We’ve had a lot of football and Beesball coverage recently, so let’s shift our attention to Jackets-ketball (I doubt this will stick).
First, a brief note about myself. I’ve been a Yellow Jacket basketball fan since coming to games with my dad, a Georgia Tech alumnus, as a wee lad in 2003 and seeing Chris Bosh play. That was the season before the furious march to the Championship Game before losing to a UConn team stocked with future NBA players. Since those ups, I’ve seen a lot of downs for this program that claims 2 Final Four appearances and many NBA draftees in the last 3 decades.
Despite his championship game appearance, former coach Paul Hewitt slowly proved to be unable to put his players in positions to succeed during a 12 season stint sitting on the bench in Alexander Memorial. Current coach Brian Gregory may be in the process of doing the same.
How can Georgia Tech best make a push for postseason play? The Yellow Jackets would be best suited to do this by using smaller lineups and shooting more threes.
While I had this opinion prior to Robert Carter Jr.’s transfer, the recent news further exasperates Brian Gregory’s situation with the team heading into the 2014-15 season. Put frankly, this isn’t nearly the most talented basketball roster in recent school history. The staggering number of transfers, 6 in just 3 seasons, is putting a major hamper on the ability of the coaching staff to recruit, develop and integrate the players into their system. From Carter Jr. to Solomon Poole (albeit for different reasons), many of Gregory’s own prized recruits and incoming transfers have fled the program.
Thus, the transition to smaller lineups is by necessity. There are no established post players left with the recent departure of Carter Jr. The closest is incoming transfer Robert Sampson, who averaged nearly a double-double in his junior season at East Carolina University. He will figure to be the main force in the paint for the upcoming season but even so it will be a touch-and-go process down low.
Marcus Georges-Hunt, despite being a natural small forward, should see a lot of time at the power forward. Same goes for the sophomore stretch four Quinton Stephens. They shot 34.1% and 31.3% respectively from behind the arc in 2013-14 and would be counted on to lead the Jackets in long range shooting. But like most teams, the guards will have to shoot well from there to have any meaningful results.
Chris Bolden came to Gregory’s program touted as a knockdown shooter, but has barely cracked 30% in each of his two seasons here. Joining him will be Tadric Jackson, a freshman shooting guard out of Tift County High School, but he may profile as more of an athletic slasher to the basket than a shooter.
Josh Heath, a sophomore point guard transfer from USF, and probable backup point guards Corey Heyward and Travis Jorgenson only totaled 28 attempts from three in their freshman campaigns. But they might have to shoulder a bigger load if the Jackets are to have a chance this season.
In fact, a lot of teams could stand to shoot more threes.
The median NCAA D-I rate for three pointers is 32.7% as a percentage of overall shots. The median shooting percentage of two-pointers is 48.4% and the same for three pointers is 34.2%. Keeping in mind that a three pointer is worth 1.5 times as much as a 2 pointer and converting those medians to points per shot gives us .968 PPS and 1.062 PPS respectively. (I used medians since finding the D-I mean was nearly impossible).
That .1 PPS difference can mean a lot over the course of a game and a season. Given that the average D-I team takes about 55 shots a game, it can mean a couple of points here and there over a game and dozens over the season without incurring diminishing returns, as shooting too many would make a one-dimensional offense easier to defend. Nevertheless, the added effect is real.
Georgia Tech took just under 30% of their shots from long range, good for 250th out of 351 D-I teams and there was a pretty good reason for it. The Jackets only made a paltry 31.5% of their tries from there, placing them 304th out of the same field of teams. Frankly for most of the players, it is probably out of their skill sets. But for a desperate team, it’s worth the risk of crashing and burning. Georgia Tech only had the 184th adjusted offense last season according to Kenpom, almost certainly in the bottom portion of major conference teams. There's not much to lose.
Brian Gregory is a product of the extensive Tom Izzo coaching tree, coaching as an assistant under Izzo for five seasons at Michigan State. In his subsequent coaching stops at Dayton and Georgia Tech, he has carried along a similar offensive philosophy as the legendary coach. Typically, his teams are built to work through the post, grinding out long possessions and avoiding threes for the most part.
Focusing on the three ball would be a drastic change in thinking for a coach entering his fourth season as the head coach in a now 16 team conference. But as team with a talent deficit, all options should be on the board for having a puncher’s chance in the most daunting basketball conference in the country.
The team will have to play a higher variance game if they want to even try to compete in an incredibly deep conference. Endeavoring to shoot more threes will come with its lumps in the form of off shooting nights. But the cost of losing a little more doesn’t outweigh possibly stealing a few big wins with 40 minutes of hot shooting.
In essence, the Jackets will have to play like a mid-major team with unheralded recruits trying to slay Goliath blue-blood programs. While it’s not that dire a situation, for one makeshift season it may be a solution.
I’ll finish with an even stronger opinion. The Jackets will win no more than 5 of their 18 ACC games this season and will struggle to reach 12 wins overall. It will make for the the 4th losing season in the last 5 years. Having lost 5 of last year’s top 6 scorers in terms of points per game, this is a team scrambling for answers with a newly revamped ACC slate staring them in the face and I don’t imagine Coach Brian Gregory will stray from his Izzo-like methodologies.
If there is a silver lining, because of a lack of depth, the walk-ons will have plenty of opportunity to shine. An open competition for the fringes of playing time can help push some of the more established players. But unfortunately, I think the lack of talent on the team will disappoint the Yellow Jacket faithful once again come this winter.
*All stats taken from TeamRankings.com