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In Ga. Tech, Colonials See Bit of Themselves

First-Round Matchup Features Teams With Similar Styles, Playing at Their Best

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page D07

The initial thrill of getting into the NCAA tournament started to wear off yesterday afternoon when the George Washington men hit the Smith Center court for a light practice in preparation for Friday's first-round game against Georgia Tech.

The Colonials (22-7) started thinking about Georgia Tech (19-11) moments after the brackets were announced Sunday evening. Not long after the announcements, Coach Karl Hobbs and assistants Steve Pikiell, Darrell Brooks, Roland Houston and Greg Collucci exchanged knowing looks.

Georgia Tech's Anthony Morrow, left, and Luke Schenscher make things difficult for DeMarcus Nelson and Duke in the ACC final. Colonials Coach Karl Hobbs says the Yellow Jackets are "good enough to win the [NCAA] championship." (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

Words weren't necessary because they all were thinking the same thing: The Yellow Jackets are going to pose a serious headache.

"As soon as I saw Georgia Tech pop up I said: I hope I don't see GW next," Hobbs said. "I hope I see the Wizards, anybody, somebody, but I hope I don't see GW. That's a very good basketball team we're going to be playing, a team that's good enough to win the championship."

Long after their house emptied following Sunday's selection show, Hobbs and his wife, JoAnn, were sitting at their kitchen table talking about the first-round matchup when JoAnn, well versed in the rhythms associated with being a coach's wife, began shaking her head.

"I bet Brooksie is poring over tape right now," JoAnn Hobbs said, referring to Brooks, who has been on Hobbs's staff since Hobbs arrived in Foggy Bottom in 2001. "He probably won't even sleep tonight."

When the Colonials go over tape of Georgia Tech, they'll see a team that is a lot like themselves: a very athletic, well-balanced group that experienced ups and downs during conference play but is playing its best basketball going into the tournament.

In Jarrett Jack, B.J. Elder, Ismail Muhammad, Will Bynum and Luke Schenscher, the Yellow Jackets return the core group of a team that advanced all the way to the NCAA championship game last season.

Injuries to Elder and reserve Jeremis Smith led to early season losses to Gonzaga and Kansas. And Coach Paul Hewitt's team experienced problems during ACC play, losing games to North Carolina State (twice), Virginia Tech and Maryland, as well as to North Carolina, Duke (twice) and Wake Forest.

However, Georgia Tech got off the NCAA tournament bubble with ACC tournament wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina before losing to Duke in the championship game.

The Yellow Jackets, who couldn't manage consecutive wins between Jan. 12 and the ACC tournament, suddenly look like the kind of team that has the talent, depth and know-how to make a sustained run.

Hobbs, however, insists that his team won't be intimidated. The Colonials opened the season at Wake Forest and put up a fight against the then-second-ranked Demon Deacons before losing, 97-76.

George Washington beat Michigan State and Maryland in the BB&T Classic at MCI Center, blasted Temple at Temple on Feb. 5 and beat Saint Joseph's in the Atlantic 10 championship game.

"Georgia Tech is scary, but my guys aren't going to go in there nervous, I promise you that," Hobbs said. "We played at Wake Forest on ESPN in that wild atmosphere, we played at West Virginia when the place was packed to the rafters. Places like Xavier and Dayton are some of the toughest to play in the country. . . . My guys know that they can play with anyone if they play their game."

From an entertainment standpoint, George Washington vs. Georgia Tech might be the best first-round pairing in the tournament. In an era when many college basketball coaches are control freaks and a lot games turn into wrestling matches, Hobbs and Hewitt encourage their players to play a fast-paced, up-and-down game.

Both teams would prefer to see a score in the eighties, both teams feed off of the energy that comes with big scoring runs and both teams have players capable of putting a jolt into a building with a spectacular dunk or pretty drive to the basket.

"We're mirror images of each other," said George Washington swingman J.R. Pinnock, a high-flier who is averaging 13.5 points per game. "I've seen them on TV a lot, and they play the same way we do. Our uniforms are even the same. People watching might have to check twice to make sure they aren't getting us mixed up."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company