Dec. 1, 2011
By Matt Winkeljohn
Fresh or not after losing Tuesday night to Northwestern, Brian Gregory’s players won’t have to wait long to get an idea of whether they learned difficult lessons facing the Wildcats or if they’ll be burned again by that unusual offensive style.
Saturday’s game at Tulane will in some ways be like a re-run for Georgia Tech, yet more sudden. The Green Wave deploy many of the same Princeton-based principles as the Wildcats, but with a couple notable differences.
Tulane is more athletic than Northwestern, and a bit bigger to boot. The Green Wave start a 7-foot center/forward – Tomas Bruha, and 6-8 forward Josh Davis leads the nation with six double-doubles already. Grant Fiorentinos, a freshman from South Africa who started the first six games, is 6-10.
Small wonder Tulane is 8-0 – albeit against a modest schedule.
“Tulane has a lot of the same concepts as Northwestern,” Gregory said. “They run a lot of dribble-drive, back-cutting, a lot of speed cuts. We won’t have to wait too long to see … our improvement.”
Thursday’s practice may have included more than the usual amount of time reviewing what didn’t go well in the previous game not only because Northwestern won 76-60, but because Tulane runs some of the same stuff.
The Green Wave may not be quite as slick, crafty or deliberate as the Wildcats in their offense, but guards Kendall Timmons (6-5) and Jordan Callahan are back for their second seasons as starters under coach Ed Conroy and understand the nuances of this system.
Plus, Tulane is No. 6 in the nation in scoring defense (51.4 points allowed per game) and No. 22 in field goal defense (35.7 percent).
Davis, who sat out last season after transferring from NC State, sure seems to grasp everything. He’s averaging 14.4 points and 11 rebounds, trailing only Timmons (14.9 ppg) in scoring.
The Green Wave, like the Wildcats, love the long ball. The Wildcats hit 5-of-13 3-pointers Tuesday, which pales next to Tulane’s 13-of-31 outing in a win against Nicholls State. Callahan, a Marietta, Ga., native who prepped at the New Hampton School (N.H.), is the main stroker. He’s made 17-of-37 (45.9 percent).
The Green Wave, though, are more likely to try and take the ball right at Tech, which worked well for Northwestern. The Wildcats scored 44 points in the paint, which is why Gregory and his staff spent so much time working on dribble-drive defense.
There’s a trick in there; guarding a driver once he’s on the move is only part of the equation. Once the train leaves the station, it ain’t easy to stop. The Jackets will fare better in one-on-one situations if they stand in the tracks first.
“We spent a lot of time on three things of supreme importance, and the first was guarding the dribble-drive,” Gregory said, “and having the toughness one-on-one to guard the ball.”
Toughness? Hey, it’s not all physical; the Jackets need to concentrate more when their men do not have the ball.
“If you’re not in the correct position on the catch, it’s hard. You can’t relax when you’re off the ball,” Gregory said. “One of the challenges that we’re focusing on is trying to maintain that concentration and intensity all the time.
“It’s easiest to guard ball if you’re in position. When on the ball, you just have to keep your chest in front of it. Off the ball, you can’t lose focus [or position]. You have to be more concentrated. Off the ball you have multiple things to do.”
The Yellow Jackets also zeroed in on rebounding, and the combination of ball security and the idea of not rushing up a mediocre shot at the possible expense of working hard to earn a better one.
“We’ve only been out-rebounded twice, and both were losses. Neither was a more physical team for us,” Gregory said. “The third was you just need to value possessions more on offense. We had too many empty possessions where we didn’t have the patience to break the defense down.”
On the plus side Tuesday, sophomore Jason Morris scored a career-high 21 points while playing by far his best all-around game.
He’s not the only Jacket who this season has put up a nice game, but Gregory’s task is to sew together his roster. Rather than having a player or two per game play at a high level, the Jackets need many more than that.
“To put it bluntly, our margin for error is small,” the coach said. “We have to have a really good game plan, be able to execute it, and have a lot of guys play well.
“Number one, we have to sell the game plan to them. Then, they need to execute it, and we need for guys to keep improving. If there are holes in any of that, you’re put in a tough situation.”
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