Kansas set to face Georgia Tech
BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS – It’s a tale of two teams.
Kansas, is a veteran of big games and has players who have appeared in the last two Final Fours. Georgia Tech is a program on the rise under fourth-year head coach Paul Hewitt, who has guided his team back into the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
That’s the storyline waiting to unfold entering today’s St. Louis Regional championship game at 11:40 a.m. The winner goes to the Final Four next week in San Antonio, Texas.
Kansas would be considered a slight favorite based on its past two Final Four appearances, and the fact it will be playing before a partisan crowd.
Doesn’t matter, according to the Tech players and Hewitt.
“Kansas is a very good basketball team with a very good coach, but unless they get (Kirk) Hinrich and (Nick) Collison back here, there are two new basketball teams here on the court,” Hewitt said. “Anywhere you play in our league, you feel like an underdog. One thing I’ve learned in the ACC is that if you go out and make plays, good things will happen.”
“They’ve been in the Final Four before the past few years,” GT point guard Jarrett Jack said. “This is kind of our debut. Our coaches will give us a great game plan. We have to execute it and stay with it and we’ll be fine.”
Surprisingly KU head coach Bill Self agreed that the Jayhawks’ past history makes a difference when it comes to the intangibles of the game.
“The fact that they’ve (Keith Langford, Jeff Graves and Aaron Miles started) played in consecutive Final Fours won’t make them play any better today. It may allow them to prepare in a way that gives them a better chance to win. So much of it is distractions. So much of it is rest. So much of it is taking care of your body.”
One of the big storylines is whether B.J. Elder, Tech’s top scorer at 18 a game, will play. Nevada’s Kirk Snyder rolled up on his ankle two minutes into Saturday’s game, and he never returned.
“He is sore, but there is no swelling,” Hewitt said. “He is getting treatment around the clock. I am anticipating that he will play, how much will be a game-time decision.”
Marvin Lewis stepped up with 23 against Nevada, and Hewitt points out that several of his players will have to pick up the slack.
“We have guys on this team who can step up with the potential to step up and get points for us,” forward Anthony McHenry said. “B.J. is a tough player and these are tough times so we believe he’ll be ready to go, but if he isn’t this team has been through adversity before.”
Georgia Tech stresses defense, and holds teams to about a 40 percent average from the floor. Whether it can put the clamps of Miles, Langford and forward Wayne Simien is another story.
Simien poured in 30 points, including an 18-for-20 effort from the line in an opening-round win over UAB on Friday.
“His presence on the court is felt, and we keep a close eye on him,” KU’s Aaron Miles said. “He has become a good passer out of the post. He is playing a different role this year because he is the center of attention.”
Simien is a tough offensive rebounded, and his strength is medium-range shots from the baseline and free-throw line.
“Hopefully we can keep Simien under 30 points,” Jack said. “He and J.R. Giddens are bruisers. They have great depth in their frontcourt. We have to limit Kansas to one shot.”
And, if Georgia Tech can’t do that, expect Simien, Graves and Reno’s David Padgett to have big games, which means another trip to the Final Four for Kansas.
NOTES: Expect this to be a high-scoring game. Players and coaches from both teams would love to play an up-tempo style of game. If the pace slows down to a crawl, Kansas would have the advantage based on the inside play of Simien and Graves.