In shifting lineups, Georgia Tech looks for answers

Through Georgia Tech’s first 15 games, coach Brian Gregory sent out the same starting five 13 times. There was no reason to adjust something that seemed to be working. In early nonconference games, the starting five of forwards Nick Jacobs and Charles Mitchell and guards Marcus Georges-Hunt, Josh Heath and Adam Smith put up an 8-3 record.

However, Tech (13-12, 3-9 ACC) lost its first two ACC games with that five, leading to a far different pattern of lineup management. In the past 10 games, Gregory has tried five different starting lineups, including the original quintet, to ignite his capable roster, a process still awaiting success. The Jackets, who are 3-7 in that span, will play at Florida State on Wednesday night as they try to avoid falling to .500 for the first time all season.

Over the season, Tech has played six different starting lineups. Nine different players have started for the Jackets, a testament both to their depth and also to Gregory’s struggle to find the right combination. Of the other 14 teams in the ACC, only Boston College and Virginia Tech (10) have used more starters and only Virginia has used as many. In an ideal world, Gregory would be sticking with the same five.

“Obviously, if you’re winning, it means guys are playing well,” he said. “That means that’s why you’re winning, so you probably stay with that lineup.”

Gregory said another reason for all the changes has been that some players have been held out of the starting lineup for infractions such as missing a study hall or arriving late to a class.

“I’m not saying it’s all the time, but sometimes those situations come up as well,” he said.

A factor more central to Tech’s shortcomings has been the Jackets’ inconsistency. Tech has not been able to count on game-to-game productivity after Georges-Hunt, Mitchell and Smith.

Jacobs has become a more dependable scoring option, with eight double-digit scoring games in the past 10, but his rebounding production has fluctuated.

Forward James White has started nine of the Jackets’ past 10 games. In back-to-back games against Syracuse and Duke, he had a total of eight points and 11 rebounds in 28 combined minutes. Against Clemson on Saturday, White played 17 minutes and contributed two points, one rebound and four fouls.

Gregory recently gave him a pep talk, reminding him to focus on his strength, his explosiveness around the hoop for baskets, rebounds and blocks.

“We need him to not necessarily be worrying about a bunch of different things and just go out and do that, because that’s where he really impacts the game,” Gregory said.

Against Clemson, a 66-52 loss in which the Jackets allowed a season-high 21 second-chance points, Gregory was particularly aggravated by the lack of defensive rebounding from the three post players besides Mitchell. In a combined 35 minutes, Ben Lammers, Jacobs and White combined for one defensive rebound.

“It’s not illegal to actually hit somebody,” Gregory said after the game. “You’ve got to do a better job of that.”

White has received the message to bring more energy.

“(Gregory) says he wants to see my name in all the stats, blocks, steals, everything,” White said. “Just being a helping hand for my teammates on the defensive end and the offensive end.”

The Jackets are down to their final six games of the regular season, not much time to lock into the right lineup. Relentlessly optimistic, Gregory envisions White being a part of the solution.

“He’s kept a great attitude towards everything, so I really see (White) in these next six games and heading into the tournament, that he’s going to have a couple really important plays in games for us,” Gregory said. “I just see that.”

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