Georgia Tech ‘hanging in’ at midway point

Georgia Tech reached the halfway point of ACC play Saturday with its 79-70 win over Wake Forest. The Yellow Jackets are 3-6 in the conference and 12-10 overall. A closer look at where they stand at the midway point.

What’s the team’s temperature right now?

Particularly given the injury hits, the team’s play is improving gradually. In their past four games, the Jackets have beaten Boston College and Wake Forest on the road and lost to N.C. State on the road in overtime. The only home game was a decisive loss to North Carolina.

“With a little bit of a depleted roster due to injuries, our guys are still getting better and our guys are hanging in there,” coach Brian Gregory said.

It’s clear that the Jackets, despite the struggles, have maintained a willingness to keep working and a positive attitude. They showed fight Saturday at Wake Forest, winning despite losing leading scorer Trae Golden to a groin injury in the first half and then having two players fouling out.

“You’ve just got to keep battling, and these guys have done that,” Gregory said. “If you say anything about them, they’ve done that.”

Can Tech make the postseason?

The Jackets technically have a shot at the NIT, but it would take a considerable uptick. At 12-10 overall, Tech probably needs to at least get to 17 wins in the regular season just to have a shot at the NIT, which would mean going 5-4 over the final nine games. Home games against Boston College, Clemson and Virginia Tech appear winnable, but the remainder – home games against Virginia and Duke, road games at Clemson, Notre Dame, Florida State and Syracuse – are far more dicey propositions.

Had Tech been able to beat St. John’s in November, Vanderbilt in December and N.C. State in January – all games that it led by double digits – the Jackets would have a considerably larger margin for error going down the stretch.

The postseason would be a considerable achievement for this team, particularly given that Tech has been without forward Robert Carter for the entire ACC schedule. Carter was leading the team in rebounds at 9.3 per game and fourth in scoring at 10.3 points per game when he tore the meniscus in his left knee in the final nonconference game Dec. 29.

Is Carter going to make it back this season?

There’s definitely a better chance than right after his surgery Jan. 7, when Gregory said it was “very doubtful.”

Carter has been strengthening and testing his knee, and Friday practiced briefly with the team followed by a strenuous on-court workout before the game Saturday at Wake Forest. If Carter were to miss two more weeks, he could still play in six regular-season games. The team has been wanting to have a doctor examine him to get a gauge on his rehabilitation, but was unable to do so last week because of the adverse travel conditions, Gregory said.

Who’s the MVP thus far?

Without question, center Daniel Miller. Golden plays point guard and leads the team in scoring at 14.0 points per game, but Miller is the focal point of Tech’s defensive efforts and has continued to pick up his game in Carter’s absence.

“I think Daniel’s playing as well as any big guy in the conference right now,” Gregory said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”

He has increasingly looked for his shot, and teammates have done a better job of getting him the ball in the post, leading to double figure games in six of the nine ACC games.

What’s gone wrong?

The injuries, for starters. Saturday, Tech was down to eight scholarship players and then seven after Golden’s injury. (He expects to play Tuesday against Clemson.) The depletion has required available players to play more minutes than Gregory would like, particularly Miller. In ACC play, the Jackets have outscored the opposition by eight in the first half and been outscored by 58 in the second.

Tech is allowing teams to shoot 46.1 percent in conference play –13th in the ACC after Saturday’s games – compared to 42.5 percent last season. The Jackets also haven’t done a great job taking care of the ball. They’re 14th in turnover margin – minus-3.22 per game – and are 10th in assist/turnover ratio at 1.0.

What’s gone right?

To the degree that it’s right, the injuries have opened up minutes for freshmen Corey Heyward and Quinton Stephens. Heyward, coming back from two ACL tears, has improved game-to-game in his confidence and ability to set up the offense. He’s tough on the ball, with five turnovers in 149 minutes in ACC games. Stephens needs to get stronger but has shown scoring ability.

Golden’s leadership and scoring have been a godsend. While 3-6 is hardly a rosy league record, the Jackets could easily be 1-8 or 0-9 had he not transferred from Tennessee or received a hardship waiver from the NCAA to play immediately.