I'm consistently surprised when I stumble across the fact that Paul Hewitt at Georgia Tech has the third longest tenure of any current ACC coach, trailing only the ensconced guys at Duke and Maryland. In part, that's because it just doesn't seem like he's been around that long. He's never really said or done anything to put himself in the spotlight, and hasn't really made an impression since a 2004 tournament run. The other reason I'm often surprised is, quite frankly, I'm shocked he still has a job.
Hewitt's Yellow Jackets last finished above .500 in the ACC in 2004. They've had two seasons since where they finished 11th and 12th in conference, in 2006 and 2009, respectively. It was wildly assumed he only kept his job after that basement finish because he had Derrick Favors leading a great entering class the following season. That team would finish 7-9 in conference and Favors would bolt for the pros, yet another one-and-done for Tech. Without Favors, this year's group has gone 7-8, including an embarrassing loss to Kennesaw State. Their best performance to date was probably a four-point loss to Syracuse, and they've lost four of their last five. This is not a good team.
What it is, however, is a vehicle for Iman Shumpert highlights. Most people going into the season thought Shumpert had pretty much plateaued as a player, but he's proven them wrong. Shumpert leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. He's also cut way back on his turnovers from last season, a good part of the reason why Tech has crawled out of the basement of that particular statistical category. He's also a very good defender of point guards, and will probably disrupt the Heels' offense quite a bit. You my remember Shumpert from the 30 points he hung on Carolina in Chapel Hill in Tech's only conference road win of the past two years.
The problem is, when the balls not in his hands, it's not going to get in the hoop. Tech is a team of almost exclusively guards – they play two players consistently taller than 6'6" – and yet they're one of the worse three-point shooting teams in the country. Glen Rice, Jr., although quiet in his previous games against the Heels, is the guy most likely to buck that trend. Brian Oliver, who like Shumpert, has also taken much better care of the ball this season, is also known to take a lot of shots.
Tech will play uptempo, and throw a lot of players at you, because they're mostly a collection of freshman and sophomores who have done little to distinguish themselves. They give up a lot of threes, but Carolina will most likely push it inside to the big men to take advantage of the Yellow Jackets' lack of height. Freshman Daniel Miller is the primary person to worry about here, as he's one of the nation's top shot blockers and rarely gets into foul trouble. The frontcourt is thin beyond him, and UNC should have no trouble with both Zeller and Henson to work with.
This game has the advantage of being one of the easier ones on the schedule and a chance to avenge two humiliating losses the Heels suffered last season, the second being the lowest scoring performance of the team under Roy Williams. They'd go even lower against Duke before the season would finish, but the Georgia Tech team was a lot less imposing. Carolina should win this going away, setting the stage for a much tougher slate through the end of the month. But you can't count on anything until this team settles down and puts together a full forty minutes of solid play.