Dec. 29, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– The gifting season has passed, and for Georgia Tech that goes beyond any holiday. Brian Gregory is glad his players aren’t giving so much, and the Yellow Jackets’ head coach is especially pleased Charles Mitchell has become stingy.
Tech will close out the non-conference schedule Tuesday against a Duquesne squad off to the best start since 1979-80, and if the Jackets (9-3) are going to handle the Dukes (10-2), turnovers may be key.
Last season, Tech had a loose handle on that notion, and the ball.
In 31 games, the Jackets racked up a modest 362 assists (11.7 per game), while coughing up the ball 394 times (12.7).
It was chiefly an inside-out problem. Tech’s primary post players, Mitchell and Demarco Cox, combined for a 31-110 ratio.
No wonder ball security was central to offseason workouts.
“To the players’ credit and the staff’s credit, that has been a point of emphasis, because our big guys’ numbers last year, turnover-wise, were outrageous,” Gregory said.
In starting this season 9-3, the Jackets have put up 178 assists (14.8) against 131 turnovers (10.9). Mitchell may not be a point forward, but with five assists and just 17 turnovers, he’s been more efficient than last season — when he had 12 assists and 66 turnovers.
The senior forward is no longer rushing so often.
With assistant coach Mamadou N’Diaye at his hip, Mitchell has matured as a basketball player after, “Just watching film, seeing where I turned the ball over, traveling on the block, trying to go into my move too fast,” he said. “[It was] trying to rush shots, or force shots instead of letting the offense come to me.”
Tech’s vastly improved assist-to-turnover ratio goes beyond individual work done by post players and the wings alike.
The addition of guard Adam Smith, who has made more 3-pointers (34-of-78) than any Jacket last season (Quinton Stephens, 32-of-107) has spread opposing defenses out. That’s making it more difficult to double Tech players in the post.
That was absurdly easy last season, when the Jackets were 343rd in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (.267) out of 345 teams. Stephens is finding more space, too. He’s made 13-of-30, a 43.3 percent mark that is light-years better than his mark of 29.9 percent a season ago. Tech is hitting 35.2 percent from distance.
“There’s not too many times you’re going to see Charles getting doubled,” Smith said. “They have to play us honest.”
Tech’s big men still lead (lag) the team in assist-to-turnover ratio, yet that’s normal in basketball. Their ratios are now in line with reasonable, though, and that’s a big deal.
Turnovers and rebounds are the most important markers toward success. The Jackets have generally been good rebounders under Gregory. They’re 8-2 this season when out-rebounding opponents, and 52-40 in four-plus seasons.
Turnovers may be more important.
The Jackets grabbed 11 more rebounds than Villanova, but turned the ball over four more times in a 69-52 loss. They had seven more rebounds than East Tennessee State, but lost 69-68 with two more turnovers than ETSU.
Tech is 5-0 when committing fewer turnovers than opponents this season, and 3-3 when committing more. Under Gregory, Tech is 29-13 when turning the ball over less than opponents, and 31-54 when turning it over more.
Heath and Jorgenson are a combined 81-21 in assists and turnovers.
The Tech bigs are better, too, and that’s most obvious in Mitchell, who is second on the team in scoring (13.3 to Marcus Georges-Hunt’s 14.1) and No. 7 in the nation in rebounding (11.8). He touches the ball more than every other Jacket, and he’s making fewer mistakes and passing more than before.
“Being a senior … now I know we have a better team,” he said. “That was just me going into a move, not slowing down and seeing the floor. It’s kind of selfish basketball. I haven’t touched the ball in a while, and I end up throwing a shot up. It (was) me shuffling my feet because I was so happy to get the ball.
“It’s one of those things you just learn over time. You have to grow. I’m comfortable with it. If I don’t touch the ball, my teammates will score. And if they don’t, I’m going to get thTe offensive rebound every time.”
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