February 6, 2007
ATLANTA Georgia Tech basketball coach Paul Hewitt laughs at the notion that his team's season is going down the drain.
Yet as the Yellow Jackets opened February on a four-game losing streak, their postseason hopes were at least beginning to swirl as the drain opened beneath them.
"It's not desperation time, but if you're going to make your move, this is it," Hewitt said prior to a Feb. 3 win against Clemson that snapped his team's drought. "Have we put ourselves in a tough spot? Yes. But the teams that are going to be remembered for having a successful year hit their stride in February and March."
The impressive 80-62 victory over Clemson perhaps signaled a Tech resurgence. The Jackets played solid defense for the first time in three weeks against the Tigers, forcing 22 turnovers and holding them to 41 percent shooting and 13 offensive rebounds.
Point guard Javaris Crittenton snapped his personal funk which had coincided with the losing streak by filling out the box score: 9-of-15 shooting, 2-4 from three-point range, 6-8 from the foul line, five rebounds, 26 points, six assists, six turnovers and seven steals in 37 minutes. His points and steals were both career highs.
"I just needed to pick it up on my part," Crittenton said. "I didn't feel like I had been playing like myself, like I had been doing the things I need to do to help the team. So I tried to pick it up in every category."
The Jackets clearly go as Crittenton goes. He scored 19 or more points in three of Tech's first four ACC games and had almost twice as many assists as turnovers. His production slipped drastically during the four-game losing streak, as he averaged eight points and had 16 assists with 17 turnovers in those games.
Hewitt has tried to deflect blame away from his true freshman point guard and toward his veteran teammates, who struggled to match Crittenton's intensity and energy on the floor. They lacked movement on offense during the losing streak, particularly underneath the basket.
That changed against Clemson, and it had nothing to do with Hewitt altering the offense.
"It ain't Xs and Os, it's the Jimmys and Joes," Hewitt said, borrowing from coaching legend Abe Lemons. "It's not about what you do, it's how you do it. Same offense, same plays, just better movement and better execution. That's the frustrating part. Quite honestly, our big guys have got to bring it every night. I don't want to call anybody out, but those are the facts. We're doing nothing different."
Now it's a matter of building on, or at least maintaining, that success. The Clemson game was the first of three straight in Atlanta for the Yellow Jackets, who are 12-1 at home yet 0-6 on the road. If they can follow up the Clemson win with victories over N.C. State and Connecticut, they can take momentum with them to Florida State as they attempt to break a 17-game losing streak that spans three seasons.
Tech's last win on an opponent's home floor came on Feb. 26, 2005, at Miami, with Jarrett Jack, B.J. Elder, Will Bynum and Luke Schenscher in the lineup.
That streak must end for the Yellow Jackets to be considered for an at-large NCAA berth. They need to win five of their last seven ACC games to finish 8-8 in the league, which is almost a prerequisite for tournament consideration.
Three of those seven games are on the road, and Tech has home games remaining against league frontrunners North Carolina and Boston College.
"I wouldn't say that we're fragile, but I think we let a lot of things affect the way we're going to play down the road," forward Jeremis Smith said. "We need to believe in ourselves, know that we are a good team and can accomplish what we need to. We need to believe in doing the little things and have good feelings about what's going to happen next."
GAILEY FACING CRUCIAL DECISIONS
Georgia Tech football coach Chan Gailey will hire an offensive assistant to replace Patrick Nix by the middle of the month. Whether the new hire also becomes the offensive coordinator and handles the play-calling is unclear.
Gailey has an experienced quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator already on his staff in Buddy Geis. Tech's receivers coach for the last four seasons, Geis previously coached quarterbacks for two NFL teams, the Dallas Cowboys (under Gailey in 1998-99) and the Indianapolis Colts. He tutored Troy Aikman in Dallas and Jim Harbaugh in Indianapolis.
Geis worked as an offensive coordinator for the Memphis Mad Dogs of the Canadian Football League and the United States Football League's Jacksonville Bulls. He also coordinated at the college level at Tulane, Duke and Memphis.
Who handles the play-calling duties is the greatest concern to most Tech fans. Gailey could resume that role, which he held during the 2003, 2004 and 2005 seasons. He surrendered the play-calling to Nix last spring, admitting it was time "to put some new ideas and some fresh thoughts into our offense."
The offense improved under Nix, who left Tech last month to become Miami's offensive coordinator. The Jackets led the ACC in scoring in games against league opponents and ranked among the top three in rushing, passing efficiency and turnover margin. The 24.9 points per game surpassed the point production under Gailey. Tech averaged 21.1 points in 2003, 22 in 2004 and 18.5 in 2005.
Gailey enjoyed his role change in 2006, too. He took more of a "big picture" approach. Players said they developed a stronger bond with Gailey last fall, and his lack of involvement in the day-to-day offensive planning gave him more time for other areas, which no doubt contributed to the Yellow Jackets' stellar recruiting class.
But Gailey has maintained that he might resume the play-calling duties some day. And Tech will be hard-pressed to hire a high-profile offensive coordinator, both because of the late timing of Nix's departure and salary issues. Nix made approximately $145,000 per year, and Tech would have to offer probably twice that to attract top candidates.
Add in the fact that the Jackets will return eight offensive players who started the Gator Bowl including quarterback Taylor Bennett, tailback Tashard Choice and four linemen and it's likely that Gailey won't want to change much. That may rule out anyone who wants to install his own system.
That leaves Gailey or Geis as Tech's probable play-callers moving forward.