The 5-0 Jackets are unpredictable and volatile – and frightening. They came back from a 19-point deficit to beat Memphis. The day before in the Maui first round, they also trailed Purdue for most of the first half before exploding in the second.
Coming from behind and staying mentally in the game is a departure from a year ago, when Head Coach Paul Hewitt had his most disappointing season since he arrived at Georgia Tech in 2000. Last year they lost many games down the stretch because of a lack of mental focus, losing all eight ACC road games.
But the team returns six of its top seven scorers from last season, and they seem to be far more tougher mentally than last season.
Add to that a top ten national recruiting class and Georgia Tech definitely has some guys it can throw at you. It goes nine deep, basically, and all nine guys are good to freakish athletes.
The Jackets are run by 6-4 freshman point guard Jarvaris Crittendon, who was a McDonald's All-American and the third-highest ranked point guard in the nation as a high school senior a year ago. Crittendon has made a very good transition to college ball in his first five games, averaging 15.4 points, 6.2 assists, and 4 rebounds. He isn't necessarily a natural point, and has been wild and out of control at times so far this season, turning the ball over an average of 4.4 times per game. He likes to penetrate and get to the rim, and with his size and quickness has shown to be tough to stop doing it, and he'll fearlessly shoot threes, too. He's shown a great penchant for drawing fouls off drives, getting to the free-throw line and making his free throws, shooting 78% from the line so far.
Starting alongside him is the Jackets' leading scorer, 6-3 sophomore shooting guard Lewis Clinch, who could emerge as one of the best scorers in the ACC this season. He was hampered by injuries a season ago, but now, relatively healthy, he's averaging 16.2 per game, and is shooting 50% from three. He has a quick release, and is very good shooting from anywhere on the floor, particularly on quick pull-ups.
It will be interesting to see if UCLA swaps its guards defensively, and has Darren Collison match up against Clinch and Arron Afflalo against Crittendon, merely because of the size aspect. It'd be intriguing to see the veteran defensive player, Afflalo, trying to shut down Crittendon and stifling GTU's offense, but Collison's quickness might be what UCLA will want to match up against Crittendon. Either way, you can expect UCLA to throw a great deal of ball pressure at Crittendon to force him into speeding up and turning the ball over.
Georgia Tech's other two freshmen that start are 6-8 forward Thaddeus Young and 6-7 forward Zach Peacock. Young, a McDonald's All-American and considered one of the best all-around prospects coming out of high school last year, is proving the hype wasn't unjustified. He's an athletic freak, with a well-put-together body, great lateral quickness for his size and some supreme bounciness. Combine that with some good skills, especially for a freshman, and you have a very tough match-up. He's averaging 14.4 points per game in just 24 minutes, and can score just about any way, around the basket, shooting mid-ranges and even hitting threes. He's actually 7 for 11 from three-point land so far this season. This is a match-up for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute all the way, and it could be one of Luc's toughest assignments all season, where Luc actually has to defend a future NBA player.
Peacock, the other freshman starting forward, is a tough-nosed athlete in his own right, and has averaged 8.4 points per game, getting it mostly around the basket. Only because you need Mbah a Moute to match up with Young does then Josh Shipp match up with Peacock, but Peacock has a size, quickness and strength advantage on Shipp. Shipp, of course, has the veteran wiliness, but this is going to be one of the secondary match ups in this game that could be pivotal, depending on whether Shipp can stay with Peacock.
Junior Jeremis Smith, the 6-6, 235-pounder, is the enforcer and rebounder of the group, averaging 11 points and six rebounds per game. He's coming off easily his best game of the season so far, getting 20 points and nine rebounds against Memphis, many of those boards on the offensive end in the second half, which were instrumental in the Jackets taking control of the game.
The other big man is also the other veteran, junior Ra'Sean Dickey, who is 6-9 and 255 and now comes off the bench. Dickey also had his best game of the season against Memphis, where he had 14 points and 10 rebounds. He and Smith controlled the boards in the second half of that game, which fueled Georgia Tech's comeback. The Jackets out-rebounded Memphis 29-9 in the final 20 minutes, which got them many second-chance points on the offensive end and many one-shot-and-outs on the other. In fact, because of that rebounding, Memphis went 8 minutes in the second half with only one field goal.
The fourth member of the freshman class is 6-8, 190-pound Mouhammed Faye, who has spelled Young and Peacock serviceably, especially as a solid scoring option. He can shoot, and he won't hesitate to take an open three.
Two guards also come off the bench, 6-5 junior Anthony Morrow and the one senior on the team, 6-4 Mario West. Morrow was a big-time shooter last season, but has been over-shadowed by the freshmen so far this year. He can heat up and kill you from three. West is a defensive specialist who gives Crittendon a blow.
The Ramblin Wreck are best in transition, particularly when they're looking for that open three in transition. They're shooting a very respectable 40% from three, and an impressive 53% from the field overall, getting a lot of high-percentage shots from offensive rebounds. They rely on their athleticism, Crittendon's ability to break down defenders and create, for himself and others, and then they crash the offensive boards. They're very reliant on their athleticism on the defensive end, too, and so far have been successful this season, holding opponents to 39% shooting.
Georgia Tech, though, with its inexperience and penchant to play out of control, can be a mess at times. They're averaging 17 turnovers per game, and often times they don't execute much offensively, with their offense breaking down to players going one-one-one. On defense, they rely on their athleticism for its man defense, but aren't good at team defense. They can slip into a match-up zone sometimes, where you're actually not sure if it's a zone or just a few players not necessarily guarding their men very closely. They also don't always hustle back in transition.
It's a very fun match-up overall, between GTU and UCLA. UCLA has the talent to stay with Georgia Tech, and it's superior in terms of experience, toughness and poise. It also should be able to use its ability to execute offensively to exploit GTU's lack of defensive discipline. But any one factor could tip the game either way; such as, if UCLA shoots the way it did against Kentucky from three, it won't win. But when the teams are pretty evenly matched from a talent standpoint, it's a good bet to go with the team that has more experience and plays with more poise and discipline.
Georgia Tech 74