That question is more than valid and if they play the way in which they did in the second half of their 79-58 win over Wake Forest an ACC title could become a reality for Paul Hewitt's squad. The Yellow Jackets shot 53.7% from the field and finished with five players reaching double figures (D'Andre Bell led the way with 16 points) in the win, which also featured Tech holding Wake Forest to 32.8% shooting. Despite turning the ball over seventeen times the Yellow Jackets were more efficient offensively than the Demon Deacons, attempting just ten three pointers and showing a conviction to get the ball inside to Gani Lawal (14 points, nine rebounds) and Derrick Favors (11 points, nine rebound and five blocks).
Wake Forest was within two (35-33) early in the second half but their cold shooting from the field (missing seven of eight shots) and the foul line (four straight misses) helped spark a 19-4 Yellow Jacket run that essentially put the game out of reach. The Demon Deacons were led by Al-Farouq Aminu, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. However, he and Ish Smith combined to shoot 11-for-28 from the field, which isn't necessarily a killer until taking into consideration that their teammates combined to make just ten of thirty-eight (26.3%) shots. And you don't do much for your cause when you make just nine of twenty foul shots in the second half either (13-25 overall, 52.0%).
But back to the question as to whether or not Georgia Tech can win the ACC. They've got the talent to, having the personnel to go with three guards in the starting lineup or going bigger depending on the opponent. And as Iman Shumpert becomes more comfortable as the floor general and limits his turnovers, this team is going to get better. "I think Iman started getting really comfortable playing the point guard position," remarked Coach Hewitt after the game (quote courtesy of RamblinWreck.com). While the ACC race is still a wide-open affair it may be time to switch from "why?" to "why not?" when discussing the Yellow Jackets' chances of winning the crown.
Three Key Happenings
1. We finally have a "showdown" in the Pac-10. Thanks to wins by California and Arizona a share of first place (for the Wildcats) will be on the line Sunday afternoon. The Golden Bears picked up a key 78-70 win at Arizona State thanks to Jamal Boykin, who scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a matchup with Duke roommate Eric Boateng. It was essentially he, Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher who beat the Sun Devils from an offensive standpoint, scoring 71 or their 78 points. Now while that may prove to be good enough on most night, Mike Montgomery is going to need more from Theo Robertson (0-4 FG, 0 points in 37 minutes) as the Golden Bears look to establish some separation in the conference.
As for the young Wildcats, they've now won three in a row thanks in large part to freshman forward Derrick Williams, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half of their 76-68 win over Stanford in Tucson. The Cardinal duo of Landry Fields (31 points) and Jeremy Green (25 points) led the way but the remaining players managed to make just five of fifteen field goal attempts and Stanford turned the ball over seventeen times. In a league as unpredictable as the Pac-10 guard play is going to play a major role in who wins the league and in Nic Wise Sean Miller has one of the steadier point guards in the conference. But now with Sunday's showdown now set, the Wildcats need to make sure Randle doesn't light them up again (31 points, 8-11 3PT last year).
2. Purdue survives Keaton Nankivil and welcomes back a key contributor. Head coach Matt Painter had to make some changes to his starting lineup due to either ineffective play or JaJuan Johnson showing up late for Thursday's game against Wisconsin, but it was the veterans who made the plays late in their 60-57 win over Wisconsin. The Badgers were led by the hot-shooting Keaton Nankivil, who made seven three pointers on his way to 25 points while also adding six rebounds, three steals and a block. But with E'Twaun Moore knocking down a big shot late the Boilermakers moved into a three-way tie for third in the Big Ten, one half-game behind the Badgers for second place.
Also of importance to the Boilermakers and their chances beyond the Big Ten is the return of point guard Lewis Jackson, who played seventeen minutes on Thursday's win. Out since October due to a foot injury Jackson provides Coach Painter with a true point guard, something that was missing from the rotation with him out. How he plays once he shakes off the rust will determine how far Purdue can go both within the league and in March. As for the Badgers, they can't afford for Trevon Hughes to shoot 3-for-11 from the field with Jon Leuer out of the lineup if they're to remain in second place in the Big Ten. But for Nankivil to shoot the way he did is a plus for the Badgers, something they'll hope to continue as they go through conference play.
3. IUPUI moves into a tie atop the Summit League. Ron Hunter's Jaguars put on an impressive show at home on Thursday night, whipping previously undefeated Oakland 78-54 to move to 9-1 in Summit League play. Robert Glenn made eleven of his thirteen field goal attempts on the way to 26 points, Alex Young added a double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Jon Avery scored 18 points off the bench in the win, which snapped the Grizzlies' nine-game win streak. As a team the Jaguars shot 56.1% from the field while holding the Grizzlies to 33.9% shooting. Add in a dominant performance on the boards (43-21 edge) and you've got the makings of a blowout.
With the two teams closest to IUPUI and Oakland (Oral Roberts and South Dakota State) two games back this could turn into a two-team race, making this win that much more important for the Jaguars, who dropped the first meeting on January 2nd. Round three in the Summit League tournament is a definite possibility.
Top Three Games
1. USF 76, Seton Hall 74 (OT) The Bulls made history on Thursday night, winning consecutive conference games for the first time as a Big East member. Jeremy Hazell and Dominique Jones didn't disappoint, scoring 28 points apiece, but this game wasn't decided until Robert Mitchell dribbled off of his foot in the final seconds of overtime.
2. Virginia Tech 76, Virginia 71 (OT) A Sammy Zeglinski three pointer with 1.9 seconds left in regulation only delayed the inevitable as Malcolm Delaney led the Hokies to the road win with 27 points and six rebounds.
3. Rider 74, Manhattan 71 The Broncs survived 28 first-half points from Rico Pickett to pick up the win in Lawrenceville. Mike Ringgold held Pickett to four points in the second half and Justin Robinson came through with two huge three-pointers late to give Rider the win.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Courtney Fortson (Arkansas) The few Hog fans who braved the bad weather to get to Walton Arena were treated to a show as Fortson scored 35 points (33 in the second half) while also grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out four assists in the Razorbacks' 67-62 upset of Mississippi State.
2. G Adrian Oliver (San Jose State) Oliver made twelve of his eighteen field goal attempts on his way to 33 points in the Spartans' 83-60 pasting of Hawaii.
3. F Jamal Boykin (California) Boykin scored 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting while also grabbing ten rebounds in the Golden Bears' 78-70 win at Arizona State.