Atlanta, Ga. - Alexander Memorial Coliseum,
9 p.m., TV - Raycom/LFN (Tim Brant, Billy Packer), ESPN2 (Brad Nessler, Jay Bilas)
"I don't know if we're going to make it into the [NCAA] Tournament, but I feel about this team the way I felt about our team in '04 [that finished as NCAA runner-up]. We lost a couple of tough games down the stretch, and I just kept telling people, 'We're playing really good basketball, and we're playing as well as anybody in the country.' I'm not ready to say this team is playing as well as anybody in the country, but I'm telling you right now that this team is playing very well." -- Paul Hewitt
"They're making a run for the NCAA Tournament, I think they're in, but it'll be a big-time basketball game and hopefully we play well ... [In our first game against Tech], I think it was closer than that final 17-point margin indicates." -- Roy Williams
"Hopefully we'll go over to Georgia Tech and get that composure and that toughness and that desire back and show that we're the best team in the ACC." -- Bobby Frasor
The First Meeting: Georgia Tech shot poorly in the first half (35% FG, 20% 3pt) to fall behind and Tyler Hansbrough scored 18 second-half points (24 total) to finish off the 77-61 Tar Heel win on Jan. 20 at the Smith Center. UNC forced 21 Tech turnovers, though committed 19 of its own. Thaddeus Young led the Jackets with 22 points.
Home Sweet Home: Georgia Tech sits on the NCAA Tournament bubble entering Thursday's game because of an amazing inability to win road games. Coming off a 1-11 road record last season (with the one win coming against Centenary), Tech is 1-8 on the road this season (with a win at FSU a couple weeks ago). The Jackets' big wins this season have come at home or on neutral courts -- beating Memphis and Duke -- and thankfully for them Thursday's game is in Atlanta. Paul Hewitt's team is 14-1 at home this season, the one home loss to Virginia Tech on Jan. 28.
Frosh Duo: The only two scorers in double digits for Tech are point guard Javaris Crittenton and wing Thaddeus Young -- both freshmen. The high school All-Americans arrived with much fanfare and are now playing up to expectations. Crittenton, standing 6-5, is ranked third in the conference in assists and steals, and is an effective penetrator off the dribble or shooting from the perimeter -- and is dangerous on defense. In conference games, he's the highest-ranked freshman in scoring (16.2 ppg, 8th among all players) and steals (2.14 per game), and is No. 2 in free throw percentage (86.7 pct.). Young is a big, versatile wing with the athleticism to play three different positions. His shooting has improved to where you can't leave him alone out beyond the arc, while he can also do damage in the paint.
Size Advantage: There is not a taller lineup in the ACC (and perhaps the rest of Div. I) than Georgia Tech. No one in the Jackets' starting lineup is shorter than 6-5 -- in fact, no one in their main nine-man rotation is shorter than 6-5. Tech starts a 6-5 point guard and brings three players 6-8 or taller off the bench, plus a physical 6-5 defensive specialist. With that type of size, it's no surprise they're a good rebounding club. They are second in the ACC in rebounding margin to UNC at +6.1.
Keying on D: Tech's size and athleticism also contributes to it being one of the league's top defensive clubs. The Jackets lead the ACC in steals at 10.1 per game and are third in three-point percentage defense (32.3%), but their most impressive defensive performances have come recently. In their five wins in February, they held opponents to fewer than 65 points. During the 5-2 mark over the last seven games, the Jackets have held opponents to 41.9 percent shooting (36% in the second half) and have forced 16.1 turnovers per game.
MIA: Tech has played the second half of the season without sophomore shooting guard Lewis Clinch, who was averaging 13.2 points through the first 14 games, and shooting a blistering 47.6 percent on three-point attempts. An honor code violation led to a season-ending suspension.
Long Range Marksmen: Even with Clinch out of the lineup, the Yellow Jackets still have a dangerous trio of three-point shooters - though their percentages have dropped some during ACC play. Young (40.3%), Crittenton (39.6%) and Morrow (39.5%) lead the way from long range, however, the Jackets are at their best when not relying on the long-range shot. Tech is 9-3 this year in games in which it has tried 15 or fewer three-point shots. In their five wins over the last seven games, the Jackets are averaging 12 three-point attempts per game.
Non-Stop Subb'ing: Roy Williams makes plenty of substitutions with his deep team, but Paul Hewitt may now top the Tar Heel coach when it comes to rapid substitutions. Hewitt made a total of 51 substitutions (85 individual players coming in and out) against Virginia last Saturday. Expect more of the same Thursday to ensure his team has a chance to stay fresh against the fast and deep Tar Heels.
Series History: The Tar Heels lead the all-time series against Georgia Tech, 58-19. UNC is 17-10 in games played at Tech, but hasn't won there since the 2000-2001 season.
Projected Starters: 1 Javaris Crittenton (6-5, 198, Fr.) – 14.5 ppg, 5.4 apg 23 Anthony Morrow (6-5, 210, Jr.) – 9.2 ppg 33 Thaddeus Young (6-8, 217, Fr.) - 13.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg 32 Jeremis Smith (6-8, 236, Jr.) – 8.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg 4 Ra'Sean Dickey (6-10, 250, Jr.) – 8.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg Key Reserves: 35 Zach Peacock (6-8, 235, Fr.) – 5.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg 5 Mario West (6-5, 210, Sr.) – 4.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg 11 Mouhammad Faye (6-10, 208, Fr.) – 4.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg 44 Alade Aminu (6-10, 225, So.) – 4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Crittenton ....... Young
Smith ....... Morrow
West ....... Dickey
(Photos courtesy AP)