ACC Team Previews: Georgia TechPosted by mpatton on October 19th, 2011
Georgia Tech finally fell on the double-edged sword of Paul Hewitt and his immense buyout this offseason. It was a move long called for by Yellow Jacket fans, as his recent inconsistency and perceived underachievement slowly overshadowed the team’s 28-win title game season in 2003-04. Hewitt consistently recruited some of the best talent, especially local stars like Derrick Favors. Unfortunately, in four of the subsequent seasons Georgia Tech failed to finish with a .500 record. Even when the team was rife with NBA players in 2009-10 the Jackets limped to the NCAA Tournament before only winning one game.
Enter Brian Gregory. Gregory was an assistant under Michigan State legend Tom Izzo before being hired away by Dayton. Under Gregory the Flyers managed to make the NCAA Tournament twice and the NIT three times in eight seasons. In most mid-major conferences, making the Big Dance a quarter of the time is very respectable, but the A-10 routinely winds up with multiple seeds come Selection Sunday. Gregory’s relative lack of success in getting the Flyers into the NCAAs regularly isn’t the only red flag.
Another warning sign is the response from Dayton fans when his Georgia Tech hiring was announced. It was mixed, but definitely trended towards relief. Unless you run a modified version of the Princeton offense, fans of winning programs shouldn’t want their coach to leave. If I had to hypothesize why the Yellow Jackets didn’t hire someone like Richmond’s Chris Mooney (and I ignored a budget hamstrung by Hewitt’s buyout), I’d guess it came down to style. But just because a coach plays with a more open style of basketball doesn’t mean it’s any more pleasing to watch. Dayton’s best teams under Gregory made their money with solid defense, not attractive offense.
Gregory notched his first victory before the season started in keeping consensus top 100 recruit Julian Royal. Royal is a slightly undersized but athletic power forward out of Milton High School. Looking at his clips, his biggest struggle will probably be adjusting to the bigger bodies at the collegiate level. He’ll also be forced to take on a prominent role quickly, as he’s the only incoming recruit for a team that lost Iman Shumpert and Brian Oliver from last year’s squad.
Last year’s Georgia Tech team showed flashes of greatness, specifically trouncing North Carolina and effectively forcing Roy Williams to start Kendall Marshall over Larry Drew II. Unfortunately, most of the credit for Georgia Tech’s limited success belongs with the NBA draftee Iman Shumpert, who was the only consistent offensive threat Hewitt had, capable of also playing lockdown perimeter defense. While Shumpert’s departure surprised few and Maurice Miller‘s graduation was unavoidable, Brian Oliver‘s decision to transfer may have more of an impact. Oliver would’ve certainly seen an enhanced role and he was a glass-half-full shooter with a glass-half-empty shot selection.
Instead the Yellow Jackets will have to rely on a relatively shallow and untested lineup headlined by junior backcourt Mfon Udofia and Glen Rice. Neither played particularly well last season, but perhaps a new system and more possessions will provide a boost in productivity. No matter what, this looks to be a rough season in Atlanta. The good news is that the Yellow Jackets have two chances against fellow cellar-dwellers Boston College and Wake Forest. Conservatively, I expect this team to win four or five conference games. The non-conference schedule also has plenty of spots to pad the win column, with the toughest tests coming against in-state rival Georgia and possibly VCU depending on the first round of the Charleston Classic.
The bottom line is that this year is a rebuilding year. It’s a chance for Brian Gregory to establish his system with a team that shouldn’t lose anyone next summer. Factor in a full year to recruit for the 2012 class (GT already has two commitments), and there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel. Now the brightness of the light is unknown at this point, but I expect the Yellow Jackets to improve dramatically in coming seasons after taking a minor step backwards this season.