Dec. 14, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
With a little more than a week off, Brian Gregory, his staff and players have not been on holiday. The Georgia Tech men’s basketball team has been busy.
Players are perhaps not so fresh off of exams, and the staff has dissected the Yellow Jackets’ strengths and weakness through the first quarter of the season. Coaches have come up with a list of teaching points, or reinforcement points.
The Jackets (6-2) fell 59-54 last Saturday at USC Upstate, and before playing Appalachian State (3-3) Monday, Vanderbilt (6-2) Saturday, and at Dayton (7-2) on Dec. 23, Gregory and Co. have a pre-Christmas wish list of checkpoints.
There were a couple of common denominators in each Tech loss, including a 72-70 setback Nov. 27 to Marquette in the Orlando Classic, and for that matter even in a few games beyond those.
Tech has been too sloppy with the ball, and while the Jackets have been a solid rebounding team, they have not cashed in on their offensive rebounds at a sufficient rate. In some ways, these issues are related.
So, after a couple days completely off for players, and then a few days of individualized instruction, the Jackets returned to practice Friday for three days of preparation with specifics in Gregory’s mind. Tech’s interior is getting special attention.
Having played their past five games in a nine-day stretch that did not allow much standard practice time, the Jackets grew a little loose around the edges.
“We had some slippage in those five games,” the head coach explained. “We have to get back, re-establish some things that we need to do, and evaluate and say these are areas where we can make significant strides and emphasize those.
“This is a good time of year to do that. Three quality games without school . . . we can get them in extra film, extra individual workouts where guys can hone in.”
Chiefly, the Jackets are going to need to take better care of the ball.
Everybody else is in the red, as are the Jackets overall (91-112).
Turnovers have hurt the Jackets in second-chance points, too, as they have developed a bad habit of grabbing offensive rebounds only to too often turn the ball over by forcing a bad shot or making a poor pass.
The Jackets have outrebounded opponents 326-237, and they’ve taken 47 more offensive rebounds (113-66).
That has not often enough led to more points.
In the loss to Upstate, Tech scored just eight points off of 14 offensive rebounds, and in a 72-70 loss to Marquette on Nov. 27 in the Orlando Classic, the Jackets scored just 12 points off 17 offensive boards.
These numbers have been problematic in some victories as well.
Gregory said one point scored for each offensive rebound is a good, but not great, benchmark.
Tech has fallen short of that efficiency in three of the past five games to a total of 56 second-chance points off 65 offensive rebounds, and the Jackets’ assist-to-turnover ratio has been sub-one in four of the past five to the total tune of 54-74.
Big men Charles Mitchell (7.8), Demarco Cox (6.6) and Robert Sampson (6.3) lead the team in rebounding, yet also lead in turnovers with 23, 13, and 13, respectively. Mitchell committed five miscues against Upstate.
“Their turnover number is a little alarming,” Gregory said. “They have great diversity in their turnovers . . . you should get a point for every offensive rebound. If you’re over 1.0, you’re good. It’s not great any more.
“You have to finish some of those plays [inside], but if we’re swarmed, some of the highest-percentage 3-point shots are on kick outs.”
The Jackets also want to be better shooting the long ball, as Quinton Stephens (40.6) and Sampson (33) are the only players making more than 27 percent of their 3-point shots. Tech is shooting 27 percent overall from afar.
A lack of attention to details has begun to add up so after several days studying for finals, the Jackets have returned to serious study on the court.
Given Tech’s struggles against zone defense in the Marquette and Upstate losses and the Jackets’ difficulties with their jump shots, it figures they will see quite a bit of zone soon. Beating it will require attacking it, taking better care of the ball, and attention to details.
The big men are going to need to handle the ball plenty against zones. They’re going to get chances to show whether recent work is paying off.
“Against a zone, you have to get underneath it. You can’t just play on top of it,” Gregory said. “That means your big guys have to get touches.”