ACC Team Previews: Georgia Tech Yellow JacketsPosted by EMann on October 18th, 2012
Throughout the ACC preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 ACC teams. Today’s victim: Georgia Tech.
Brian Gregory’s first season at the helm of the Yellow Jackets was a struggle in more ways than one, although not all of this was due to things Gregory could control. Because of Georgia Tech’s renovation of the Alexander Memorial Coliseum to the new McCamish Pavilion during the season, Georgia Tech was forced to split its home games between the Atlanta Hawks’ Philips Arena (all ACC games and premier non-conference games) and the Gwinnett Arena in the suburbs (five non-conference games). Being homeless, however, surely does not account for all of Georgia Tech’s struggles during the 2011-12 season. Paul Hewitt didn’t exactly leave the cupboard full of stars when he was let go after the 2010-11 season, and Georgia Tech’s best returning player, Glen Rice, Jr., battled disciplinary issues all season and was suspended for three games at the beginning of the season and six at the end before being kicked off the team in March. Tech managed only a 4-12 finish in league play (with its only win of note a victory at NC State), and finished 11-20 overall (beating VCU, but losing to the unholy trinity of Kennesaw State, Mercer, and Fordham), polishing off their season by scoring only 36 points in the ACC Tournament’s first round against Miami. Fortunately for the Yellow Jackets, things cannot really get much worse, and the team returns all five of its starters.
Georgia Tech adds five new players to its roster this season, and has Scout.com’s 19th-ranked recruiting class coming to Atlanta. Four of these players are freshmen, led by five-star 6’9” center Robert Carter, in addition to four-star 6’6” small forward Marcus Georges-Hunt, three-star 6’3” shooting guard Chris Bolden, and unrated guard Corey Heyward. They are all Georgia natives. Georgia Tech also adds Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole, Jr., who will become eligible after December 17. Carter, a top 25 recruit, should immediately compete for starter’s minutes with returning center Daniel Miller. The other players are likely to add depth and compete with the incumbent starters (none of whom were particularly efficient offensively) for minutes this season.
Georgia Tech returns all five of its starters from last season’s team, but none of those players were standouts. The only players departing are the embattled Glen Rice, Jr., a streaky scorer who will transfer after being suspended and later kicked off the team. The Yellow Jackets also lose defensive specialist Nick Foreman to graduation and Nate Hicks to transfer, although neither played many minutes. Georgia Tech is still waiting for senior point guard Mfon Udofia to reach his potential. Udofia, a highly touted recruit several years go, averaged just 9.9 points per game last year (a career high). However, he shot only 38% from the floor and 32% from behind the arc, and these were the most accurate numbers of most of Georgia Tech’s perimeter players, a huge red flag. If Udofia can play up to his potential, Georgia Tech could definitely see some improvement. The team’s returning big men, redshirt juniors Kammeon Holsey and Daniel Miller, had solid seasons, and if they continue to improve, should turn into effective, reliable ACC big men. The other returning starters, Brandon Reed and Jason Morris, must improve their shooting accuracy to maintain their starting roles.
Georgia Tech’s non-conference schedule is largely devoid of tests. They play in the DirecTV classic (formerly the Anaheim Classic), where they open against Rice, and face a potential semifinal matchup against California or Drake. Xavier or St. Mary’s loom on the other side of the bracket. If Tech were to win this tournament, it would be an extremely positive sign that they could have a much better season than last year, but don’t expect them to do so. The only other non-conference games of note are at Illinois in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, and the annual game with intrastate rival Georgia. These two games (along with Georgia Tech not slipping up against cupcakes) should provide a barometer for how high the team should set its expectations for conference play.
In ACC play, Georgia Tech has a fairly difficult schedule. Out of the three conference favorites, the Jackets play NC State and UNC twice, and only face Duke once, but in Durham. Home and homes against Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Clemson provide good opportunities for conference victories. Georgia Tech has really struggled on the road in conference play in recent years (they have only won three road conference games since 2009), so they must improve that record or steal a couple more wins at home if they are to get out of the ACC cellar.
Georgia Tech improves on its 4-12 ACC record, but not enough to seriously contend for an NCAA Tournament bid. They should finish slightly above .500 overall and with about a 6-12 or 7-11 record in conference play, possibly sneaking into the NIT or more likely, the CBI. The ninth-place slot where the ACC coaches ranked the Jackets seems about right for this team. Brian Gregory has a great recruiting class for only his second year in Atlanta, and his team can really only improve from last year. If Georgia Tech can work on its anemic offense (it ranked 254th in the KenPom offensive efficiency ranking last year), particularly through more accurate shooting and limiting turnovers, Georgia Tech could have a higher ceiling than most of the ACC teams projected at the bottom of the conference. With more ACC-caliber players coming in to challenge the erratic shooting returners and younger talent, Georgia Tech’s future finally appears brighter.