ACC Preview: Georgia Tech’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 21st, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Brian Gregory survive another losing ACC season?

For those keeping track at home, yes: this was the exact same Burning Question we used before last season, and we got a somewhat surprising answer in March. By retaining Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech became the first ACC school in recent memory to return a head coach with losing ACC records in each of his first four seasons at the helm. In his fifth campaign in Atlanta, Gregory will at least have an experienced squad of eight upperclassmen looking to figure in the rotation. However, it should be noted that three of those eight players are senior transfers, so team chemistry isn’t necessarily a given.

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory lost out on one, maybe two important prospects recently. (Icon Sports Media)

Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory is still looking for his first winning ACC season. (Photo: Icon Sports Media)

The biggest story for the Yellow Jackets last year was their incredibly poor performance in close ACC games. Twelve of their 15 conference losses were by only seven points or fewer. Even more amazing was Georgia Tech’s 0-9 mark in one-possession games, a record which included three excruciating overtime losses. Some of this has to be attributed to just plain bad luck, but another factor in those struggles could have been Gregory’s difficulty in finding a solution at point guard. Could that improve this season? The good news (in theory) is that the team returns three point guards. Maybe one of Travis Jorgenson and Josh Heath will see dramatic improvements in their second years in the program, and junior Corey Heyward still has a chance to develop his offense. But unless one of those three players emerges, point guard play will continue to be a decisive disadvantage for Georgia Tech when compared with the rest of the ACC.

The Yellow Jackets are counting on transfer Adam Smith to improve their dismal outside shooting. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Yellow Jackets will be counting on transfer Adam Smith to improve their dismal outside shooting. (Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Another major area of concern during the Gregory era has been his teams’ outside shooting, with last year’s group reaching near-historic lows in the category, third from the NCAA’s very bottom in three-point accuracy (26.7%). The hope is that senior transfer Adam Smith can duplicate the shooting touch (42.4 percent on threes) he displayed when he led Virginia Tech in scoring last season. It would also be helpful if a few of the slashing Tech wings softened their outside touch, but that probably isn’t likely. The team’s top returning player, senior Marcus Georges-Hunt, is solid at both ends, but he doesn’t contribute much from the outside (20-of-71). Ditto physically talented sophomore Tadric Jackson, who only made 16 of his 89 three-point attempts a year ago. Junior Quinton Stephens has been a willing three-point shooter (150 attempts during his career), but not a very accurate one (30.0%).

Down low, senior Charles Mitchell returns to anchor the paint. He led Georgia Tech in rebounding and also finished as the second leading scorer last season behind Georges-Hunt. If Gregory opts for more size in the lineup, he may turn to either developing sophomore Ben Lammers or Georgia Tech’s lone freshman recruit, Sylvester Ogbonda. More likely options to join Mitchell are a pair of senior transfers, Nick Jacobs (Alabama) and James White (Arkansas-Little Rock). These two project similarly as last season’s one-year transfer bigs, Demarco Cox and Robert Sampson, each of whom was solid but rarely spectacular. Of the two current senior transfers, Jacobs may have the better chance to be more productive than his predecessors after spending last season working with the team during a mandatory redshirt year.

One thing working in Georgia Tech’s favor this year is the rotating ACC schedule. The Yellow Jackets will play ACC heavyweights North Carolina, Virginia, Duke and Miami only once each, and three of those games are in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets also got a head start on the season by participating in a three-game August trip to the Bahamas where they went undefeated against weak competition, a nice showing that could result in better team chemistry. That could be especially helpful for a group that often appeared to lack confidence in some of the tighter moments in ACC play a season ago. Gregory’s team was not totally intact for that summer trip — Georges-Hunt was still recovering from a broken foot suffered in March, and Smith was nursing a leg injury — but everyone on the roster is currently expected to be ready for the season opener on November 13 against Cornell. Gregory will need that clean bill of health — and perhaps more — if he is to turn this Yellow Jackets team into his first winner in ACC play, and as a result earn a sixth year at the helm.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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