Monday, January 28, 2008


Have we entered some sort of Twilight Zone episode? Our Jackets just won their 2nd road game in a row - both ACC games? That has not happened in eons. Congrats to the team for a great victory, taking out UVA 82-72 in one overtime session.

The script for this story was reversed. It is supposed to be the Jackets who run out for the big lead, give it up, then find a way to lose in the closing minutes. That's been the script for the Jackets too many times the past couple of seasons. Sunday it was just the opposite. Let's face it - Virginia was on fire in the 1st half.... unconscious..... It was like everything they threw up from everyone went in. I never had the sense or feel that it was slacking off on defense by Tech. However, the Jackets do play a fairly aggressive, help-type defense. The result is usually open threes if you have some guys with decent vision and an ability to penetrate-and-dish. Virginia found guys who got open looks and it was like they couldn't miss.

So the Jackets go the locker-room at half trailing, but they came out in the 2nd half and did what it took to get back in the game, even taking the lead. How many times do we have to hear "In the ACC, teams are going to make a run at you so get ready" - regarding the OTHER teams? Well, it was GT Sunday. In the end, they did have a chance to win it in regulation, missed the shot, but dominated in OT. Way to go.

You know, if Matt Causey is a 30% shooter from 3pt line hoisting up some of the moon shots he's been taking, we'd all be writing about how he's killing us; how he needs to be benched; how he's a hot-head and not a team player. Buuuuuuuttttttttt, make 50% of your bombs and especially the ones in cruchtime and it goes from zero-to-hero. You're now gritty and gutty and fearless.

You have to just shake your head. The kid hits about a 35-foot dagger in OT to break UVA's back. By the way here's what Causey said about that shot - "It was deep, but the shot clock was running down so I was permitted to take it and coach couldn't say anything,". He scores most of his points in OT (12 of 18) to take UVA behind the woodshed. You have to hand it to him. He has some moxie. He's tough. He's fearless. He's got game. He's also the exact type of player that every opposing fan loves to harass and hates to play against. He's our Hurley / Wojohowski (sp?) / Reddick - you get the point.

Coach Hewitt said this after the game - “I’m to the point now where I just let him go.”. I'm not sure any of us envisioned this stretch after watching him early on. Can it continue? Why not? Can it inspire and push our other players? Why not?

Something that was clearly better Sunday was the Jackets ability to go inside-out. They consistently got the ball into the post to Jeremis Smith and Gani Lawal. Low-and-behold Gani got 2 assists as a result - only his 4th and 5th of the year. Maybe he's learning not to be the black hole in the post. Remember Ra'Sean Dickey went through the same thing. He was like a roach-motel - balls come in, but they don't come out.

However, it was that inside-out game that really opened things up. When you force the defense to collapse and play tighter in the paint, it gives you more opportunities on the perimeter. There were a couple of stretches where I thought we were jacking up too many three's without getting the ball down low, but for the most part, it was one of the more balanced efforts.

Georgia Tech is last in the ACC in rebounding. Last in offensive rebounding. Last in defensive rebounding. I don't get it. Considering GT was one of the best rebounding teams last season, and we added Gani Lawal, I'm not sure I get it. Is the loss of Dickey that significant? Is there a lack of focus on rebounding? What is happening here? Paul Hewitt puts two things at the top of his basketball list - defense and rebounding. How have we fallen so far on the 2nd?

One issue is our defensive style. It's aggresive. It's helping and doubling down. It's getting in front of post players to deny them the ball - not necessarily gettying yourself in between the bucket and the post player. All of that gives the opponents a better chance at good position for a board.

Some of it is just plain old focus. Find a man. Rebounding is as much about desire as anything. Just ask yourself how Sean Singletary tipped up an offensive board for 2 points over Zach Peacock late in the game. Desire.

There's something else that frustrated me in that game. Hard to describe, but even when our guys had position, UVA players consistently came over the back to tip the ball and keep it alive. MANY of those could have been called but they weren't. I'm not complaining about the refs here. It's just that our guys don't seem to take advantage of the same opportunity on our end of the floor. Our guys just had trouble timing their jumps and/or securing the ball even when they did have position. There was a key play late in the game where UVA put up a shot, Matt Causey establishes position in the lane and a big UVA players absolutely bowls him over - runs right through him and pushes him right under the basket. That guy ended up tipping the ball causing it to go off Lewis Clinch's fingers and OB - ball to UVA. I guess if you're a little guy in the lane, you have no right for position if a bigger guy wants to bowl his way in.

Can you see it rising? See it going up? "It" would be Gani Lawal's draft stock. Right now, the freshman class across the country is an unbelievably good one, and Gani Lawal is on the periphery of it. He's starting to make his case to be higher. What he is starting to do the past few games is impressive. The kid has springs on his feet. He's blocking shots. He's grabbing key boards, and he's making shots. He is becoming a force in the paint. His defensive skills are really getting better, and he is so active and energetic. It's just fun to watch.

Now, there are a couple of skills that will prevent him from rising to the elite of this freshman class across the country. First - he's not a good free throw shooter. We're told he's working like crazy on it. That's good. We all know free throws are about mechanics and mental focus / concentration. It Gani ever got his FT% up to 70%+, then watch out. As it is now, they're going to do what they do to Jeremis Smith - mug him if he gets the ball in the paint. Force the kid to make them at the line. The other aspect of his game that will keep him from the elite of the class is his outside shooting. All, and I do mean all, of his shots come around the basket. And they're all basically back-to-the-basket generated. No face-up jumpers in his game....... yet. Right now Gani is battling Jeremis for team honors as "blue collar" guy.

One thing's for sure - Gani's as fun to watch as anyone on this team. Let's enjoy his time here. Can you imagine next season when you have Lawal on one side and Ra'Sean Dickey on the other? Throw in Zach Peacock and Alade Aminu and that's a potentially impressive group of athletic bigmen.

Mo Miller has definitely shown us something. He's got game. He handles the ball nicely. He defends well. He's got a nice dribble-drive game, and he can hit the long shot. It's clear that Miller has a future in this league, and it's going to be fun to watch him develop. More than anything he appears to have confidence that past few weeks. Maybe watching Causey is rubbing off on him.

No word on his ankle injury, although the AJC indicated that he was walking around on it decently after the game. Hopefully it's not the BJ Elder variety - the good ole' "high" ankle sprain. As we know all too well, those just linger..................

The the AJC tells us that Derrick Moore has attended both ACC road victories. These are his first road trips since his football duties ended. Look, I'm not saying it's the difference, but let's not chance it. The guy is dialed in. Let's keep calling his number.

Ok - now comes the age-old question. We've won a bunch in a row. Two ACC road victories in a row. That happens less often than an appearance by Hailey's Comet. Is it the coaching? Has Coach Hewitt changed enough of what he is doing to make a difference? Has HE found the right combination of players? Has HE made the right adjustments? Or, are his players just making plays and doing the things he's been preaching and they've been practicing all along? Do the players just "get it" now?

My take is that it's a bit of both. Coach has made some specific adjustments.

First, he changed the starting line-up to focus on defense - putting in Miller and Bell. That has made a difference. Causey and Clinch still get their minutes, but not to start the game. Set the tone early.

Second, he has eliminated certain player combinations on the floor. For example, no Morrow and Clinch on the floor at the same time. Too many easy defensive buckets when they're on the floor. There are other combinations as well, but someone would have to breakdown the substitution chart of the game to find the specific ones. Bottom-line is that if you are limited as a player in one area it's going to impact when and who you play with. Strengthen your defense and you just increased the number of player combinations you're allowed on the floor with.

Third, "Hotel Hewitt" has become less like a Motel Six and more like a Mariott Suites. In other words, you don't actually get whiplash now watching players come in and out. He's already given 6 different score-keepers carpel tunnel syndrome. It's something that fans have speculated about for a long time. Why do you keep taking guys out that get into a flow, preventing them from ever truly getting into a flow.

Those are specific tactical adjustments he has made. You have to give credit to the coach for those. However, when Matt Causey hits a 30 foot jumpshot that seems ill-timed and low-percentage, but hits it, how much credit can you give the coach. If Causey misses that long bomb, we're all yelling - "what are you doing"? But he made it, and now Coach Hewitt is a genious right? Maybe Coach is a genius for "letting Matt go".

Bottom-line. It's coaches making tactical adjustments and it's players making plays. That's why we're winning now. It's the yin and the yang. It's also that tough little cuss Causey stepping up with no fear.

with a few minutes left in regulation, I said to myself - win or lose, this team has made it fun to watch again. Congrats to the team for a great win. Now show us that it's not an anomoly and that you're building something.