April 2, 2004

The Final Four — Connecticut, Duke, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma State

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It’s almost seems the Indefensible Position: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will win the NCAA men’s basketball National Championship. What business does Georgia Tech have appearing amidst the likes of Duke, UConn, and even OSU (which was the Big XII regular season and tournament champ)? For the next few days, the word “underdog” is spelled T-E-C-H.

But, you could do a lot worse than pick Georgia Tech to win it all, the team that just doesn’t care. It doesn’t care who it plays, doesn’t care where it plays, doesn’t care when it plays. Lose leading scorer B.J. Elder to an ankle injury? So, what? Jarrett Jack scores a career-high 29 to beat Kansas. Face Duke and the Blue Devils’ 41-home court winning-streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 3? Fuhgedaboutit. The Jackets whipped the Fighting Krzyzewskis, 76-68. And let’s not forget — Tech is the only team left that has beaten Cornell.

Paul Hewitt, the Alfred E. Neuman of the 2004 tourney (What? Me Worry?), has his players caring about only one thing — playing defense. The Yellow Jackets have held their opponents to 38.8 percent shooting from the floor this season, and as we all know, defense wins championships.

The team has bought in to Hewitt’s system, a humbling blue-collar man-to-man that demands complete focus and intensity at all times. Shots can rattle out, shooters can lose their touch, but ingrained and solid defending rarely has an off-night.

The Yellow Jackets break out of every timeout and half on “FAMILY,” and they sure play that way. That’s maybe the most compelling reason to have Georgia Tech standing alone at the end of your bracket. B.J. Elder returning to the starting lineup tomorrow night will be like Willis Reed hobbling into Madison Square Garden and sinking his first two shots. A little bit of courage goes a long way.

The selflessness Hewitt demands on the defensive end of the floor has leaked over into the offensive side as well. Again, there is a lack of caring. No one on Tech’s roster cares who the leading scorer is, just so long as the team wins the game. The starting five is a roulette of complementary athletes, each capable of stepping up on cue.

“It could be anybody,” said Jack. “It could be me, Marvin [Lewis], B.J. [Elder], Will [Bynum]. We lean on each other. On any given night, you never know who’s going to score. You never know where the explosion is going to come from.” So, which bolt of lightning do you guard? Jack, the floor general? Elder, the injured pure-scorer? Isma’il Muhammad, the best finisher in college basketball? I haven’t even mentioned Luke Schenscher, this year’s winner of the Serge Zwicker Memorial “Best Goofy White Center” Award (By the way, what do Schenscher and Muhammad talk about on the bus? Wouldn’t you like to be around for that?).

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When you sit down and look at the other teams left blocking Georgia Tech’s march to glory, there’s really no answer to the brand of game that the Yellow Jackets bring to the court. I’m sure that Alex, Owen, and Scott have made stellar arguments as to why OSU, UConn, and Duke will prevail. However, there’s only one cleanup hitter in this sports section, so I’d like to take this opportunity to swing away:

…Oklahoma State head coach Eddie Sutton was on Wednesday’s SportsCenter, explaining to reporters how the Cowboys’ up-tempo offense was patterned after Roy Williams’s schemes at Kansas and UNC. Isn’t that the kiss of death??? So, is Sutton expecting his team to deflate like a whoopee cushion during crunch time? And didn’t we just see this last season? Syracuse, a tough defensive team (a’la the 2004 Yellow Jackets), rocked Ol’ Roy’s Jayhawks in the championship game. Hmm…

…UConn has yet to be tested in this tournament, putting the Huskies at a disadvantage. The players have no idea if they will be able to internally push themselves far enough past their limits to beat an elite team in a big game. They’ve never been outside of their comfort zone. Sure, they’re a good team when everything’s fine, but how will they react when Duke plays them tough?

Does Ben Gordon have the chops to be a superstar, or is he just another highlight-reel streetballer? You just don’t know. Besides, Emeka Okafor is going to collapse faster than a girl scout’s tent. What the hell is he doing re-injuring himself in practice? Jim Calhoun should know better than to let the scout team bang into his NBA lottery pick…

…At least Coach K had the good sense to put the preseason QB “Do Not Touch” red jersey on his injured star, Chris Duhon. But senior leadership isn’t going to save the Dukies, even if they edge the Huskies. They don’t have enough weapons to match up against Georgia Tech. J.J. Redick? Oh sure, he can burn you, but only if he gets to take set shots. I’d much rather have Cody Toppert taking my threes. D-up on Redick, as the Ramblin’ Wreck certainly will, and his game folds like an accordion. Up front, do you really think that Nick Horvath and Shavlik Randolph can out-Shawn Bradley Luke Schenscher? Not likely.

Per Ostman is a Sun Senior Writer. The Wrong Advices will appear every other Thursday this semester. Per can be contacted at pmo5@cornell.edu.

Archived article by Per Ostman