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Midterm Grades

Jan. 31, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Brian Gregory was fairly candid Tuesday in talking not only about Georgia Tech’s basketball game tonight at Florida State, but some of the shortcomings that his team struggles to overcome.

Painful as it sometimes has been to watch the Yellow Jackets play through this transition season, the head coach, his staff and players keep plugging away with the hope that there will be a breakthrough.

Could happen.

There are some things the Jackets are not, and will not be, so maybe there are alternatives.

First, the O:

To simplify, Tech can improve offensively by having ball handlers more often keep their heads up and look around rather than dead ahead.

“The one thing that we’re really working on is we do not create scoring opportunities for someone else,” Gregory said. “Right now we have just two players with more assists than turnovers. We’re not a high assist team.”

The Jackets are not typically going to rack up a lot of points in any of the three easy ways: in transition, at the free throw line, nor from three-point land. That means their half-court game, and especially their post play within it, needs to be effective.

Without detailing every angle but rather those most impactful . . .

Tech’s most efficient Tech scorer, Kammeon Holsey, happens to be hitting a whopping 62 percent of his shots.

The trick is he’s not getting many shots (averaging just 6.1 per game) because he’s playing just 21 minutes a game. That’s because he finds foul trouble (he’s by far the team leader with 63 despite being sixth in average minutes played) and his 45 turnovers are second-most on the team (against 17 assists).

Center Daniel Miller is third on the team with 33 assists, and he’s one of just two players on the squad with more assists than turnovers (31, while Glen Rice Jr.’s ratio is 43-40).

Miller, though, doesn’t touch the ball enough, and teammates are not as aggressive as they could be in cutting to the basket or finding open spots to receive kick-backs from the big guy.

Then, while Mfon Udofia (47-57) has improved at point guard, his DNA remains that of a shooting guard with an attack mentality. When he drives, he’s looking to score.

Sometimes, though, the drive itself — and this is not only when Udofia is the man with the ball — will tilt the defense and create scoring opportunities for other players.

There is still some hangover from last season’s, “Let’s-hang-out-and-see-what-Iman-[Shumpert]-does-here,” mentality.

“I think habits that are formed by the idea that, ‘This guy is going, and we’ll watch him do his thing,” Gregory said. “We have to play off each . . . so when Mfon drives, everybody else has to move off that.

“When we drive baseline, the post man on that strong side has to peel out and make his defender make a decision; is he going to stay and help [against the driver], or is he going to go with the peel?

“The opposite post man has to get to the front of the rim. The weakside wing has to move to the opposite corner. Those things have got to be automatic.”

In summation, three things: Holsey needs to find a way to avoid foul trouble; Tech needs to work the ball through Miller more often; and when a driver hits the turbo, he needs to maintain a panoramic rather than myopic view to be aware that he has options other than going all the way to the basket, like . . . pass. Don’t drop your head.

Defensively, the Jackets would do well — or better — to perhaps try a little European chicanery. Read along . . .

Defensively, the Jackets have posted (not at North Carolina Sunday) some decent field goal and points-against numbers, but both can be deceiving.

Some numbers are skewed by the fact that Tech’s offensive pace reduces the number of possessions for both teams in a game, and thereby the scores for both teams (not at UNC).

Opponents often make up for some of that shortage in possessions through Tech’s offense, and the frequent tendency to turn the ball over frequently.

The Jackets are tied for 291st in the nation in steals (which often lead to transition baskets). Last season, Tech was very good at steals, but less adept at straight-up defense because they gambled so often to produce those steals that when they failed to get steals their defense had been compromised by the gambles.

You don’t have to get steals to be good.

The nation’s stingiest defense in terms of points allowed per game, Wisconsin, is tied for 279th in steals. But the Badgers deploy other methods, many of them, to keep you from getting squared up for good shots at the basket.

Yet you can be thieverous and good. Syracuse leads the nation with 10.3 steals per game. Florida State is 28th, ripping off 8.6 per game.

Tech struggles for its points (discounting the UNC game because the Tar Heels play defense like it’s an adjunct to the game and besides, the Jackets did some fine things on offense in that game even with Rice scoring 4 points), and could use more possessions, like, say, off steals.

But the collective skill sets of the Jackets would require quite a bit more gambling to make that happen.

“Do you have the toughness or footspeed on the perimeter to do that?” Gregory said when asked about the prospect of pushing it a little more when defending in space. “[FSU can] do that because they know the rim is protected, so they can press up.

“One thing that is evident is we struggle guarding the basketball one-on-one. And so we have a hard time extending any kind of pressure. In addition to that, we need depth because that will wear you down faster. We can’t gamble on the defensive end because we’ll give up too many defensive baskets.”

As far as protecting the rim, Miller is among the ACC’s leaders in shots blocked, but many of them come head-up and in close quarters. He’s not racking up many off help defense while cleanin up after a teammate has been beaten by a driver.

In fact, Tech already has difficulty keeping penetrators from getting to the basket.

In talking about the Seminoles and their defense, Gregory went down the line on the topic of a few FSU guards and wings. He got around to senior forward Deividas Dulkys, who lit up North Carolina a couple weeks ago on the offensive end.

The scouting report says he doesn’t have exceptional foot speed, nor does he remind anyone of the old Ron Artest on the defensive wing. But, “he’s the typical European player where if you get by him, he’ll poke it out from behind . . . he’s got all the tricks.”

In summation: The Jackets need more tricks, and why not gamble more? Can the result be worse? Gregory referred to the fact that most of the transition taking place this season is internal, going unseen by fans. Upbeat as he is, though, he admits that frustration is part of his present life. At a certain point, there’s no point in taking a Pollyanna-ish view.

“We’ve had some flashes, but you need more than flashes,” he said. “I wouldn’t be honest if I said we’ve got it. Our job is to make sure we’re better at the end of the year than we are at the end of January.

“Our guys are going to need to embrace that, and it’s going to be hard. You do need to have . . . tangible evidence of what you’re doing, you need that sometimes. This is a very unforgiving league.”


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