Small lineup could lead to big success

In its recent game versus Maryland, the Tech men’s basketball team was forced into using a five-guard lineup for nearly 15 minutes of the first half. While this may seem like a disadvantage for the Jackets, having five guards on the court actually turned out well for Tech and could work to the team’s advantage in the future.
The Jackets lost freshman center Nate Hicks before the game because of an appendectomy and sophomore guard Brian Oliver missed the game due to the flu. These injuries left the Jackets with only two forwards, and by the five-minute mark of the first half, both had two fouls. The Jackets only had guards remaining on their bench for the rest of the half.
When freshman forward Kammeon Holsey went out of the game with his second foul, Tech was down by eight points. By the time the half ended, Tech’s small lineup had cut Maryland’s lead down to one and forced seven turnovers.
“[The five-guard lineup] was probably the most effective offensively. We felt like we had options, but it was certainly their threes that got us back in the game. Maybe you go with them more, but there were times offensively that they could not get anything going,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt.
Hewitt may want to re-think his strategy and go with this lineup more often.
First and foremost, running a five-guard system will put the best players on the court for the Jackets. Freshman center Daniel Miller, Holsey and Hicks are just not experienced enough to handle ACC play at this point in their young careers. The three big men rank seventh, eighth and ninth respectively in team scoring, yet only Miller is in the top five in terms of rebounds per game. There are more experienced players at the end of Tech’s bench, and even though they are guards, they can all contribute at the same time on both ends of the court.
Offensively, Tech can gain by having five guards on the court at the same time by quickly scoring points. A lineup of junior guard Iman Shumpert, freshman guard Jason Morris and sophomore guards Glen Rice Jr., Brian Oliver and Mfon Udofia would average 54.5 points per game. That number would actually go up if the Jackets used this lineup more because Udofia and Morris only average 22.7 and 16.8 minuets per game, respectively, so more playing time would probably equal more points.
Another huge offensive area that could be affected by the move to a smaller lineup is team free-throw percentage. If Hewitt subbed Daniel Miller for senior guard Mo Miller, he would trade the big man’s 39 percent free throw shooting for the guard’s 92 percent.
The new lineup would also give this team an identity that has been lacking over the past four seasons. The Jackets could become a frenetic, fast-paced full-court offense. Tech’s running offense could become as famous as Syracuse’s 2-3 zone or the Princeton offense. Tech teams have always excelled athletically, so this smaller lineup would allow the team to run up and down the court, and wear down opposing teams.
Also, if Tech’s opponents left their big men in the game, then they would be forced to match up on a perimeter player. The advantages of this are two-fold.
First, the player who was being guarded by the taller man would have a significant advantage in that he could take his man off the dribble and probably beat him to the basket.
Second, this would force the opponent’s big men to hang around the perimeter, clearing the lane for potential drives to the basket.
One might think that this smaller lineup would hurt Tech’s team in terms of defending taller opponents and grabbing rebounds, but that might not be the case.
Tech is not a team that is going to beat most opponents on the boards. At this point, losing a big man would not dramatically hinder the team.
In fact, Shumpert leads the team in rebounds playing from the point guard position with 117 and fellow guard Rice is second on the team with 111.
Employing an all-guard system would mean that Tech would have to use a full-court press defense. The press would limit the number of possessions that opposing teams would have for their half-court offense and force opponents to turn the ball over. Given each players’ steal average, a five guard system to start the game would produce 7.2 steals per game, versus the 6.3 steals the team averages per game in the current two forward system.
The current Tech forwards are also not doing a good job guarding their fellow big men. Maryland’s center Jordan Williams had 21 points, Virginia Tech’s forward Jeff Allen had 18 and Clemson’s forward Jeral Grant had 20 in games against the Jackets, and those are just ACC games.
Syracuse’s Kris Joseph had 19 points and Georgia’s Trey Tompkins had 21 in nonconference games. Subbing out a forward would not allow opposing big men to score significantly more points than what they are scoring now, but it might even make forwards score less because their teams would get a lower number of possessions due to Tech’s steals in the press.
At 10-10 overall and 3-4 in ACC play, Tech needs all the help it can get for any hope of a NCAA Tournament bid. Although it was only employed for 15 minutes this season, the five-guard lineup looked better against Maryland than the alternatives.
With a lot of practice, Tech could perfect an up-tempo offense and a full-court press to change the pace of play and hopefully win enough games to receive a NCAA tournament bid.

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