Archive for January, 2012

For Georgia Tech, it was the worst night of a difficult season

BG of GT, shown in typical demanding mode. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

BG of GT, shown in demanding mode. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

If the record doesn’t indicate that Georgia Tech is under new management, two bits of data did. Entering Thursday’s game against Virginia, the Jackets ranked 21st among 338 Division I teams in field-goal percentage defense and 29th in rebounding margin. And that told us … what?

That Georgia Tech, without benefit of top-shelf talent, is paying attention to the grunt work — namely, defense and rebounding — and also that Brian Gregory, in his first season as coach, has gotten his players’ attention. He arrived insisting his teams would guard and rebound, and sure enough …

Here we note the difference from, say, last season. The 2010-2011 Jackets ranked 222nd nationally in field-goal percentage defense, 145th in rebounding margin. Which is why Tech needed a man like Gregory to right a program gone egregiously wrong.

Which isn’t, let’s emphasize, to say that Tech is fully righted.

The Jackets managed 17 points …

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Give Wren a hand for not overreacting to the Braves’ collapse

"And the award for most patient general manager goes to ... " (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

"And the award for most patient general manager goes to … " (AJC photo by Jason Getz)

On Aug. 24, 2011, the Atlanta Braves awoke having won 78 games. Only one major-league team (Philadelphia) had won more. They led the wild-card race by 9 1/2 games with 32 remaining, and the in-house question wasn’t, “Are we going to blow this?” Instead, it was, “Can we win it all?”

Thirty-five days later, the Braves lost Game No. 162 in 13 innings and failed to qualify for the playoffs. They finished with 89 victories, having dropped 21 of those final 32. The collapse was so comprehensive that it took Frank Wren, the general manager, a few weeks just to be able to view baseball again, and his wasn’t a solitary response. Speaking with fellow Braves employees, uniformed staffers among them, he found they couldn’t watch, either.

But then it changed. By the end, Wren was watching — watching as the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that chased down the Braves, celebrated a World Series title.

“We …

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The Falcons had to change to move forward, and they have

The man in the white shirt has had a busy New Year. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The man in the white shirt has had a busy New Year. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Flowery Branch – Even as we grouse about recent results, we need to step back and admire the broader view. If, in the dark days of January 2008 — Michael Vick in jail, Bobby Petrino in Arkansas, the franchise in tatters — someone had said, “The Falcons’ next staff will win 67.2 percent of its games over the next four years and make the playoffs three times,” we’d have taken it in a Meadowlands minute.

But that was then, and now is rather different. And now is why the doings of January 2012 have been essential to the continued growth of a team described by Mike Nolan, its new defensive coordinator, as “very close” to its “ultimate goal.”

The staff Mike Smith assembled in 2008 served the Falcons well, but it had reached the point of diminishing returns. The 10-6 season just completed was the first of past four that could be construed as a reversal. Had Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder and Paul …

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Fire Boudreau, hire Nolan: A productive day for the Falcons

Paul Boudreau had early success here, but less lately. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Paul Boudreau had early success here, but less lately. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Remember Mike Smith, the dullard who’d rather hang out with his old coaching pals than do something like, oh, maybe win a Super Bowl? Turns out he’s not so wild about his old pals that he’ll let that bond stand in the way of progress.

Smitty the alleged dullard — so alleged for having hired Dirk Koetter, with whom he worked a year in Jacksonville, as offensive coordinator — just fired Paul Boudreau, the offensive line coach whose success in 2008 helped get the whole Smith-as-Falcons-coach operation off the ground. And then he turned around and hired Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator.

Pretty instructive day, I’d say. First the Falcons make a move they needed to make. (As noted, GM Thomas Dimitroff wasn’t pleased that his smallish line couldn’t produce the push required to make it on fourth-and-inches twice against the Giants.) The Boudreau Method — coaching up smallish-but-bullish O-linemen …

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College hoops insider: Georgia State as an at-large team? Nah

If Georgia State doesn't win the CAA tournament, it won't be celebrating on Selection Sunday. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

No CAA tournament title would mean no Selection Sunday glee. (AJC photo by Hyosub Shin)

(Again, let me note that these, er, nuggets are part of our weekly college basketball package, which runs every Tuesday in the print AJC. I offer them for your digital delight.)

Hoops Hysterics

1. What’s the best conference in the land? It’s not the ACC (too top-heavy) or the SEC (too Kentucky-heavy), and it’s not the Pac-12 (nary a team in the Top 25). That leaves the Big Ten (five teams in the Top 25), the Big East (also five in the Top 25) and the Big 12 (three in the top seven). For quality at the top, we’ll say the Big 12. For overall depth, we’ll say the Big Ten.

2. Who’s the best freshman in the land? Take your pick between Kentucky Wildcats. Center Anthony Davis — he of the unibrow so famous it’s already a feature on Bluegrass T-shirts — could be the first player drafted this summer, but forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been the Big Blue’s MVP to date, scoring 24 points against …

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In hiring Koetter, Mike Smith deserves the benefit of the doubt

His name is Dirk, and his responsiblity he won't shirk. (AP photo)

Slogan suggestion: His name is Dirk, and his responsiblity he won't shirk. (AP photo)

Flowery Branch – No, it doesn’t look so good: An offense that couldn’t manage a point in losing its playoff game has been handed to a man whose most recent unit finished last in the NFL. Why not hire Darrell Royal and have him install the Wishbone?

But here’s where we take a deep breath and say: Dirk Koetter isn’t as bad as all that. For what the Atlanta Falcons need in the year 2012, he’ll be better than Mike Mularkey. (Though you know that Jacksonville fans are thinking what we around here were wondering when the Jaguars made Mularkey their head coach: Is that team nuts?) And here’s where we must take a bunny-hop of faith.

At Falcons HQ Monday, Mike Smith stuck his head in the hallway where the media relations staff has its offices and was spotted by this correspondent, who posed three questions.

Is Koetter the guy he wanted? “Yes,” Smith said.

Is the head coach comfortable that Koetter is …

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Will Georgia Tech be a Top 25 team in 2012? Some say yes

How it ended for Georgia Tech in 2011: Utah scores in overtime. (AP photo)

Here's how it ended for Georgia Tech in 2011: Utah scores to win in overtime. (AP photo)

The belief here is that Georgia Tech got good value from its season. No, 8-5 didn’t seem all that great when you consider the Jackets started 6-0, but 8-5 beat the heck out of 6-7, which is what Tech was in 2010. And now we turn to 2012, and some expect even bigger and better from the men of PJ.

Andy Staples of SI.com tabs Tech No. 25 in his lookahead, while Dave Miller of the National Football Post puts the Jackets at No. 20. That’s the good news. The bad: Similar early rankings from ESPN, CBS Sports and Yahoo! Sports do not include Georgia Tech in the Top 25.

I can see both sides. If guard Omoregie Uzzi chooses not to leave for the NFL, the Jackets will return 15 starters on offense and defense. That’s a goodly number. At the same time, I’m not sure how good those starters are. We take B-back David Sims as an example. He rushed for 698 yards in 2011. In both 2008 and 2008, B-back …

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For Georgia State hoops, it was a happy and shoeless night

Corner of Decatur & Collins Street, 11:31 a.m., Thursday morning. (Photo by M. Bradley)

The corner of Decatur and Collins, 11:31 a.m. Thursday. (Photo by M. Bradley)

It was a big night for Georgia State basketball, a program that hasn’t known many big nights. The coach went shoeless. His team wore orange. There was a grass-roots attempt to pack the GSU Sports Arena, which even the showman Lefty Driesell couldn’t do on a regular basis, and the result, if not quite a full house, was the fullest GSU had known since December 2008, when Florida State was the guest.

And halfway through, athletic director Cheryl Levick was ready to pull the plug — at least on the orange shirts. “There were so many distractions,” she said. “I wanted to say, ‘Get rid of those orange jerseys and get back in your white.’ ”

At halftime, see, Georgia State was tied with North Carolina Wilmington. With 10:14 left, the game was still even. Three minutes later, it wasn’t. The Panthers had surged ahead by 10 points and would win by 14, their 12th victory in the past 13 games. All this because of …

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Why Georgia is nicely positioned to make real hay in 2012

Orson Charles won't have any part in the next UGA-LSU game. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Orson Charles won't have any part in the next UGA-LSU game. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

It now appears that Orson Charles could be the only Georgia player who’ll leave early for the NFL. If that is indeed the case, the Bulldogs will be positioned nicely for 2012.

They could have lost Jarvis Jones, who’s their best player, and also Bacarri Rambo, who’s one of their five best, but both have said they’ll return to school. And coordinator Todd Grantham, whose name has already surfaced as an Atlanta Falcons’ possibility, e-mailed esteemed colleague Chip Towers and confessed a desire “to be at UGA for a very long time.”

(For the record, I’m not sure Grantham is a fit in Flowery Branch for a rather basic reason: He runs the 3-4, and the Falcons, as Mike Smith noted Monday, have spent four seasons drafting for the 4-3.)

We say again: If Georgia enters the 2012 season with 15 starters returning — including nine on defense — the Bulldogs should and will be a Top 10 team.

Others say …

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Dare we dream? A college football playoff might be at hand

The BCS title game: When SEC domination became overkill. (AP photo)

The BCS title game: When SEC domination became full-blown overkill. (AP photo)

I’d long since given up on the prospects of a college football playoff. The bowls were too powerful, I told myself. (Note that the word “bowl” comes before “championship” in “BCS.”) For all the hue and cry from the chattering class and the huddled masses, I figured nothing would ever get done.

Now I’m thinking something might.

Might, I said. Might.

I’m thinking the sight of two SEC teams playing for the BCS title was enough to push the leagues that didn’t want any part of a playoff into the we-need-to-reassess camp. I’m thinking that the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, the two leagues who persisted in seeing the Rose Bowl as the only postseason game that mattered, are getting antsy over being marginalized.

(The joke among college football writers has long been that this is the only sport held hostage by a parade. Meaning the Tournament of Roses thingy.)

Back in 2008, SEC commissioner Mike Slive, of all …

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