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A New Lineup Brings Mixed Results

Lineup changes helped spur the Jackets to an upset over Virginia, but helped little in the loss to Notre Dame

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

After keeping the same starting lineup and ten man rotation for almost the whole season, Brian Gregory decided to switch it up against Virginia and was rewarded with immediate results.  The lineup changes played a huge part in the upset over the then #4 Cavaliers.  He kept the changes for the next game against Notre Dame, only to watch the players with increased roles struggle mightily and contribute to the tough loss.

The first change has been a long time coming, and that is the benching of Travis Jorgenson.  After recording significant minutes in every game so far this season, except the VCU game when he was injured, Jorgenson did not play against Virginia and just 4 minutes against the Fighting Irish.  In place of his minutes, Tech has been playing a three wings and using a combination of Marcus Georges-Hunt, Tadric Jackson, and Adam Smith at the point.  Gregory has tested this type of lineup for short periods earlier in the season, but now seems to have gone all in on the concept of the point guard by committee (when Josh Heath is in he plays point).  And so far it has worked alright.  Georgia Tech is one of the best in the country at not turning the ball over, and that has not changed with only 14 turnovers in the last two games combined.  Playing without a point guard for 15 minutes a game is going to be tested next Saturday against Louisville, who plays a very strong pressure defense.

The second change was replacing Josh Heath in the starting lineup with Quinton Stephens.  This leaves the Jackets without a point guard in the starting lineup, but the lineup now features Georgia Tech's three best outside shooters (although Jackson is arguably better than MGH) as well as a ton of size, with 4 starters over 6'6''.  I have criticized Stephens in the past for not providing much to the team if his shot has not fallen, and while he has been much more aggressive rebounding over the last couple of games, this is still largely true.  Not only does he rely on his outside shot for almost his entire value of the team, but he is an extremely streaky player.  He played a major part in the victory over the Cavaliers going 6-8 shooting for 16 points and leading the team through two critical stretches.  The first stretch was right at the beginning of the game when Stephens gave Tech the early lead by scoring 8 points in the first couple of possessions.  Late in the second half, when Virginia had come back to tie the game after trailing almost the entire game, Stephens hit two three-pointers as well as another jumper during an 11-0 run that put the Yellow Jackets in total control of the game.  Buoyed with the confidence from his huge performance, Stephens came into the game against the Fighting Irish firing, only this time the shots did not fall.  Again he attempted 8 shots, but this time came away with only two points.   His lack of shooting was a major factor in Tech's offensive struggles.  I think Stephens in the starting lineup could be a smart move, but Gregory has to be faster at pulling Stephens when none of his shots are even coming close.

The third change was perhaps my favorite change.  Gregory put James White in the starting lineup over Nick Jacobs.  Nick Jacobs is a better player than James White, but that is only because he is a much better post scorer.  In recent games, Jacobs has not been scoring at the same rate as he had been earlier in the season so putting White over him made sense in that way.  But it also makes sense with the matchups.  Pairing White-Mitchell and Jacobs-Lammers makes more sense than what Gregory was playing earlier in the season with Jacobs-Mitchell.  Now, both pairs have one post scorer (Charles Mitchell and Jacobs) and one rim protector (White and Lammers).  In both games, Jacobs has still played more minutes than White, but with White in the starting lineup the lineups that Gregory can play make more sense.  White played fantastic against Virginia.  Even though he only scored 6 points, he pulled down 5 offensive rebounds and it felt like he was right there on every loose ball and made several big plays to pump up the crowd, most prominently his put-back dunk in the second half.  Against Notre Dame he got into foul trouble early and took himself out of the game, a recurring issue for him this year.  I think putting White in the starting lineup is a very smart move, but White has to keep out of foul trouble and forcing Georgia Tech into a three man big rotation.

All of these moves are going to get tested in the coming games.  James White is going to be tested against a Virginia Tech team who draws plenty of fouls, and his rebounding is going to be needed against a Louisville team that is monstrous on the boards.  I expect to see more teams press Georgia Tech when they see no point guard on the floor so the wings need to keep up their ball handling.  And Quinton Stephens' consistency and mental fortitude will be tested.  Virginia Tech will test if he is going to come back strong from the Notre Dame game, or continue struggling.  Offense against Louisville is going to be in short supply so a Stephens has another chance to lead Tech to a big home upset.  Through two games, these changes have helped lead Tech to a big win, and a tight loss against Notre Dame.  The new lineup should help Tech continue to compete and turn these close road losses into wins.