The departure of Javaris Crittenton, who was the 21st pick in the NBA draft, creates a large void at the point guard position. A former five-star prospect according to Rivals.com, Crittenton came in as a freshman last season and ranked second in the ACC with 5.8 assists a game and third with 2.0 steals a game. He was also a major scoring threat, tying for the team lead at 14.4 points a game.
Matt Causey and Maurice Miller will battle it out for the starting job, and each could receive significant playing time. They like to play the role of distributor, which should make for a good fit on a roster that features several offensive-minded players.
Causey has the edge because of his experience. He played in 28 games as a backup at Georgetown before spending the last two seasons at Division-II North Georgia College & State University.
Lewis Clinch and Anthony Morrow are dangerous shooters who can carry much of the scoring load. Clinch was averaging 13.2 ppg and shooting 47% (30-of-63) from 3-point range through 14 games before missing the remainder of the season with academic issues. Morrow hit 41 percent (61-of-146) of his 3-point attempts, including 20 of his last 37.
Departed senior Mario West came off the bench and was a superb one-on-one defender last season. His role will likely be filled by D'Andre Bell.
GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS
Lewis Clinch and others must rise to the occasion this season.
Small forward Thaddeus Young, the No. 12 pick in the NBA Draft, matched Crittenton at 14.4 points a game last season. However, Young's departure isn't nearly as damaging.
The Jackets boast perhaps the deepest crop of big men in the ACC, led by senior Jeremis Smith. His role will increase on offense, but it shouldn't be a difficult transition. Two seasons ago - before Young and Crittenton arrived - Smith played a more focal part in the offense.
Ra'Sean Dickey was recently ruled academically ineligible for the fall semester, but if he gets his grades in order he could be back by mid-December and be ready for the majority of ACC play.
Zach Peacock will likely start in Dickey's place. As a freshman last season, Peacock proved to be a solid defender and rebounder.
Gani Lawal, a McDonald's All-American, will give Hewitt a new kind of weapon to utilize. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound power forward runs the court very well and is active around the basket.
Alade Aminu (6-10, 225) isn't much of a threat to score, but he is another solid defender who has played in big games. The lanky Mouhammad Faye (6-10, 208) is an unorthodox small forward who operates mostly on perimeter.
Whoever plays point guard will be asked to push the tempo. The Jackets like to run a motion offense, and the team is full of scoring options on the wings and in the paint.
Defenses will be forced to guard Clinch and Morrow tightly because of their shooting range and accuracy, which will open up space for Smith and the other big men to operate on the blocks.
The key will be finding someone who can create off the dribble and attack the basket. Crittenton was outstanding in those areas.
The losses of Crittenton and Young may hurt the most on the defensive end. With those two on the court, the Jackets were able to play an aggressive man-to-man. Georgia Tech led the ACC by averaging 9.8 steals a game last season.
Paul Hewitt will likely stick to man-to-man, occasionally mixing in a match-up zone. But without Crittenton to provide on-the-ball pressure - or Young's ability to match up with guards and forwards - the Jackets won't produce as many turnovers this season.
Outlook with postseason forecast
Many experts are expecting Georgia Tech to take a significant step back in 2007-08, but that might not be the case. This is a veteran team loaded with balance, experience and depth. Having Clinch for a full season should keep the offense running smoothly. If Dickey becomes eligible in the spring semester, the Jackets will have a more than adequate frontcourt. But the biggest key is undoubtedly at point guard. The Jackets need steady play from Causey or Miller, or a combination of the two. If they can penetrate and create scoring opportunities for others, don't be surprised if the Jackets land back in the NCAA Tournament.
Shoes to Fill
Crittenton. Last season, the ultra-athletic guard made plays that nobody else on the roster could make.
Must Step Up
Dickey. Tech can't afford for the big man to miss the entire season. Nobody on the roster has the veteran's size, and he has the talent to be one of the league's top post players. He must improve his grades and his game.
Lawal. This athletic big man is an ideal fit for a team that likes to run.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 64. Coming tomorrow: No. 52.