Basketball in McCamish Pavilion is back.
It's no secret that there has been a lot of change for this basketball team in just a few months. Only 5 scholarship players from last season remain from the group that saw time on the court as a Yellow Jacket, including one that only saw 4 games before a season ending injury. Add them to 5 transfers from other programs (1 of those ineligible for this season) and 3 freshmen and you have the 2014-15 Georgia Tech basketball team.
Forwards and Centers:
The most glaring takeaway from the event is that Demarco Cox, senior forward-center who transferred in from Ole Miss, is a man. A full grown man. It's hard to get a full grasp of his size and strength until you're staring right at him from the second row in McCamish. He had his way in the post for the entire time he was on the court. Cox used both hands with ease to lay in buckets after using his square shoulders to gain position near the basket. Surprisingly nimble for someone listed at 6'8" and 276 lb., he also beat the defense down the court a few times for easy buckets. Demarco was also a terror on the offensive glass as well as effecting shots playing defense near the glass. He ended as the leading scorer among players in the scrimmage, with 25 points in 29 minutes. He may be well on his way to grabbing control of the starting spot at the 5.
Marcus Georges-Hunt is still Marcus Georges-Hunt. There's no doubt about that. He proved himself as the de facto leader and best player on the team, driving and finishing with contract and possessing a confident stroke on his corner three pointers. He had 17 points and 6 rebounds in 34 minutes of action.
Charles Mitchell did his best Demarco Cox impression, gathering misses and finishing around the basket. He ran the floor well and even stepped out to hit some free throw line jumpers. He finished with a very efficient 18 points on 8-11 shooting and 10 rebounds. The Cox-Mitchell duo will be a tough cover, as their size and broad shoulders create easy space. Their communication was also impressive, as they seemed to move as a unit on defense when together on the same blue or gold squad as if they had been long time teammates.
Abdoulaye "AD" Gueye had a rough showing Saturday. He fumbled the ball away a couple of time and generally looked overmatched defensively. He has a slight build similar to Quinton Stephens, and often when guarding Cox and Mitchell, they made spin moves under the basket or simply backed him under the basket and fouling was Gueye's only escape. He did flash his shooting range, which extends all the way out to the three point arc. Gueye is still a young guy with a lot of upside due to his length and versatility.
The forward and center rotations became clearer after the open practice. Cox, Mitchell, Robert Sampson, Ben Lammers and Gueye will probably comprise the power forward and center rotations. All of these guys are very skilled not only dribbling to open up space to score in the midrange and near the basket but also passing out of the post. Lammers, for example, had a number of cross court passes to find open corner shooters. That quality along with his 6'10" height and long wingspan can make him an effective player in his freshman campaign. Sampson, the double double machine from East Carolina, had a quiet 10 points, but I expect he can be a lot more forceful once the games that count begin. Quinton Stephens was mostly used at the small forward spot, where his three point prowess can be better utilized.
Stephens, Chris Bolden and Tadric Jackson will be counted on to stretch the floor with their shooting. All three had rough outings in that respect, but Tadric was able to drive into the lane and get close shots at the hoop. He finished with 11 points. Bolden made a few off-balance runners in the lane as well, but after two seasons of disappointing three point shooting, will need to have a better showing from there in his junior season.
Corey Heyward showed some explosive bursts in getting to the rim and even blocked the much taller Robert Sampson from the weakside at one point in the last 10 minute segment. His ACL tear from 2 seasons ago is clearly in the rear view mirror. If he can add a three point shot to his arsenal, he will be a comfortable fit at either the 1 or the 2.
Among the guards, I was most impressed by redshirt freshman Travis Jorgenson. I have money on him being the fastest guy on the team with the ball in his hands. He pushed the ball in transition and probed the defense for cracks. He sat out the second half as a precaution for the knee injury he has dealt with the past year. Assuming good health, Jorgenson may have the inside track on the starting point guard role.
On the flipside, USF transfer and sophomore point guard Josh Heath was mostly absent, hardly making a mark in box score aside from his 5 assists.
The most negative development in the scrimmage was the jump shooting. The good news is the passing was crisp and on point. There some good ball movement in the halfcourt offense and it opened up a lot of chances, but the teams couldn't capitalize. The Jackets shot a paltry 31.5% from three in 2013-14, good for just 13th in the ACC and 304th out of 351 Division I teams. You just have to knocked down open shots at the end of the day to have any success.
All in all, Brian Gregory has to be happy with how quickly some of his new players have taken to his schemes. The offense continued to run through the post primarily and the trio of Cox, Mitchell and Sampson did a lot to reassure that they can replace the departed trio of Robert Carter Jr., Kammeon Holsey, and Daniel Miller.
Both teams ran a lot of high screens set, with the bigs coming all the way up to the arc to set side picks before rolling to the basket. The pick-and-roll has never been a huge point of emphasis under Coach Gregory but he may look to integrate it more into the game plan with so many mobile bigs on this team. The bigs will have to be active, especially in freeing themselves and getting to the rim, should the jump shooting continue to struggle. The same holds true for the other side of the ball, where the Jackets may make up for lack of interior height with help defenses and sharp defensive rotations.
The team defense was pretty good, sprinkling in a few steals and blocks while generally remaining in good position, but some of that may be the result of every player knowing the operations of the offense. We'll see if this defense is for real, even without shot blocker extraordinaire Daniel Miller, in the coming weeks.
- The teams combined for 26-36 (72.2%) from the free throw line, a slight improvement over the 68.4% mark they logged last season.
- Patrick Lamar, Bernard Woodside and Rand Rowland didn't see any action. Those three are non-scholarship "Iron Five" group members who practice with the team. Aaron Peek and Brooks Doyle, on the other hand, did play in the scrimmage intermittently but each had minimal impact.
- Nick Jacobs, the transfer from Alabama, also had a good showing. The lefty knocked down some mid-range shots and looked smooth in the post as well. He'll have to sit out for this season but will be an important contributor in 2015.
- The format of the scrimmage was four 10 minute segments. While I don't expect this to catch on in NCAA play, it was an interesting wrinkle. Instead of one long halftime sandwiched by two 20 minute halves, you could consider instituting 5 minutes breaks between each quarter to keep the flow of the game moving. I'm spitballing of course. (But seriously, the one change college basketball needs is actual jump balls instead of switching possessions each time. It seems unfair to decide a possible key position with an alternating arrow).
- Players frequently switched sides as the coaches dictated between each 10 minute segments. It gave the coaches and fans a look at a few different lineups we may see once the season begins.
- There was nothing fancy about the jerseys, just blue and gold warmup jerseys. I think we'll see the Jackets wear the jerseys with the faint picture of Buzz on the back during the season.
- The Yellow Jackets will host nearby Clayton State for an exhibition on Friday, November 7 before opening the season against uga the following Friday, November 14.