Time Out with Karthik Nathan

Photo by John Nakano

The year 2015 has not been kind to the Tech’s men’s basketball team. The team is still searching for its first conference win three weeks into its ACC schedule with several tough conference matchups left to play.

The season started off well in November with a satisfying win over UGA in front of an electric home crowd. However, December brought a painful home loss to University of South Carolina Upstate and a road thumping at the hands Brian Gregory’s former team, the Dayton Flyers.

It took a game-winning basket from Marcus Georges-Hunt to beat (then 6-6) University of North Carolina Charlotte at home, and the Yellow Jackets have not won a game since.

To their credit, they have taken Notre Dame (now 14-2, ranked No. 8 in the country) to double overtime on the road, held Syracuse to 46 points in a one point home loss and lost again by only 3 to Notre Dame at home.

Unfortunately, losses are losses and there have been quite a few of those in the past few years. Coach Gregory is 52-60 overall and 16-41 in conference play in his fourth year at Tech. He has not won more than 6 conference games in a season, and it does not look like he will surpass that mark this season either.

To his credit, he is 4-0 against a consistently improving UGA, beat No. 6 Miami in Coral Gables in 2013 and upset No. 7 Syracuse on the road last year as well. He has also snagged recruits ranked in ESPN Top 100 national rankings such as Robert Carter, Marcus Georges-Hunt, Solomon Poole, and Tadric Jackson.

Out of that quartet though, Carter transferred to Maryland last year, Poole was dismissed from the team, and Jackson—heralded as a prolific scorer in high school—has struggled (26 percent from the field and 10 percent from outside) in his first year.

Georges-Hunt is now the team’s best player but has struggled with offensive consistency this season. However, he is the team’s best defensive player by far.

Whether he wanted it that way or not, transfers have played a large role in Gregory’s time in Atlanta. Four out of the six players who have played the most for Tech this year transferred in from other schools.

On the flip side, Gregory has lost former 4-star recruit Julian Royal, Carter, Poole and Stacey Poole (Solomon Poole’s younger brother). The coach has also had terrible luck with injuries, as several key injuries (e.g. Carter’s meniscus, point guard Travis Jorgensen’s ACL) have derailed promising seasons.

Coach Gregory has shown his ability to attract talented players but has not yet been able to take the next step by developing his teams into the top half of the ACC.

While Gregory’s team have always played good defense and rebounded well, his offenses have been underwhelming, most notably when the team needs baskets down the stretch. This season has been especially rough, with the team shooting 26 percent from beyond the arc (nearly dead last in the country), 67 percent from the free throw line (bottom third nationally) and 48 percent from the field (about average).

Transfer forwards Charles Mitchell, DeMarco Cox and Robert Sampson have been surprisingly adequate replacements for graduates Daniel Miller and Kammeon Holsey, while transfer guard Josh Heath has provided some much-needed stability at guard.

Still, the Jackets lack a playmaker at guard and a consistent 3-point threat (Quinton Stephens has shot much better recently though), which leads to wasted possessions and overall offensive inefficiency.

We have seen flashes of the potential this team has, especially when the offense starts clicking and the team plays with an inspired effort as it did against Notre Dame.

With No. 2 Virginia, No. 5 Duke, No. 15 North Carolina (twice) and No. 10 Louisville still on the schedule, it is quite possible that the team could put it all together to pull off another 2013 Miami or 2014 Syracuse-esque upset to highlight the season.

Even with such a win however, Tech will most likely miss out on postseason play once again.

The dwindling attendance at home games has been noted by the media, and there have been times where it seems like there are more opposing fans than Tech fans.

Athletic Director Mike Bobinski does represent a sense of hope for the future: Bobinski oversaw a successful basketball program as Xavier University’s Athletic Director, one which twice made it to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight.

He also brought two of the nation’s top current coaches (Thad Matta of Ohio State and Sean Miller of Arizona) to Xavier as head coaches before they moved on to their current jobs. Both Matta and Miller are potential members of the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bobinski knows what it takes to build a successful basketball program and gave Gregory a vote of confidence in 2013 by extending his contract through the 2017-18 season.

In the end, there’s not much we can do other than show up to support our student-athletes and hope for the best.

After a semester in which the football team had one of its best seasons ever, all eyes are on Coach Gregory to finally break through and do the same.