Today's game is to avoid losing the second most games in school history, and likely taking us to 22 whenever the ACC tournament loss occurs. We can also pretty much ruin whatever hopes the Yellow Jackets at 14-16 would have for an postseason bid, as they'd need to get to the ACC Championship game to earn an NIT shot (or NCAA shot).
Today misery loves company as Joey Weaver from SBN partner From The Rumble Seat takes a few minutes to talk about Georgia Tech's current ailments.
GC: As a child of the 1980s I tend to hold GT in higher esteem than maybe it deserves. Under Bobby Cremins the Jackets made the NCAA tournament every year from 1985-1993, reaching the Final Four against UNLV in 1990. But since Cremins left after several disappointing seasons in 2000, replacement Paul Hewitt sporadically made the big dance, and was deemed unfit (particularly due to his ACC road record). This will be new coach Brian Gregory's third year at the helm, and an NIT bid is unlikely. What do Tech fans think about his future? Is next year a make or break year?
I'd say that's the single thing Tech fans are most frustrated over right now, is how far the program has fallen off the map in the decade since going to the National Championship game. This is a program that Bobby Cremins took to the top of the college basketball world, bringing in some of the all-time greats and having a ton of success. Now, we're so far removed from that, it's like you would never know it was the same school. When we got rid of Paul Hewitt it was because he wanted recruiting to be his main coaching function. Now, bringing in Derrick Favors was great, but when he and the other four guys out there can hardly execute an in-bounds pass, not a whole lot is going to end well. Gregory was brought in as an actual coach, but has really struggled for a variety of reasons. Much of the talent in the program has found its way out in one way or another (Glen Rice Jr, Solomon Poole, Julian Royal), and now it's becoming crunch time for him. Next year is absolutely a make or break year, and I'd say his future hinges on making the Tournament. If he doesn't, they'll have to be right on the bubble to be able to make the case for keeping him...but let's just say there are already names being thrown around for who might replace him given how far this team is from a tournament berth.
GC: Your best player is Trae Golden. It seems as though GT has the same problem as VT in that it's best offensive player is inefficient. At just 12.9 ppg and shooting less than 40% from the field, is his performance a microcosm of how GT plays in general?
Absolutely, at least in certain ways. Just like Trae, this whole team has been struggling to score, both points-wise and percentages-wise. I've said all year how it blows my mind that an ACC team can be outfitted with a bunch of players who can't score. (I mean, isn't that a baseline skill you need to get recruited in the first place?) Another interesting microcosm is that Trae spent some time on the bench recently due to injury, oddly similar to most of his teammates who have been injured at some point. (I will say that injuries are probably the difference between this season and a .500 mark in ACC play. We've been so incredibly thin at points, it's silly.) The one area Trae is unlike the rest of the team is in shooting free throws, where he's leading the team in FT% (not counting two players who have combined for 16 FT's made) and has the same number of free throws made as field goals up to this point in the season (107). Meanwhile, the rest of the team is really having a hard time hitting free throws and is way down in rankings.
GC: Georgia Tech also has trouble taking care of the ball. Like VT they rank below 300th in the country in turnover margin. Is this the function of a young backcourt, or ill-conceived offensive sets?
I'd say it's an issue with the offensive design. This team really hasn't had a ton of identity all year, and so until the past month there were a ton of offensive possessions wasted on just passing the ball around the perimeter for 25 seconds and then panicking and forcing something, which many times ends in a missed FG or a turnover. Other than that, a lot of it is probably attributed to a few repeat offenders who aren't good at taking care of the ball, but get playing time due to other areas they excel in. Either way, it's frustrating to watch.
GC: How is recruiting shaping up for next season? Is Coach Gregory building towards something, and will it look the same as the product he's trying to put on the floor right now?
The best I can give you here is "meh". We do have an exciting 4-star guard coming in (Tadric Jackson) who will be a good replacement for Trae Golden and should give rising (medical redshirt) freshman Travis Jorgenson a run for his money on who starts at guard. Problem is, we're losing two of our staple bigs (Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey), and the replacement is looking to be Ben Lammers, a very average 3-star center who, at 6'10", 220lbs, has bulking up to do if he's to play a 4 or 5 spot on the team. Also to be noted is these are our only two commitments, even though we have 5 players leaving the team after this year. Besides Golden, Miller, and Holsey (all seniors), there's the senior G/F Jason Morris (missed most of the year, and his career, due to injury) and the sophomore G Solomon Poole (kicked off the team about a month ago) who will be leaving the team, and it's only looking like there are 2 in the pipeline to replace them. Chances are we'll add one or two more via commitment or transfer, but in any case the recruiting class isn't really getting anyone excited.
GC: With Duke the only top 5 ACC team that GT has had to play twice, having played UVA, Syracuse, Pitt, UNC only once. Why is it that GT hasn't been able to string together two straight wins since mid-December?
I'd probably chalk this up to poor finishing of games. This team's calling card has been to go toe-to-toe with superior teams, get an early lead, keep it close through the first half or 25-30 minutes, and then completely collapse in the final 10 minutes. It's like you can always count on there being a 6-8 minute stretch where less than 5 points are scored, and it's usually in the second half. Is it an issue with fatigue? Mental toughness? I'm not sure, probably a variety of things honestly, but it's really restricted this team from having the success it's capable of. When they have accomplished their occasional big wins, you'll notice that they either haven't suffered those sorts of stretches or have kept them shorter to where it isn't an absolute killshot. But for some reason, those occurrences have been few and far between, and have mostly ended in disaster.
GC: How do you think the game will turn out?
I'd say Georgia Tech wins this one, but it's closer than it should be for a team that just beat Syracuse. I can't really say that game was a sign of things to come, and I think they come back down to Earth a bit on Saturday. They'll probably break out a big lead for a while, then let Virginia Tech whittle it down (and maybe take a lead of their own), but pull out the win at the end. I'll take Georgia Tech 64-59.