Jan. 17, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Bennett Ball can drive you crazy and leave behind pulp if you soft-peddle, and Brian Gregory knows that as well as anyone. So, the Georgia Tech basketball coach is lecturing about Virginia, an upcoming opponent that can work with a jackhammer-ish diligence.
Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett’s boys do what they do without much deviation from one game to the next beyond how well they shoot or don’t, and whether they turn the ball over too much or not. Regardless of how they play the finer points of the game night to night, they’re just about always going to leave behind skin.
Tech? Sometimes, sometimes not so much.
The Yellow Jackets practiced Tuesday in armor.
“You have to embrace that physicality,” Gregory said Tuesday as his team prepared to prepare for Thursday’s game. “We have to get better at it. I like more of a physical game. It challenges your toughness. As we progress, we’re going to continue to get tougher.”
There is a Big 10 air about the Cavaliers (14-2, 1-1), and Gregory’s OK with that. He did the majority of his teeth cutting as a Big 10 assistant, and counts among the greatest accomplishments that he’s been part of not only being on the Michigan State staff when the Spartans won the national title in 2000, but beating Big 10 rival Wisconsin four times that season.
Dick Bennett coached the Badgers back then.
His boy’s boys are a lot like Wisconsin then in the way they poke around with the ball putting pressure on different spots in a defense, waiting, waiting until there’s a crack. Then, they make you pay.
And they’re physical too, running what Gregory calls a, “blocker-and-mover offense.”
Like the Badgers, they’re half hoops and half elbows. Senior Mike Scott, who is among league leaders in scoring and rebounding, leads the way.
Tech (8-9, 1-2) has some of the same abilities. The Jackets have not shown the same persistence, however, and that more than anything is the central quest of Gregory and his staff as the season wears on with Thursday’s game in Philips Arena, and then a trip to Clemson a couple days later.
“A lot has to do with mentality. Are you sliding over and taking charges?” the coach said. “[Maryland] took four [in the Terrapins’ 61-50 win Sunday up there]; we didn’t take any. We pride ourselves on the hustle board . . . we need to concentrate on that because there are going to be games where you don’t shoot well.”
The Jackets are emerging as a physical entity. They’re nowhere near heavyweights yet they have moved up from lighter weight classes.
Tech defended Maryland well enough to win Sunday, but the Jackets weren’t aggressive enough offensively in attacking the basket.
Preaching will only work to a point. What else can be done to make the Jackets tougher?
“First off, when you practice hard and play with great energy, you’re usually playing with toughness. You have to embrace that every single day, and all of a sudden that becomes who you are.
“If there’s a loose ball, the first guys on the court are the Georgia Tech guys. If it’s a tip-tap rebound, who comes up with those?
Some of that has to do with the physical, and some of it has to do with sheer willpower.”
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