Busy November awaits Yellow Jackets, Gregory

Georgia Tech basketball opens its season Friday night against Presbyterian at McCamish Pavilion. The Yellow Jackets scarcely will slow down until December.

Tech’s schedule has the Jackets playing eight games in the final 23 days of November, more games than they’ve ever played (by one) in that month. It’s as many games as Tech will play in January and one more than the Jackets will play in February.

It also will be the start of what appears to be the most rigorous non-conference schedule that coach Brian Gregory has put together in his three seasons at Tech.

“We’ll be tested early, and we’ll find out a lot about ourselves,” Gregory said. “But what we want to make sure is (in) that continuum, that steady increase in terms of our performance, we stay away from the drops.”

The 13-game non-conference schedule includes five games against teams from major conferences — Georgia, Ole Miss, either Penn State or St. John’s (in the final or consolation game of the Barclays Center Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y.), Illinois and Vanderbilt.

That compares with three major conference opponents last season and four two seasons ago. Based on finish in the previous season’s final RPI rankings, Tech will play six or seven teams that finished in the top 150, depending on whether the Jackets face St. John’s or Penn State. The number was four last season and four in Gregory’s first season.

Forward Marcus Georges-Hunt noticed that the non-conference schedule is “way harder,” which he welcomes.

“Me and my teammates can’t wait to try to perform the challenge that’s before us,” he said.

The improvement in schedule strength reflects Gregory’s belief that Tech will field a more competitive team than last season’s, which finished 16-15. The team, though, was picked to finish 11th in the 14-team ACC at the league media day last month.

The nine games in November will “be a real test for us, a real challenge early to see where the toughness is, can we grind it out early before we get into ACC play,” forward Robert Carter said.

On Nov. 15, the day after the football team plays at Clemson, Tech will play at Georgia. It’s the earliest date that the two teams have ever met. Gregory and Bulldogs coach Mark Fox settled on that date as both had conflicts for later dates, but neither wanted to play over winter break. They wanted to allow students to be on campus for the game.

“I think both coaches would like it a little later, but it’s not like they get to practice two weeks earlier than we did so they had a big advantage or anything like that,” he said.

Tech will play for its third consecutive win over the Bulldogs, a streak last achieved 1992-94 under coach Bobby Cremins.

Another noteworthy opponent — Dayton, Gregory’s former employer — comes to McCamish Pavilion on Nov. 20. Gregory had a clause in his Dayton contract stipulating that, were he to leave Dayton, he was obligated to schedule games with his new team.

The heavy volume in November will cause a shift for Gregory in practice schedule. With final exams in December followed by winter break, Tech will play only five games in the month. Gregory said the preseason has been spent teaching the “core stuff” that the team, which has three scholarship freshmen and transfer Trae Golden, can execute in November. More teaching is being saved for the practice time the team will have in December in advance of the ACC schedule.

The series of games in November will give Gregory plenty of opportunities to test his freshmen and Golden and start to assemble a rotation. The incoming freshmen, point guard Travis Jorgenson and forward Quinton Stephens, led Tech in assists (seven) and rebounds (16), respectively, in the exhibition game Friday against Young Harris.

“People look at (Stephens’) size, because he’s skinny and think he can’t do certain things,” Carter said, “but he’s so active, he can get away with his size.” Tech lists Stephens at 6-foot-8, 184 pounds.

However, the team will be without forward Jason Morris, who is recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot. Morris was playing well in the preseason at the time of the procedure. He is expected back in December.