The NCAA Tournament is coming to a close and once again, Tech basketball had to part in the determining the outcome. The biggest question we asked ourselves when Tech Athletic Director Mike Bobinski announced Brian Gregory would return for another year as coach of the men’s basketball team is what will he be looking for in 2015-2016? What are the requirements?… what will be the standards?… what will be done differently, or even the same?
Even though the clock is ticking on the Gregory’s career at Georgia Tech, showing improvement will be entirely more critical in the 2015-2016 year than simple results. Significant improvement would show that the program is moving in a positive direction, rather than selling patience with a new coach… at least right now. Obviously a victory in the round of 64 will be a good start, but it may not be completely necessary for Gregory to hold on to his job.
There are two things that were proven both by the regular season and in the NCAA tournament. Georgia Tech can at least be competitive in the ACC, and the Atlantic Coast Conference is the best basketball conference in the country. That is not to make an excuse for Gregory’s teams not being able to turn the corner the last few years. But it does mark that Tech may have recorded a lot more wins if they were in another conference and producing a winner will be a lot tougher than showing up as a better team.
The bottom line is they are not in another conference. And Gregory and Bobinski have to figure a way to not only compete… but thrive on a consistent basis in a conference that sent seven teams to the tournament, five teams to the Sweet 16 and one to the Final Four.
Though a tough sell, the first thing Gregory has to do is establish (or re-establish) an identity. The only thing Tech did well last season was be inconsistent. And many of us spent time watching the basketball team with our palms up saying, "I wonder what they're suppose to be doing." The defense showed well in games against Notre Dame, Boston College, Syracuse and Miami (who was ranked at the time). Then offense and defense took nose-dives against North Carolina (twice), Wake Forest, Virginia and Louisville. It seemed like the team tried to win every game in the pace, tempo and style provided by the opposition.
Coaches win using many different philosophies in basketball. The coaches who don’t win are the ones who try to incorporate every philosophy into one program. For Tech, they could be great at team-defense, or you could force teams to take quick shots and play up-tempo, or you could press the whole game, or use man-to-man, or be an exclusively zone team… we don’t care. Just pick something and be the best at it. That will also give you something to lean on late in games.
That leads to recruiting. When things were going downhill for former Tech Coach Paul Hewitt, a strapping young freshman named Derrick Favors gave false hope as his one year resulted in an NCAA Tournament appearance. Recruiting quality will be huge, but Tech should not focus on the cream of the crop, one-and-done players. There were 68 teams in the tournament and contrary to popular opinion, the majority built their programs on recruiting and developing good and great players with a very good skill-set. If there were 40 LeBron James’ available each year, then no one would know or care who LeBron is.
Instead of picking the best player available, find great players that fit the identity you want to establish. (Whoa… this sounds familiar.) If you want to press, look for long athletic players. If you want to move the ball in motion sets, get guys who can pass and shoot who may not be as good creating their own shot.
Gregory will then need to convince a fan-base to embrace the program and his philosophy. This is not as hard as it sounds. If this becomes a run-and-gun team built on defense and full court presses, fans will not only feed off the teams’ energy… they will fuel it. Crowds are either on their feet for the high-energy dunk, or holding up the "3" sign because someone left the sharp-shooter alone in the corner.
But as styles are (re)established, there will always be a give and take. Aside from this year’s Kentucky team, not many programs can beat you in various ways. Whichever team forces the other to play their style usually wins. (i.e. The Elite Eight game where Notre Dame nearly got the best of Kentucky. But like I said… usually.)
As a fan who believes in firing someone a year too late than too soon, I’m glad to see Brian Gregory return for another season. We saw this past year’s team compete in many games with a ton of close-game loses. I believe Gregory is closer to being the answer after another year of learning the strengths and weaknesses of the program and himself. This team will not be as young and the coaches know a lot more about what they can do individually. The improvement now is to establish what they can do collectively.