Pitt basketball: Improved Georgia Tech finds it hard to move up in ACC
January 6, 2016 12:00 AM
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Head coach Brian Gregory of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets reacts as a foul is called against his team during their game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at the Dean Smith Center on January 2, 2016 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 86-78.
By Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Brian Gregory is in his fifth season as Georgia Tech’s coach and has yet to guide the Yellow Jackets to a winning ACC record or into the top half of the standings.
So, this is a key season for Gregory and the Yellow Jackets, and it already off to a tough start as the Jackets lost their ACC opener at North Carolina Saturday.
It doesn’t get much easier tonight, as Georgia Tech (10-4, 0-1 in the ACC) seeks its first ACC win this season at the Petersen Events Center against No. 24 Pitt (12-1, 1-0).
Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said the Yellow Jackets have improved each year under Gregory, but making the leap from the bottom to the top of a Power 5 conference is extremely difficult.
“There is no question, this is their best team, and I think [Gregory] would tell you that,” Dixon said. “But, as we found in the Big East, the question is how do we move up because you have to get better. But someone has to get worse at the same time, and sometimes the other teams aren’t as accommodating as you would like.
“Sometimes, it is just a matter of some teams have some injuries, some teams are young and you just find a way to move up. But realignment has also been a huge factor – I mean, he is building up his program and then they go and add Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Louisville and those are things that weren’t in the contract when he signed it.”
Dixon said one thing that Pitt benefitted from when he and Ben Howland took over the program was that the Big East Conference was divided into divisions and the Panthers were in the weaker division with an easier conference schedule. That isn’t the case in the ACC, which means teams like Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Boston College and Georgia Tech have to climb out of the bottom half of the league and while playing a difficult conference schedule.
Gregory said Monday on the ACC coaches conference call that the Yellow Jackets have played well most of this season but are still searching for consistency. He said the difference between teams at the top and the teams at the bottom is consistency and playing at a high level every night.
“We wanted to improve our offensive efficiency, getting to the free-throw line and our assist-turnover ratio. Our consistency on the glass and our overall defensive efficiency, we can improve in those areas. If we can get better at those, we can be in position to be successful in the ACC season.”
Two reasons the Yellow Jackets are better are the addition of graduate transfer Adam Smith and the improved play of senior forward Charles Mitchell. Smith, who transferred from Virginia Tech, has given the Yellow Jackets a much-needed outside shooting threat by making 44 of 97 (.454) 3-point attempts. That has opened some things up for senior guard Marcus Georges-Hunt, the team’s leading scorer (15.3 ppg).
“Obviously, when you make shots, your offensive looks better,” Gregory said. “Smith has added a dimension that we know if we get him open shots he will make half of his threes.
“The confidence factor for the rest of them is huge. When you have a guy making shots, it helps the confidence of the other guys as well. It eases things up. North Carolina took away some of his shots, but that opened up some driving lanes for Marcus ,and that’s what we need.”
Mitchell has developed into one of the best rebounders in the ACC. He has given the Yellow Jackets a physical presence in the middle of their defense and also is also a good low-post scorer. He averages 12.9 points per game and 11.2 rebounds.
“He has made a much greater commitment from the end of last season to the spring and into the fall and he is obviously reaping benefits,” Gregory said of Mitchell. “He is in better shape, he lost upwards of 25 pounds. Last year at times he played extremely well but he wasn’t able to do it consistently. Sometimes, it would be due to conditioning and sometimes it was his mental approach.
“But he has showed the discipline every day and that has affected his consistency and performance. He deserves the credit for the work he puts in, he has always been a high energy guy -- didn’t always have a high-energy body or mental approach and now he does.”
The matchup: No. 24 Pitt (12-1, 1-0 in ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (10-4, 0-1), 7 p.m., Petersen Events Center.
TV/Radio: Root Sports; KDKA-FM (93.7).
Pitt: Moved into Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since February 2014. ... Is 10-1 at home this season. ... Has won eight games in a row. ... Has won both games against the Yellow Jackets since joining the ACC. ... At 319 wins, Jamie Dixon needs one victory to tie Everett Case (N.C. State) for fourth on the all-time list for wins through 13 seasons.
Georgia Tech: Is 5-2 all-time against Pitt. ... Coming off 86-78 loss against North Carolina in ACC opener. ... Leading scorer is Marcus Georges-Hunt (15.3 points per game). ... 6-foot-8 senior Charles Mitchell averages 12.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. ... Averages 78 points per game.
Hidden stat: Pitt is second in the ACC in scoring margin at +22.3 points per game.
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.
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