Dec. 16, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
By now there should have been a settling in of sorts, and to the eyes of Brian Gregory that is for the most part happening.
At 6-4 in what is by reasonable measures a transitional season, the Yellow Jackets’ record matters less than it would most campaigns. It’s more about building a brand than an NCAA Tournament resume – for now.
Most seasons, the record matters more than the way you see it happen. This season, the eye test matters more than the mark and the Jackets are showing signs of embracing who they are rather than fretting about what they’re not.
To parlay a NASCAR analogy, they are a unit eager to swap paint.
“We’re a little bit ahead of where I thought we’d be defensively, especially with the last three efforts,” he said the other day. “And we’re doing a good job of rebounding.”
That’s understatement, especially the bit about playing well defensively.
This team needs to play serious D and hit the boards because it’s not blessed with scorers. There’s Glen Rice Jr. (13.1 points in seven games, three as a starter), and then a roulette wheel that spins differently each game out.
The fact that Rice has slipped into the point guard rotation with Mfon Udofia and Pierre Jordan has the potential to wonkify matters, but Gregory believes it helps Rice. He has to focus in a different fashion, and there may be downstream benefits to bestowing more responsibility upon him now.
Moving back to the bigger picture, we’ll dive into the bad before moving to the good. In short, the Jackets are struggling with the ball in their hands. They don’t hang onto it very well, and they don’t shoot – especially from afar – much better.
Though they have done a much better job of late (10.5 turnovers per game in the last three), Tech is turning the ball over 2.5 more times per game than opponents to rank 282nd in the nation. With an average of 14.1 turns per game for the season, they rank 158th.
And Tech’s 28.2 percent clip on three-point shots makes the Jackets one of the nation’s least productive group of bombers. Only Brandon Reed has hit double-digit treys made, and on the button. He’s 10-for-39 (25.6 percent).
Without getting into gooey details, Tech players are being asked to do just about everything differently in Gregory’s offensive system than before, and they’re challenged to find both playmakers and finishers.
That would be an especially lethal double-whammy were it not for the fact that the Jackets appear to be embracing Gregory’s DNA.
To use a roller derby analogy, which I’ve long aspired to do, the Jackets are less interested in beating everyone around the track than they are impeding opponents at every step. They’ll tug, push, jam and occasionally hammer.
And Daniel Miller and the boys block.
Among a couple thousand players, the redshirt sophomore center is No. 15 in the nation in blocked shots, averaging 3.0 per game. Tech is No. 11 in blocked shots as a team, averaging 6.5.
The Jackets’ three-point defense is average, but their overall defense has been superb. While allowing opponents to make just 36.1 percent of their shots, they rank No. 12 in the USA even with their trey D dragging the average down.
Inside the three-point line, opponents make just 37.5 percent of their shots. Offensively, the Jackets inside the arc are making 54.8 percent of their shots. Tech is No. 26 in the nation in scoring defense, surrendering just 57.4 points per game.
They’re like a stock car driver that seems to be just as interested in keeping an opponent from the finish line as in reaching it himself. The goal is to grind and frustrate the other team, not dazzle and jazzify.
“I like the attitude and the effort that our guys are giving,” Gregory said. “The most important thing for us is we have not talked about winning; we’ve talked about competing.”
To further support my points, Tech is No. 17 in the nation in rebounding average, grabbing 8.2 more per game than opponents.
Sure, strength of schedule has something to do with Tech’s numbers so far, but a whole lot of BCS conference teams have so far played similar schedules.
But, as the Jackets look forward to games Monday against Alabama A&M (2-3), next Thursday against Mercer (7-3), Dec. 29 at Fordham (4-5) and then a game Jan. 3 against Alabama (9-2) before ACC action, it cannot be said they’re not forming a personality.
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