Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory’s summary of last season’s game against Virginia was as apt as it was succinct.
Said Gregory, “It was brutal.”
The Cavaliers, whom the Yellow Jackets will play Sunday at McCamish Pavilion, obliterated Tech 70-38 at Philips Arena last January. It was the worst loss of the season and the Jackets’ lowest-scoring game since a 53-38 loss to Wake Forest in February 1982, a game that pre-dated the shot clock.
Tech trailed 14-11 with 12:33 to go in the first half and then permitted Virginia to finish the half on a 21-6 run.
“It was a lot of missed shots, turnovers and just horrendous defense,” Gregory said.
Given point guard Mfon Udofia’s stability and the addition of the four playing freshmen, the Jackets (11-8 overall, 1-6 ACC) seem unlikely to revisit the offensive floundering that it experienced repeatedly last season. Tech’s three freshman starters, guard Chris Bolden and forwards Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter, are developing scorers. Center Daniel Miller has taken a step forward recently, shooting 58.3 percent in his past six games.
“I think we’re better offensively,” Miller said. “We might not play like it at times, but we’re a lot more patient, I guess, with looking to score.”
A couple of statistics, when compared with Tech’s numbers going into their eighth ACC game last season, support Miller’s analysis. Tech’s assist/turnover ratio — a particularly important statistical barometer to Gregory — is 1.02 this season compared with .73 at this time last year, though it has dipped of late. The Jackets have averaged 65.5 points per game, compared to 63.3 at this point last year.
The Jackets pass the eyeball test. They move the ball better, create more open shots than they did a year ago and have more capable scorers. Their effort is difficult to question.
However, Tech is shooting slightly worse than it did a year ago. They rank last in the ACC at 42.2 percent, compared with 43.9 percent last year at this time. In their seven ACC games, the Jackets are shooting 39.4 percent from the field, compared with 41.4 percent after seven ACC games last season. The league records are the same, 1-6, though Tech has been largely more competitive than last season.
A two-point drop may not seem like much, but considering that Tech lost to Virginia Tech in overtime and to Clemson by three points Tuesday, it’s enough to be felt.
Gregory’s explanation: “We have missed an incredible amount of shots (near) the basket.”
The Jackets have, for some reason, struggled to sink makeable shots from in close.
“They’re not point-blank shots, where there’s no defense,” Gregory said. “But young guys are notorious for missing little bunnies. They’re not used to getting hit.”
Gregory recalled his second season at Dayton, when he had a large freshman class, as is the case with Tech this season. That team, Gregory said, “missed more layups than anybody in the history of college basketball.”
It isn’t only the post players who are having trouble, though. Udofia has made 28.6 percent of his shots in ACC games after making 52.5 percent of his shots in nonconference play. Tech has shot 31.0 percent from 3-point range in ACC games, 11th in the ACC, while it had made 36.3 percent at the same juncture last season.
It is a curious matter, as the offense does seem to function according to Gregory’s design.
“In terms of evaluating every shot when you go through the film, you evaluate, OK, did the offense produce a quality shot, and for the most part, the answer is yes,” Gregory said.
Virginia (15-5, 5-2) leads the ACC in scoring defense and ranks second in field-goal percentage defense and, like a year ago, will give the Jackets a reading of where their offense stands. Tech has become more than adept on defense. What the Jackets will do with the ball in their hands is less certain.
“You need to finish games; you need to finish plays,” Gregory said. “Unfortunately, sometimes that’s the last piece, the last thing that comes in. You just keep hoping that it happens sooner rather than later.”