During the press conference after Brian Gregory was hired to be the new head coach for Georgia Tech, Gregory stated fans should prepare for some seriously exciting basketball, because he liked his teams to get out and run. And while that was partially coach-speak (he was taking over a bad program), and partially nonsense (his Dayton teams had never been in the top half of Division I teams in tempo, and ranked a staggering 284th or slower in half his seasons), I also think he really sees his team this way. Why? I don't know. But almost all coaches who aren't Bo Ryan seem to think they get up and down the floor. Sure enough, his first Tech team was neither exciting nor pretending to be so (296th in tempo), and now he's at it again. In the Athlon Season preview (which I reviewed) he says that his team should "play at a much faster pace on offense where we're pushing the ball on every possession."
This isn't going to happen. Gregory isn't going to turn into Roy Williams overnight – he still has a style. But, filtering the coach-speak, should Tech fans be excited about this season? Everyone seems to be writing the Yellow Jackets off. But are they right to do so?
What happened last season: The Brian Gregory era actually began on a hopeful note. After beating a couple scrubs Tech ran into a solid St. Joe's squad and lost, and then turned around and beat a really good VCU team the following night. Hooray! But that (aside from a road win at NC State) was pretty much it for the good news.
Tech went 7-7 out of conference, 4-12 in conference, and capped the season by getting knocked out of the ACC Tournament while scoring 36 points. This low score would have been surprising if it weren't the third time they had failed to reach 40. Oh, and a couple weeks earlier, Glen Rice Jr. (their leader in scoring, rebounding and steals) was dismissed from the team.
And while last year was forgettable (drinking heavily helps), it was also the fifth consecutive year in which the Yellow Jackets failed to win at least half of their ACC games.
So, moving on.
What they lost: Glen Rice Jr., as mentioned above, was a stats stuffer. But he was also a problem. This is likely addition by subtraction. The only other players lost were Nick Foreman, a reserve senior who only played 26% of the team's minutes, and rarely used sophomore Nate Hicks who transferred to Florida Gulf Coast. Foreman will be missed, as he was a defensive spark off the bench who could knock down the rare three. And Hicks had talent, but clearly it wasn't a good fit.
What they have: Georgia Tech played 31 games last year. There are five starters each game for a total of 155 potential starts. Tech lost a combined 13 starts (8.4%). In other words, they're suddenly one of the most experienced teams in the nation. But they were also terrible, so is this a good thing?
Mfon Udofia is back for his senior season, and at this point you know what you're getting. He's a point guard with turnover issues who isn't a very good shooter. But at least he's an ACC quality point guard, and that's a start. He was also a consensus top-50 recruit (No. 34). His backup is intriguing, but not because of his game. The two minute version: Pierre Jordan was Chris Singleton's best friend (the Chris Singleton who is now in the NBA). Florida State smartly offered Jordan in order to land Singleton. It worked. But once Singleton left for greener pastures, Jordan decided to return closer to his hometown of Atlanta. Enter Georgia Tech, who smartly offered Jordan a landing spot. It just so happened that Jordan's father coached consensus top-50 recruit Robert Carter (No. 30), who was choosing between Florida State and Georgia Tech. Jordan goes to Tech. Carter follows. Got it?
The returning starters, besides Udofia, are all juniors. 6-11 Daniel Miller isn't much of an offensive threat, but he had the 4th best block rate in the conference.6-8 Kammeon Holsey is remarkably active on the offensive boards, and boasts a 59% floor percentage on twos, but unfortunately he's terrible from the line (53%) which negates quite a bit of his value. Brandon Reed and Jason Morris joined Udofia in the back-court, and – to put it kindly – played like bench players on a decent major conference team. Morris is a former consensus top-100 recruit (No. 77) who has really struggled scoring the ball.
Highly touted Julian Royal (consensus No. 72) returns after a promising freshman season. He shot the ball well, but in order to get more minutes he'll need to use his size (6-8, 243) to rebound and play some defense. And he needs to cut his turnover rate. But his weaknesses were nothing unusual for a freshman, and Tech fans should expect continued progression.
Then there are the newcomers. The forementioned Robert Carter is a 6-8 center who uses skill and an array of post moves to make up for his lack of size. And he enters with a game that is college ready. The former Marcus Hunt (now Marcus Georges-Hunt) is another highly rated recruit (No. 91) who is built like an NBA player. He's only 6-5 but played in the post for much of his high school career, and because of that he's now well developed as a hybrid guy on the wing. And Stacey Poole – yet another top-end recruit (No. 50) – transferred from Kentucky and will be eligible after fall grades are posted. Poole gives them another big guard/small wing hybrid who will earn minutes, as Poole is older and has been practicing with the team for a year.
The other freshmen are Corey Hayward (son of Ironhead Hayward, drink when the announcers tell you so), a 6-0 point guard who will probably supplant Jordan in the rotation by ACC play, and Chris Bolden who is a 2-guard with a bright future. If he can play his way into the rotation, consider that a bonus.
Where they're going: Are they going to be in the fast lane, running up and down the court, like Coach Gregory stated? I doubt it. But that's not important. What is important is that this was a fractured team under a first-year coach which really struggled. But with a big influx of new players, a key outflow of old players (read: Rice Jr.), all the parts are here to transform this from a bunch of guys who wore matching uniforms to a fully realized team. Will they compete for the ACC Title? No. Will they break their 5-year streak of sub .500 ACC records? The national media doesn't think so, but I do.
They'll also be playing in a completely refurbished arena. So if you're a Tech fan – rebuilt arena, team on the rise – don't get hung up looking for offensive style points. Just worry about the wins. And this year, there will be more of those.