Jan. 25, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
– The ACC has proven to be quite different than what Georgia Tech encountered before conference play began, and head coach Brian Gregory’s job has become different, too. It’s requiring more psychology.
Perhaps Tech’s past five games have constituted the toughest strength-of-schedule stretch in the nation (although some teams in the Big 10 might argue) as the Jackets have played the first-, second-, and third-place teams in the ACC, one of the teams tied for fourth (North Carolina) and a Virginia Tech team surpassing expectations.
So in the buildup for this afternoon’s game against resurgent Wake Forest (10-8, 3-3), Gregory worked to make sure that the Jackets (10-7, 0-5) keep the faith.
“You need to stick to what you do, and keep improving in that, and make sure the guys know that you have confidence in them,” he said. “I think the guys … want it so bad they want it too much.
“That’s part of competitive toughness … [so is] playing with the poise and composure you need, and we’re not there yet. But I’d rather have that than the other way.”
Indeed, the fabric is on the table to make proof that the Jackets are better this season. They just haven’t sewn it together yet because they’ve attacked the sewing machine.
On the spectrum of ingredients essential to athletic success there will be a graph point that dovetails to the value of confidence. From that spot, you can spin in several directions, but this is inarguable: playing with too much of it leads to foolhardy action – like a wild uptick in sloppy turnovers.
“Sometimes you have to learn what loses games before you learn what wins games, and we’ve had some pretty good lessons over the past few weeks,” Gregory said.
The coach continues to preach about being aggressive.
“We have a mindset to keep attacking, but we have to attack and be strong with the ball. We can’t get down,” said freshman Marcus Georges-Hunt, the Jackets’ leading scorer in the non-conference season who has slipped to sixth in scoring in ACC action. “Like BG says, keep attacking and good things will happen for us.”
Gregory said, “I think there’s disappointment, which there should be. You got to fight now. Every day has got to be a fight, and every game. Where I would worry is if I didn’t see the competitive nature during games, and that has not been the case at all.”
With a few exceptions limited to minutes within specific games the Jackets’ fighting spirit has not been an elemental issue. Their execution has not matched.
That makes Gregory’s job more difficult. Tech has not been routinely outworked. The Jackets generally have worked their tails off and their talent level is higher this season, and yet they have not met results sufficient to validate their sacrifice or investment.
Some of the factors of demise have been fluid. Rebounding, for example, was a big problem in the first three ACC losses. This became a preaching point, and in the last two games the Jackets out-rebounded Duke and North Carolina on the road.
In those two contests, however, turnovers – previously an area of great improvement this season – ratcheted wildly upward as the offensive pace quickened in part because Gregory allowed it. He gave the Jackets the keys to a faster car. Players – including four freshmen – too often mashed the gas.
The Jackets are not equipped to succeed against a high turnover count (not that many teams are) for sake of the one constant in their skid.
Tech has shot the ball poorly (league lows – by considerable margins – of 36.1 percent from the field and 27.5 percent on 3-pointers in ACC games).
More disconcerting, the Jackets have a low percentage on high-percentage shots ranging from open jumpers near the basket to layups and dunks.
“You need to stick to what you do, and keep improving in that, and make sure the guys know that you have confidence in them. The shots around the basket, sometimes [they have to] finish through contact, finish with your eyes on the rim. You can’t work any more on a layup or a missed dunk than I think we do,” Gregory said.
“Some of that goes back to your first question; some of that is mental. They’ve got to feel good and confident about making them.”
Tech’s defensive numbers have remained solid, although they’ve slipped in recent games because the Jackets have given up so many more easy baskets in transition because they’ve turned the ball over so much more.
“We feel like we’re getting closer and closer and better as a whole,” Georges-Hunt said. “Our defense has been pretty good. We just have to clean up the turnovers and we have to make easy shots.”