Ahead of the home conference opener against Georgia Tech, Testudo Times spoke with Joey Weaver, who runs the SB Nation Yellow Jackets site From the Rumble Seat.
TT: Having faced a decent schedule through 13 games, Georgia Tech is 9-4. After a mediocre season last year, what's the prevailing attitude about the Yellow Jackets as we start 2014?
FTRS: Honestly, we're pretty disappointed. The only noteworthy win in OOC play was against Illinois, while losses to Dayton, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, and St. John's were wasted opportunities at another signature win. We know that this is a talented team that has a lot of potential, but their play style is....clunky, for lack of a better term. It's like they don't know how to play together. Which is weird, because this is year 2 that all of the starters have been here. All that, not to mention that there's been a lot of trouble with shooting, particularly from the field but also at times from the free throw line. So it's disappointing seeing a team with a lot of potential that's just not anywhere near reaching it.
TT: Georgia Tech's program built a name for itself under Paul Hewitt, who's no longer the coach. How has the program changed under third-year head coach Brian Gregory?
FTRS: Hewitt's focus was always more on recruiting great players. I didn't study his teams extensively, but he had a lot of big-name guys who stuck around for a couple of years or so before moving on. He also was a pretty terrible coach of fundamentals, at least at the end when things like "in-bounds passes" were more complicated than nuclear physics. Gregory seems more interested in recruiting players that will stick around, so that he can build a program. He comes out of the Tom Izzo coaching tree, and puts a lot of emphasis on rebounding and defense. The team seems well-coached, with any issues on the defensive end of the floor typically stemming from a lack of effort.
TT: The Yellow Jackets' leading scorer, guard Trae Golden, is only averaging 13 points per night on mediocre shooting percentages, but then Tech has a whole cadre of nine players scoring more than 4 PPG. What's made the Jackets' offense so spread out?
FTRS: As I spoke to a bit above, the offense hasn't really figured out its identity yet, which is alarming considering it's Gregory's third year and we returned four starters. That results in players not knowing when to take a shot and when to pass it off to someone else -- particularly infuriating when a "pure shooter" has a really clean look and just passes it instead of putting it up. Golden was expected to step up and be a major scorer, but is struggling majorly to shoot from outside the arc and hasn't done a great job off of the dribble-drive either (notice that he's 64/80 from the free throw line on the year, more than twice as many makes as anyone else on the team). He may be the team's biggest disappointment, after he was heavily hyped coming in from Tennessee this season.
TT: Maryland's best players (Dez Wells, Jake Layman, Evan Smotrycz) spend a good deal of time on the wings but offer slashing, inside threats as well. Does Georgia Tech have versatile defenders who can neutralize them?
FTRS: They do, but it's a matter of whether they really show up or not. Remember, this is a team that beat a top-10 Miami team in Coral Gables last March, but also a team that finished 16-15 and 6-12 in ACC play. They really are pretty hit-or-miss. Defenders to watch out for will be the bigs, Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey (replacing Robert Carter Jr at the 4-spot), as well as Trae Golden, who can run with guys on the dribble-drive if given the opportunity. Miller's a big guy who plays with great awareness, frequently contesting shots taken from inside of 10 feet, and Holsey is a versatile guy himself given his size.
TT: Last, what's your prediction for the game?
FTRS: This will be the Jackets' first game without Robert Carter Jr, their leading rebounder and second leading blocker. He really plays a big role for this team in a lot of games, and the lack of his presence will be felt. Combine that with their relative offensive ineffectiveness, and it's hard to feel good about this team as it enters ACC play with a road game. I'm guessing Maryland wins this one by six to eight points, if only due to where this game is being played.