ACC Burning Questions: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 24th, 2016

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

Burning Question: How long will it take Josh Pastner to turn around the Georgia Tech program?

It’s been a long time since the Georgia Tech basketball program has been a consistent winner. If fact, the Yellow Jackets have only put together one winning ACC season in the past two decades. When Brian Gregory was fired soon after the end of last year’s 20-win campaign, that opened the door for Josh Pastner to bolt from his sputtering Memphis program to take over the reins in Atlanta. With a depleted roster awaiting him, Pastner will not be expected to do much in Year One. But given the high level of competitive balance within the ACC, can Georgia Tech hope for progress anytime soon?

Josh Pastner faces an uphill climb to turn around the Georgia Tech program. (Photo: ramblinwreck.com)

Josh Pastner faces an uphill battle to turn around the Georgia Tech program. (ramblinwreck.com)

The cupboard in Atlanta is not completely bare, but there is not a lot of talent left on the shelves. College basketball insider Jon Rothstein recently noted on Twitter that “Georgia Tech may have the worst power-five roster I’ve ever seen. Yellow Jackets won’t win a game in ACC play this season. Book it.” Considering the fact that Boston College is still in the league after going 0-18 in ACC play a season ago, that statement, while somewhat exaggerated, may not be too far off the mark. Gregory never could seem to get over the recruiting hump in Atlanta, so he frequently used upperclassmen transfers to keep the roster competitive. That Band-Aid approach resulted in a nice 21-15 season with an NIT appearance last year, but five seniors have since departed and Pastner has inherited the mess.

pastnertempo

Like almost all new coaches at their first press conference, Pastner promised to play a fast and entertaining brand of basketball. But unlike most others when they say it, this guy really means it. Pastner’s Memphis teams consistently played at a much faster tempo than the national average, while Gregory’s Georgia Tech teams were usually a bit slower than average. And it appears that the new coach has prioritized the establishment of one of his core principles — play with pace — right from the start. We admire his efforts in rebuilding the program that way. Many coaches would look at their talent on hand and try to limit possessions to eke out a few more wins. Pastner eschews that approach, instead recognizing that properly building the program and attracting future talent is more important than winning an extra game or two this season.

Junior Ben Lammers needs to be productive in the paint this year for Georgia Tech to compete with other ACC front lines. (Photo: ramblinwreck.com)

Georgia Tech needs junior Ben Lammers to be productive in the paint this year for them to compete with other ACC front lines. ramblinwreck.com)

Now let’s look at the hand Pastner has been dealt. There are four rotation players returning but none scored above five points per game last year. Junior Quinton Stephens averaged 20 minutes per contest (highest among the returnees) and has shown some occasional offensive ability, but at 6’9″ and 196 pounds, he has struggled with the physicality of the college game. Josh Heath and Tadric Jackson will probably start in the Yellow Jackets’ backcourt. Neither has to this point shown an ability to make shots, as both logged field goal shooting percentages below 40 percent last year. Probably the best candidate to make the most of his newfound playing time will be Ben Lammers. The 6’10” junior center only received about 15 minutes of action per outing last season, but he posted some really good tempo-based numbers. Lammers notched an excellent offensive rating (123.4), solid defensive rebound rate (20.8%), and made 65.5 percent of his shots from the field.

The rest of the available minutes will go to a variety of newcomers. Helping Lammers in the post will be a pair of redshirts — Abdoulaye Gueye and Sylvester Ogbonda. The three incoming freshmen — forward Christian Matthews and guards Josh Okogie and Justin Moore — are all considered top-250 recruits, so it remains unknown whether they will be ready to contribute right away. To fill out the roster, Pastner grabbed some graduate transfers. But unlike the past few years when Gregory lured transfers from major conference schools, Kellen McCormick (Western Michigan) and Jodan Price (Eastern Michigan) arrive having achieved only marginal success at lower-level programs. Pastner hopes each will provide some much-needed shooting prowess to the offense.

There’s only one obvious answer to the talent deficiency that Pastner faces, and he knows it. Always considered a good recruiter — two of his Memphis recruiting classes were ranked among the top 10 nationally — Pastner is confident in his ability to recruit the kind of players he will need to move the Yellow Jackets up the ACC ladder. He notes that unofficial visits to Georgia Tech are the most he’s seen at a school, indicating a rising interest in Atlanta as a destination among high school players. Pastner also claims that his program is in “really good shape” with multiple prospects in the next three high school classes. He’d better be right because this appears to be a three- or four-year rebuilding project regardless of what happens this season.

Brad Jenkins (271 Posts)


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