. Chemistry and leadership are so important yet so fuzzy in trying to quantify and put a finger on.

So there it is - a quick look at the team. What should we expect out of this group? The easy thing to do would be to look at the loss of Javaris and Thaddeus to the 1st round of the NBA as reason to lower expectations. Losing those guys is a big deal. However, TY's loss is truly offset by getting back Lewis Clinch in my humble opinion. The PG spot is an unanswered question and will likely determine how far we can go. However, this is a veteran team. How many teams have this many experienced upperclassmen on their roster? Not many.

The other popular thing would be to hark back to 2004 after losing big names and still make a big run. I covered my opinions on that earlier.

My personal opinion is that a trip back to the NCAA tournament is well within their capability. Competing for an ACC title is going to be tough with the Tarheels loaded and ready to go. However, I fully expect this team to finish above .500 in the ACC, win more than one road game this season, win a game or two in the ACC tourney, get to the big dance ..........and who knows what happens after that. When you have a veteran team with talented players, you should expect poise under pressure and you should expect good results.

The Jackets are truly one of the big unknowns in the ACC this season. Predictions run the gamut - and with inexperiaenced PG play you're going to get that. But nobody really knows what this squad will do - including them................

Whatever happens, the ride starts now. Opening night folks.