GREENSBORO, NC – Ah, the center of the universe…..That’s how I feel sitting here today at the Greensboro Coliseum, watching Georgia Tech practice and knowing that tomorrow begins the greatest conference tourney in all the land…
Yes, I was raised in the great state of North Carolina. Yes, I went to a high school where somehow they found ways to get TVs around school on Friday’s quarterfinal day of the ACC, so we could sneak peeks at the action.
That was back in the old eight-team format, of course. I miss those days, because I’m an old-timer. But if they had to have 12 teams, and an extra day of four games, then hey, I’ll want to be here for that too.
Today is practice day, where teams not named Duke or North Carolina converge on the Greensboro Coliseum to “practice” for an hour on the court (Duke and Carolina practice at home, then drive over for the tournament. Limits the hoopla that way.) Today’s workouts traditionally give teams a chance to shoot a little and players to dunk a little and give fans a show.
Georgia Tech’s practice was pretty subdued because they were in rest, save-the-legs mode. The Yellow Jackets got their serious practice in this morning, behind closed doors at UNCG. At the Coliseum this afternoon, they just shot jumpers and practiced free throws to get used to the backdrop of the Greensboro Coliseum and Derrick Favors made some fans happy, signing autographs on his way off the court.
The practice session was more a chance for young players like Brian Oliver to get used to the background of a bigger coliseum. Of course, when I asked Brian what he thought of the background today, coach Paul Hewitt overhead and interjected, “The only thing he seems is the rim.”
Hey, true enough.
Speaking of Oliver, I aim to include a little physical evidence of Oliver testing out the rims today. It only took me like five times to get the timing down to where I actually got a shot of his release and not just his follow-through. (Photog, I am not!)
Shortly after Oliver took this shot, he came over to the bench, in need of a sugar fix. Apparently the guy is big on sugar, and immediately chomped down a candy bar, mid-shootaround. Oh to be 19 and get to eat candy all the time and be fit anyway.
Speaking of the younger guys, Hewitt said today that Mfon Udofia has had two really good days of practice and looks much more like the Udofia of earlier this season. So don’t be surprised to see Udofia’s minutes go up tomorrow, perhaps taking some of D’Andre Bell’s minutes.
It could be important for an extra pair of legs in there at guard trying to stop the ball against a UNC team that likes to go coast to coast as often as possible.
Also, I noticed Favors is still wearing tape on the right index finger that he jammed on the backboard against Clemson, but the newly-named ACC rookie of the year said it felt fine, it was more of a precautionary deal.
So the seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets get No. 10 Carolina Thursday night, a team they have beat twice this season and one which limps into Greensboro, coming off a 32-point loss to archrival Duke.
If Tech wins Thursday night, it would get No. 2 seed Maryland on Friday, which has a first-round bye. Tech faced Maryland only once this season in that Feb. 20 barn-burner in College Park, on that Cliff Tucker shot at the buzzer.
From the Yellow Jackets’ perspective, they like their draw. They could end up facing Florida State or Clemson in the semifinals, if they get past Maryland, and wouldn’t have to play top-seeded Duke until the finals.
I say all this because Gani Lawal made it sound like today that the Yellow Jackets like their draw, and I think that’s worth noting. I would have thought having Maryland lingering after Round 1 wouldn’t be so great, but that’s not how the Yellow Jackets are looking at it.
“Coming into this tournament, we really feel we have a nice little draw,” Lawal said. “If we take care of business, I really feel we can do some good things in this tournament.”
Carolina’s injury update
Since Tech last faced the Tar Heels on Feb. 16, 7-footer Tyler Zeller has returned to action. Zeller missed 10 games with a stress fracture in his foot. He’s averaged 7.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in five games since his return. Travis Wear, one of the 6-10 freshman twins for the Tar Heels, has also returned from an ankle injury since Tech last played North Carolina.
But where the Tar Heels have recovered, they’re still without Ed Davis, their best post player, who has a broken wrist, and now Deon Thompson has revealed he’s been playing with back pain.
Injuries probably have a lot to do with this, but get a load of this factoid: this year is the first time since the ACC was founded in 1954 that North Carolina did not have a player on the first, second or third team All-ACC.
They didn’t have anyone on the all-freshman team or the all-defensive team while they were at it. Unbelievable for a school which has produced some of the finest talent in the history of college basketball.
North Carolina doesn’t have a whole lot to lose tomorrow night. Whether that translates into a tough night for Georgia Tech remains to be seen, but I can’t see it. I can’t figure a way that Tech loses this game, and the Yellow Jackets had better not if they want to make the NCAA tournament.
Bob Bradley award
Until then, we’ll send our congratulations to D’Andre Bell, who was named the recipient of this year’s Bob Bradley courage today award for his comeback from missing all last season following spinal stenosis surgery. The award is in its fifth year. Bradley is the former Clemson sports information director who passed away in 2000 after battling bone cancer for three years.
“Even though I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through, nobody’s going to have any sympathy for me on the court,” Bell said. “There’s no reason to hang your head as a man.”
My esteemed colleague Mark Bradley will be joining me in Greensboro this evening. He will be the man in charge of in-game blogging when Tech is on the court in this ACC tournament, so be on the lookout for that, but I’m happy to chat on this blog as well.
So enjoy the ride, folks. This is the start of such a fun time of year. And if you’d rather talk football, Doug Roberson has a “mailbag” football blog you can check out on the Tech page. (P.S. Having technical difficulties trying to upload my photo. My apologies. If I can get it figured out will get it up there!)