Gregory faces challenges in 2011-12

With Brian Gregory now in place as the new head coach for the men’s basketball team, the Jackets enter the offseason looking to lay the foundation for a resurgence in the 2011-12 season.

Gregory will take on his first true rebuilding job in attempting to bring the Jackets back to prominence; while in 2003 he inherited a Dayton team that was coming off a 24-6 season, he now faces the task of turning a 13-18 Tech team back into a contender.

Based on the stat sheet, Gregory appears to have inherited a squad with little chance of succeeding in the short term.

While the roster features plenty of athletic players, the new coach will have plenty of work to do as he attempts to turn the Jackets around. Although the 2010-11 Jackets were just one year removed from a berth in the NCAA Tournament, Paul Hewitt’s last Tech squad was, in many statistical respects, the worst of the 11 teams he coached at Tech.

Because of their lack of strong offensive post players, the Jackets tried to build an identity as a team that relied on outside shooting last season. For much of the season, Hewitt relied on this philosophy, frequently choosing to set up three-pointers or midrange jumpers instead of allowing his players to drive to the rim.

The problem was that Tech’s top offensive options all posted relatively poor shooting percentages. The Jackets’ top three scorers—junior guard Iman Shumpert, sophomore guard Glen Rice Jr. and sophomore forward Brian Oliver—shot a combined 39.9 percent from the field and 28.8 percent on three-point attempts, and the team as a whole was not much better thanks to a lack of an inside game.

While Hewitt tended to emphasize strong defensive play during his tenure, the Jackets struggled badly on the defensive end as well last season.

During the press conference, Gregory highlighted two notable problem areas for Tech—three-point defense and defensive rebounding—as two areas where the Jackets would need to improve next season.

The Jackets’ lack of an experienced post presence resulted in just 22.8 defensive rebounds per game, good for 10th in the ACC. In terms of defending the three, Tech had trouble with both its zone and man defenses and frequently allowed opposing teams to get a shooter open, and the result was that opponents shot 37.9 percent on threes; in ACC play, this mark ballooned to 40.9 percent.

Amid the struggles, though, there were bright spots for the Jackets. After several seasons of fairly high turnover rates, Tech committed just 13.7 turnovers per game; while the figure was still not comparatively good, it was the best by a Hewitt-coached team, and Tech also forced 13.2 turnovers per game.

The Jackets benefited from several strong individual performances on both ends. Redshirt freshman center Daniel Miller also proved to be an effective defensive player inside, recording 2.2 blocks per game.

The main catalyst for the high defensive turnover rate was Shumpert, who had an ACC-leading 2.7 steals per game; Shumpert was a reliable player both offensively and defensively all season, finishing as the team leader in points, rebounds and assists along with steals. Additionally, freshman Jason Morris emerged as a starter late in the season and finished the year with double-digit points in three of Tech’s last four regular-season games; for the season, he shot a solid 41.4 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three-point range.

Heading into next season, Shumpert remains a large question mark. The point guard entered his name into the NBA Draft pool, but he has not hired an agent, leaving open the possibility of returning for his senior season.

The junior guard made the announcement of his intentions to test the water during the press conference for the introduction for Gregory. He insisted that this was merely a coincidence as he was going to make the announcement that day and had decided on the day even before the press release. He later attended practice with Gregory. He announced all of this information through his personal Twitter account.

Because Shumpert did not hire an agent, he does leave open the chance that he will return to The Flats. Like many other draft-eligible underclassmen with high pedigrees, he will be given an evaluation and then a grade on where he will likely be drafted if he decided to keep his name in the draft. Most draft experts have Shumpert pegged as a late second-rounder to undrafted. He is still considered a top-100 prospect on sites like espn.com.

Shumpert has until April 24 to withdraw his name from the draft on June 23 and preserve his eligibility for his final season. Since this is widely considered to be one of the weaker drafts of recent years and since many of the other top college players have either stated their intention to return to their schools for at least one more year or are widely believed to do so, Shumpert and draft-eligible players like him may keep their names in until the deadline.

If Shumpert ultimately decides to go pro, Tech will have a tough time being competitive after the loss of its leading offensive weapon; if he returns, though, the Jackets could well have the pieces in place to make a quiet run in the ACC.

For as much as the Jackets struggled in the 2010-11 campaign, their roster was fairly young. Only three active players were upperclassmen: Shumpert and senior guards Moe Miller and Lance Storrs. If Gregory can retain the two 2011 signees, Milton High School forward Julian Royal and Memphis guard Bobby Parks, the Jackets have the talent to match up with most schools in the ACC. Royal would give the Jackets the offensive threat in the frontcourt that the team sorely lacks, and Parks would add backcourt depth to help ease the loss of the two seniors.

Gregory plans to install the system he ran at Dayton: a high-pressure defensive scheme that looks to push the ball in transition on the offensive end. This would seem to play into the strengths of a team that relies on its guards, and indeed the primary scorers on Gregory’s Dayton squads have traditionally been guards. To this end, a Tech squad led by Rice, Oliver, Morris and possibly Shumpert would be ideal for this system that would allow them to attack the basket in transition.

Notably, though, over the past two seasons 6-foot-8 forward Chris Wright has been Dayton’s leading scorer. While the guards will likely control the pace of the offense in any scenario, a skilled offensive forward such as Royal has the potential to thrive in Gregory’s system.

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