At 6-0, Georgia Tech serves notice to league

No. 13 Yellow Jackets off to best start in 9 years, prove they aren't a fluke

ACC notebook

December 05, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are no longer on the verge of a breakthrough. They have arrived with a bang and have the makings of a team that could shake up the hierarchy of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

By destroying Ohio State, 73-53, on the road two nights ago, Georgia Tech put its stamp on a dominant showing by the ACC, which trounced the Big Ten by winning seven of nine contests in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

The No. 13 Yellow Jackets, ranked for the first time since December 1997, also served notice that their 6-0 start, their best in nine years, is not a fluke. You don't drill then-No. 1 Connecticut and Texas Tech to win the Preseason NIT with luck or sleight of hand.

"It might be a surprise to some, but I don't think it is to anybody who has watched us in practice every day. These guys have worked very, very hard," fourth-year coach Paul Hewitt said. "We realized early in practice that we had a chance to be a very good basketball team. I couldn't tell you we would be at this point this soon, but we have a lot of potential, and we just have to keep working on it."

This could be the year that potential finally equals success in Atlanta, where Tech is looking a bit frightening after three straight fifth-place finishes in the league.

The Yellow Jackets have all of the necessary ingredients, starting with a roster stacked with bulk, quickness and skill. Do you think Tech fans care anymore that center Chris Bosh left to become an NBA draft lottery pick in June after a fine freshman season, or that underrated forward Ed Nelson transferred to Connecticut?

Hewitt finally has an experienced team in superb condition that is executing his up-tempo style with the right blend of finesse and bullying.

The Yellow Jackets feature a gifted, physical point guard in sophomore Jarrett Jack; a pure shooter in senior guard Marvin Lewis; a pure scorer in junior guard/forward B.J. Elder; a high-flying, open-floor presence in junior forward Isma'il Muhammad; and an efficient post anchor in 7-foot-1 junior center Luke Schenscher.

Senior forwards Clarence Moore and Robert Brooks and junior forward Anthony McHenry add depth. Next week, guard Will Bynum, a transfer from Arizona, will become eligible and bring more pop to the bench.

The Yellow Jackets are balanced, unselfish, tough to guard and developing a nasty streak. Consider that they have won by an average of 21.7 points and have rarely been threatened in the second half. Consider that their defense is allowing just 58.2 points a game and has surrendered no more than 69 points.

Jack, one of four players averaging at least 14 points, has been the driving force. He leads the team in rebounding (6.2) and assists (7.9), is shooting 57.7 percent and has made 85.7 percent of his free-throw attempts.

Jack is spreading the ball around impressively. Elder (16.8 points a game) leads the team in scoring. Lewis (14.2 points) has made 38 percent of his 37 three-point attempts. Muhammad (14.0 points) is a highlight dunk waiting to happen.

With upcoming games against Tennessee State, Saint Louis, Alabama A&M, St. John's, Marist, Virginia Commonwealth and Georgia, it is not unrealistic to envision the Yellow Jackets going into their ACC opener at North Carolina on Jan. 11 with a 13-0 record.

"If this was a young team, I'd be worried," said Hewitt, who has an 0-1 record in the NCAA tournament at Tech. "But most of these guys have been through an awful lot, watching us struggle as a young team two years ago. They understand that, as easily as this came, it could go back just as fast."

Foul shooting woes

Maryland coach Gary Williams has learned not to get too concerned about free-throw shooting problems early in a season. He recalls his NCAA championship team struggling terribly with the problem in November and December two years ago.

Williams still would like to see Maryland correct its foul ways at the foul line soon. Through its 4-0 start, there has been no cloud as dark as the Terps' inability to convert the unguarded 15-footer. The Terps have made only 53 of 96 attempts, and their 55.2 percent success rate ranks next-to-last in the conference.

"Free throws are almost like a baseball team that goes along for a week and the ball just won't drop in. They can't get any hits," Williams said. "Then, all of a sudden, they score 14 runs in one game. What we need to do is have one game where we start making them early, and we'll be fine. Hopefully, we're not a 56 percent free-throw shooting team. Right now, we are."

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