The Washington Times - January 9, 2009, 09:32AM

Loyal readers during football season will easily remember the Out-of-Town Q&A series.

The idea is simple: A swap of questions between beat writers, since someone covering, say, Virginia Tech is going to offer more nuanced insight about the Hokies than you’d get from a Maryland beat writer.

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And vice versa, which is why a blog exchange works so well.

Anyway, the response (after some prodding) from football season was positive, so it’s time to copy it during conference play in basketball. It’ll be a reduced version – down from five questions to three – but there are a couple games a week rather than one. In all, it’s about the same output.

Larry Hartstein covers Georgia Tech for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and will be making his way to College Park for tomorrow’s noon tip. You can check out Larry’s blog at the AJC site, and my replies to his questions are already posted.

Thanks so much to Larry for helping out, and hopefully this little exercise can continue for another 15 games.

1. How much has an incomplete backcourt (first with Lewis Clinch’s ineligibility and then Moe Miller’s broken nose) affected Georgia Tech’s production to date?

LH: It’s been a big issue. Iman Shumpert is going to be a special player, but he’s still a freshman and he’s had to play 32 minutes a game. In a couple games he missed two critical late free throws, and fatigue might have been a factor. Clinch supplied an instant lift when he came back after the first seven games. Miller has been fitted with a mask and practiced Thursday. (Unknown as I write this whether he’ll play Saturday). Ideally, coach Paul Hewitt likes to use a nine-man rotation. With the absences of Clinch and Miller (and the loss of D’Andre Bell for the season), Tech has been riding its starters very hard and often using just eight players, including freshman walk-on Nick Foreman.

2. Obviously Gani Lawal is drawing a lot of attention (as well he should) for his work this year, but it seems like senior forward Alade Aminu is one of the ACC’s more pleasant surprises. What explains his big leap this year and how much has it helped open things for Lawal?

LH: As Aminu told me before the season, if there was ever a year when he was going to put it together, this had to be it because he’s a senior. He’s playing as if it’s his last chance, too. He’s showing more maturity and consistency. He still can be confounding with some of his turnovers, but his energy and athleticism has made a big difference, especially on the offensive glass and at the top of the press. Lawal’s big year certainly has helped. But at times Aminu has outplayed Lawal. Aminu should be even better when Moe Miller returns, because that will lengthen the rotation and keep Aminu fresher.

3. Georgia Tech has won one NCAA tournament game since reaching the national title game in 2004, and some of the early losses this season haven’t exactly suggested much promise of that total expanding this March. Is there some unrest about the work of coach Paul Hewitt, or is he pretty safely ensconced at this stage?

LH: There is certainly some grumbling, and it gets loud at times, but Hewitt doesn’t appear to be in any trouble. For one thing, he’s got an outstanding recruiting class coming in next year: four players who should contribute immediately. Tech also is in the running for Scout.com’s top prospect, Derrick Favors of Atlanta, who will sign in the spring. Even without Favors, Tech should be a force next year assuming Lawal returns. Hewitt also gets cut some slack for losing Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton to the NBA after one season in 2007.

Thanks again to Larry Hartstein for lending his insight.

Patrick Stevens