Brian Gregory, Ron Hunter already applying pressure

Georgia State and Georgia Tech’s men’s basketball teams hope to play at a faster pace than they did last season.

However, playing fast doesn’t mean playing stupidly.

Ron Hunter at Georgia State and fellow first-year coach Brian Gregory at Tech don’t want turnovers, and they don’t want poor shots. They do want a pace that will give them good opportunities to score and will force their opponents into mistakes when on defense.

“That’s what our fans have to understand, it’s not that we are going to average 100. You can score 65 points and play at a really fast pace,” Hunter said. “That’s what I’m explaining to the kids.”

Playing fast isn’t specific to situations. Some teams use versions of presses after they score. Some teams don’t try to push the ball after the other teams score.

That won’t be the case most of the time at Tech or GSU. Both coaches are committed to playing fast in most situations, on offense or defense. Hunter wants the ball past half-court quickly, referencing a two-second benchmark. Tech won’t play quite as fast. But the goal is the same: to get a good shot quickly. Within the helter-skelter look are well-choreographed plays.

“The one thing I’ve found in teaching that system is guys love to play it, but they don’t realize how difficult it is to do because you have to be committed every time,” Gregory said. “All five guys have to be committed. If one guy isn’t fulfilling his job description, it will affect the other four.”

To understand how a faster pace can equal better shots and not as many points, one can look at Hunter’s team at IUPUI or Gregory’s at Dayton last season.

Hunter’s Jaguars averaged 71.6 points per game, nowhere near the 87.9 that VMI averaged to lead the country, but ahead of the 68.8 median from the 2010-11 season. However, the Jags were very efficient. They made 47.3 percent of their field goals (No. 20 in the NCAA), 78.2 percent of their free throws (No. 4) and committed only 11.2 turnovers per game (No. 28).

Maintaining that type of pace would seem to necessitate a deep bench. Neither Gregory nor Hunter are counting on playing their full team. Hunter said he would likely stick to an eight-man rotation. That eight will depend upon who he can trust to play hard every second.

Gregory once used hockey-style lines at Dayton because that team had a depth chart with similarities from top to bottom. He said he won’t do that at Tech.

Just like the players at Georgia State, who said the running reminds them of the fun they had in high school, Tech’s players say they like the new systems.

“Last year we played fast, but it wasn’t as structured as Gregory’s offense,” Brandon Reed said. “The guys are buying in. We want to show everybody that we are going to be ready to play.”

Hunter’s preference is vastly different from the walk-it-up approach preferred by previous coach Rod Barnes. Player Jihad Ali said the team is adapting quickly, saying how much fun it is, even if they aren’t machine-gunning shots. In the half-court offense the pace doesn’t stop. Hunter has instituted a maximum of two dribbles for every player, which keeps the ball and defenses moving.

“Some people might think any shot is a good shot, but what we are really trying to do is keep a certain pace throughout the game so that after a while you wear out the other team’s defense,” Ali said. “We are going to keep [the pace] on offense and defense at a certain level.”

Gregory’s Flyers averaged 67 points per game, almost a point less than the Yellow Jackets did under coach Paul Hewitt, who also wanted the team to play fast. But Dayton made 43.8 percent of its field goals, compared with the Jackets’ 40.5, and 35.6 percent of its 3-pointers, compared with the Jackets’ 29.9. Maintaining discipline is the key to getting good shots.

“One thing is you have to make sure to give the guys the freedom to play at that pace, but with that freedom comes responsibility to make quality plays,” Gregory said.

Maintaining pressure and intensity on defense is critical because Tech and GSU likely will spend more time on defense than offense. Increasing the defensive pressure is supposed to make the other team think, which in theory will slow them and create mistakes. Georgia State may switch defenses a few times during the same possession to try to confuse their opponents.

“We want to score more points than our opponents and we will do that,” Hunter said. “We want to take more shot attempts than our opponents and we will do that. We want to shoot more free throws than our opponents, and we will do that, but we want to play at such a pace that everyone understands we are playing at a fast pace. We will wear our opponents down and not wearing us down.”