March 8, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
Somewhere between Georgia Tech’s 71-69 win at Miami on Thursday and now there has been an overpowering temptation to pump fists at the idea that was the breakthrough that this basketball program has been absolutely aching for since, well, when?
Geez, it’s been a good half decade or so, hasn’t it, since such a watershed hoops event?
This exhultation has happened only in your mind, however, because you’re smart and not as young as the Yellow Jackets. Rather than make a public pronouncement, you’re waiting for more proof that a corner has been turned. You just know more is needed.
The question of the hour is, do the fellas understand that one win – no matter how grand – does not turn the wheel for real?
There are many examples of false signs of providence in the college basketball ether.
One game after beating Tech by 28 points a couple weeks ago, seemingly ascendant Virginia beat Duke. Man, they were going nuts after that. Since then, the Cavaliers have lost to Boston College and Florida State, who are both sub-.500 in the ACC.
Then, there’s Tech. Here, on the edge of the Jackets’ final game of the ACC regular season at B.C., they are 3-8 against the teams above them in the standings. Frankly, considering where they’ve come from, that is evidence of progress.
The win at first-place Miami was, by far, the greatest sign.
Yet there is confliction. These Jackets are just 3-3 against the teams below them. Tech swept Wake, but was swept by Clemson and split with last-place Virginia Tech – with the loss coming at home.
That last paragraph is certifiable proof that even if a corner seems to have been turned, even if the Jackets have figured out the concept of digging in for 40 minutes at a time and that no matter what that sticking to the plan is the way to go … it’s not enough.
Knowing it is not doing it. So no, the Miami game does not yet qualify as a breakthrough. If the Jackets follow it up with muster, yes.
But Boston College (14-16, 6-11 ACC) is not going to roll over for the Jackets (16-13, 6-11). The Eagles, who like the Jackets are young (freshman Olivier Hanlan of Quebec, for example, is averaging 14.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.1 steals – which would rank him first, fifth, second and first on Tech’s roster) swept Clemson.
Much work remains.
“I think you need to take a look at the next week [including the ACC tournament] to see if it was because if you go back and don’t respond, then it was just a step and not a breakthrough,” said coach Brian Gregory. “It’s tricky to say [that] if you look at one instance. I think it’s better to look at the panoramic view.”
The panoramic view is good, not great.
Since an 0-5 start in the ACC, Tech has gone 6-6. The Jackets have won on the road. They’ve beaten good teams (Virginia, Maryland and Miami), and competed well with others.
Yet they’ve also been blown out by North Carolina and Virginia in games where they collapsed down the stretch, where defeat did not come by a mistake or two but a truckload. And that home loss to Virginia Tech was indescribable.
This is no time for big heads, not that there ever really is one.
“When we win a game, everybody is there for us. When you lose a game, everybody wants to talk about next year … or the not-so-good things that have happened this year,” said freshman Chris Bolden. “But if we can put together some games, we can start to get comfortable.”
He’s a freshman, so you should cut Bolden a little slack. There is never a time to get comfortable. But the more important point is that if he’s truly reflective of the pulse of the Jackets, the first part of his comments ring truest.
Tech needs to move on from that last game and get on with the next one. To become a blue blood, everybody needs to take a blue-collar gang approach.
It’s never as simple as everyone simply playing better. Everybody needs to play smarter, and that requires some players sacrificing more than others – passing up shots for better shots by teammates, taking shots rather than trying to make a perfect pass, boxing out so your man doesn’t get the rebound but a teammate can, and so on.
Gregory can wax better so here he is explaining:
“If you look at the big picture over the last 12 games, I think we have played steadily better,” Gregory said. “We’re starting to get some more definitions on roles in terms of what guys can do, where they can really help us …
“We have to know what we need for the team to be successful … we need to do what’s better for the team [rather than each individual]. That’s the main thought. What’s best for the team? That’s always the answer to the question.”
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