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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

by Rick Dimon | January 26th, 2007

Team Personality: Inconsistency. The Yellow Jackets simply do not have an aura that pervades the team game in and game out.

One night you’ll see a ‘Jackets team that runs opponents ragged up and down the court. This team plays tenacious defense and takes care of the ball. When Tech is clicking, the ‘Jackets up-tempo offense baffles even the most athletic squads.

But you can just as easily suffer through a steady diet of a Tech squad that has no idea what is going on. The Jackets are prone to standing around on defense and often try to make up for the defensive lapses on one offensive possession, which only leads to turnovers.

Nationally Televised:

November 20 vs. Purdue (Maui Quarters) W (79-61)
November 21 vs. Memphis (Maui Semis) W (92-85)
November 22 vs. UCLA (Maui Finals) L (88-73)
December 9 at Vanderbilt L (73-64)
January 10 vs. Duke W (74-63)
January 20 at North Carolina L (77-61)
February 11 vs. Connecticut CBS
February 18 at Duke CBS
March 1 vs. North Carolina ESPN

Biggest Games: Let’s be honest, every game remaining on the schedule is huge. In a league as competitive as the ACC, every conference game is critical and the Yellow Jackets only have one game remaining that is not against an ACC foe. That one? A rematch of the 2004 National Championship with the Connecticut Huskies on February 11 at Georgia Tech.

But three of Tech’s biggest contests come at the very end of the regular season schedule: at Virginia and home against UNC and Boston College.

The trip to Charlottesville might be the most crucial of them all. It will come at a point in the season when the Yellow Jackets should have matured and are ready to win tough games on the road. More importantly, they’ll most likely be battling for ACC and NCAA Tournament positioning with the surprising Wahoos. The Jackets will need to take some momentum into their final two games against two of the best teams in the conference.

Has to be on the Floor:
Javaris Crittenton. The Yellow Jackets struggled on offense all of last year, for one reason and one reason only: a lack of a true point guard. The now-departed Zam Frederick ran the offense, but he was much better suited at the two-spot. Georgia Tech never found any kind of offensive rhythm last season and Paul Hewitt’s squad was consistently dogged by turnovers.

Enter Javaris Crittenton. While the 6-5, 195-pound point guard does turn the ball over way too much, the Jackets would be lost on the offensive end without him. Tech has little to no depth at point guard. When Crittenton is on the bench, defensive specialist Mario West runs the show. Taking nothing away from his always-phenomenal defensive efforts, West is not much of a scoring threat and will turn the ball over on the other side of the court when pressured.
That’s why Hewitt has consistently given Crittenton nearly 40 minutes throughout the season. Once Crittenton gets some more experience—and a guy can grow up quickly playing point guard in the ACC—he’ll be among the best guards in the conference. Tech’s hopes depend on his maturity.

Last Shot: Anthony Morrow. The junior shooting guard is one of the best three-point shooters in the nation and is arguably the top long-distance threat in the ACC, save for perhaps Wayne Ellington.

Morrow led the ‘Jackets in scoring last season, but with the influx of highly-touted freshmen, his role has visibly diminished. However, due to the suspension of guard Lewis Clinch, Morrow simply has to step up for the Yellow Jackets. If Tech ever needs a clutch shot late in the game, Morrow’s number will undoubtedly be called.

Straw that stirs the Drink: Right now the concoction is shaken, not stirred.

But if the Yellow Jackets do pick up some more chemistry, it will be Jeremis Smith moving the straw. The 6-6 forward is the team’s vocal leader and also leads by example on the court. Smith, however, seems to be reeling for a while after Lewis Clinch, his good friend, was dismissed.

For the Jackets to climb out of their recent slide and into the upper echelon of the ACC, Smith must get his swagger back. He is a phenomenal athlete, very disciplined on both sides of the floor, and leads the team in field goal percentage at 64.6%.

While Smith is a key element to Tech’s success, time will be the ultimate healer. Georgia Tech fans must hold out hope that the light bulbs in their team’s explosive youngsters will switch on simultaneously. If that happens, the rest of the ACC may just get blinded.

Impact Newcomer: Thaddeus Young. While Crittenton has clearly been the most productive and most important freshman on the team, Young is Georgia Tech’s x-factor. When he is on, Young is sometimes the best player on the floor, but when he’s off, it’s like he is not even there.

In the Maui Invitational, Young was a non-factor against Memphis and followed that up with another disappearing act against UCLA in the title game. He also scored just two points in a horrific ACC-opening loss at Miami.

Young, however, has scored in double figures the last five conference games, including 22 at North Carolina and 21 at Maryland.

At 6-8, 215 pounds, and with a huge wingspan, Young has a body that NBA scouts are already drooling over. He probably would have been a lottery pick in 2006 had it not been for the new age rule, but Young is just now starting to get it done at the college level. If he keeps up his recent stretch of good play, Georgia Tech’s offense will no doubt morph into a formidable threat.

Potential Pitfall: Youth. This is an extraordinarily young team and it has been showing. Georgia Tech’s only senior who sees playing time is Mario West and the Jackets start two freshmen in Crittenton and Young. Freshman Zack Peacock also logs crucial minutes spelling Ra’Sean Dickey down low.

While Tech’s young guns are extremely talented, there have been some obvious growing pains. A team still searching for clear-cut leadership, the Jackets often look like they’re not playing with a purpose on the court. Too many guys seem lost on defense and the offense spirals out of control at times, especially when Tech plays from behind.

Playing from behind seems to be one of the ill effects of Tech’s youth. The Yellow Jackets often do not wake up until the second half and they must start coming out of the gates with intensity in order to turn the season around. This young squad was blown away from the start against UCLA, looked intimidated from the opening tip at UNC, and never got close to sinking their teeth into the Maryland game.

Theme Lyrics: When you say Budweiser, you’ve said it all.

This line, from one of Georgia Tech’s fight songs, fits the 2006-2007 squad perfectly. After all, the Yellow Jackets send their fans sprinting for the nearest traditional beverage after nearly every game…either to celebrate a top-15 win over Duke or a second-half drubbing of Memphis, or to ease the pain of witnessing a 20-turnover blowout loss like those at UNC and Maryland.

How to reach the Sweet 16: The road to making the Sweet 16 begins simply with making the NCAA Tournament. Right now that is all Georgia Tech needs to be worrying about. The Yellow Jackets currently stand 2-4 in the ACC and are looking up at several teams with whom they are competing for an invitation to the Big Dance.

That said, if the Jackets do in fact get a tournament birth, they’ll be a very tough out. It’s clearly taking—and will take—a while for this awfully young squad to gel, but the train should be rolling by Tournament time. The key is survival until then.

What do I mean by survival? The Yellow Jackets need to get it back to .500 in the ACC and finish in the top half of the conference. The ACC is back with a vengeance after a subpar 2006 showing, and there will be no shortage of bids for .500+ teams.

Georgia Tech is entering a soft spot in the schedule (relatively speaking) in which it will be favored in four consecutive conference games. If the Jackets can run off four straight and move to 6-4 in the ACC, that just might provide the momentum this young team needs to keep it focused on a return to the NCAA’s.

–Rick Dimon

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