Georgia Tech at Indiana
Georgia Tech (3-2) has played fives games so far and the Jackets have been seriously tested in four of them, including coming up on the short end twice. Coach Paul Hewitt and company went down to UNC-Greensboro in the season opener and lost to Winthrop in the second game the Paradise Jam. The Jackets’ wins came in a blowout over Tennessee Tech, a tough first-round victory over UNC-Charlotte in the Paradise Jam, and a consolation-game thriller win over Notre Dame following the loss to Winthrop. While early tests should help this club as it heads up to Indiana, the results do not exactly suggest that these Jackets are ready to go into Bloomington and pull off an upset.
Georgia Tech is coming off a relatively disappointing season in which it went 20-12 overall but just a mediocre 8-8 in the ACC. Despite a first-round double-overtime loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament, the resume was enough to get the Yellow Jackets into the Big Dance. They were a trendy pick to make it to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 after being placed in the same section as banged-up No. 2 seed Wisconsin, but the Jackets flamed out to UNLV in the first round. Gone from that squad are first-round NBA Draft picks Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young, both of whom bolted Atlanta after just one season. Defensive stopper Mario West graduated and now plays for the Atlanta Hawks.
Hewitt has brought in some formidable talent in attempt to counter those losses. Gani Lawal, the team’s most heralded recruit, is a 6-8, 230-pound forward who should contribute right away to an already-strong Jackets’ frontcourt. Freshman Mo Miller and senior transfer Matt Causey, who hit a game-winning three against Notre Dame in the Paradise Jam, will platoon at point guard and aim to fill the void left by Crittenton. Georgia Tech also gets scoring machine Lewis Clinch back. Clinch was suspended by the team for the entire second half of last season.
The key for Georgia Tech this season is whether or not one—or both—of the inexperienced point guards can step up a run a sound offense. Causey has not contended with anything like ACC athleticism having played previously at North Georgia College (he played little at Georgetown prior to that stint) and Miller, well, is a freshman. Point guard is probably not the position you want question marks at when you’re preparing to do battle in the hostile Hoosier environment.
Indiana (4-1) sprinted two four quick wins to open this college basketball season, but the Hoosiers enter their contest with Georgia Tech coming off a surprising 15-point loss to Xavier on Sunday in the final of the Chicago Invitational Challenge. Sure it would have been nice for the Hoosiers to win and make a statement in their first true test of the season, but a potentially much-needed wakeup call comes just in time for the ACC-Big 10 Challenge after four blowout victories and consistently huge performances from freshman Eric Gordon had them feeling sky high.
In his first year as head coach at Indiana, Kelvin Sampson guided the Hoosiers to a 21-11 record (10-6, 3rd in the Big 10) and an NCAA Tournament appearance. Indiana won its tournament opener over Gonzaga before losing 54-49 to the UCLA Bruins, who eventually progressed to the Final 4.
Sampson had to deal with taking over a team that lost its top three scorers from the 2005-2006 season, but this time he enters the season with three returning starters and a major influx of talent. Gordon, a 6-4 shooting guard out of Indianapolis who chose the Hoosiers over Illinois, is hands down one of the best freshmen in the nation. Through five games he is pouring in 27.5 points per game to go along with 3.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.0 steals. Another newcomer and immediate starter is small forward Jamarcus Ellis, a junior transfer and last season’s National Junior College Athletic Association Player of the Year.
With the new wave of starts combined with veteran talent and leadership, the Hoosiers are loaded in all facets and areas of the game. Power forward D.J. White is back after briefly considering the NBA, and he and Gordon should make for the most lethal inside-outside duo in the conference. White will be doing most of the scoring down low, but he’ll be helped by senior Lance Stemler and 290-pound behemoth DeAndre Thomas. Point guard Armon Bassett is just a sophomore, but he has plenty of experience after starting 24 games for the Hoosiers last season. Bassett, Gordon, and senior A.J. Ratliff should make up one of the best backcourts in the Big 10.
Indiana has more talent than Georgia Tech and the Hoosiers also have home-court advantage in this matchup. Hewitt’s Yellow Jackets have never—and I mean never—been stellar at winning games on the road, so this will be an extremely difficult task. White could have a field day down low with big man RaSean Dickey academically ineligible for the Jackets. Kelvin Sampson’s teams always play hard-nosed in-your-face defense and that should prove to be tough on the Tech point guards, especially since they’ll already be dealing with a raucous Hoosier crowd. Georgia Tech should be able to keep this close for a while, but Gordon will eventually assert himself as the best player on the floor and White will wear down the Jackets’ post players in the second half.
The pick: Indiana by 12.