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Looking ahead: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

4/26/2015

It’s never too early to start to look ahead to next season. During the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 who could make noise on the national stage. Today: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

The grass seemed greener for Brian Gregory, a young coach on the rise at Dayton that the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets lured to Atlanta in 2011. He signed a six-year, $6 million deal that year and many praised his arrival.

"The fit was more important than paying the large dollars," former athletic director Dan Radakovich said at the time. "If there was someone we thought was a better fit, maybe we could have gone there. But I look at this as being a great individual for who we are at Georgia Tech and where we want to go."

Radakovich had just fired Paul Hewitt, who had led Georgia Tech through a rough stretch that included four losing seasons in six years. By then, his 2004 national title game appearance meant little.

It’s win now or go home in college basketball.

Proof? If Gregory doesn’t win now, he will go home.

Let’s look ahead to Georgia Tech’s 2015-16 season, also known as “The Year that Brian Gregory Tries to Keep His Job.”

There's no sugarcoating this thing. The program is in bad shape. Gregory is in bad shape.

Georgia Tech still owes Hewitt $3.6 million of his $7.2 million buyout. The school is paying Gregory seven figures, too, and it would have owed him $2.4 million if it had decided to fire him after last season’s mess.

So keeping him made more sense financially than it did athletically.

He’s 19-51 in the ACC and 55-71 overall through four seasons. His teams have never finished better than ninth in the ACC and last season’s 14th-place finish was the worst of his tenure.

Wins and losses, folks. That’s it.

Forget the rest.

Georgia Tech’s 2015-16 campaign could cost Gregory his job.

Does Gregory have enough to change course and turn things around? We’ll see.

What the immediate future holds: Georgia Tech’s top-30 defense couldn’t hide its offensive woes. Um, holes.

The Yellow Jackets connected on just 26.7 percent of their 3-point attempts (349th nationally). They made 64.8 percent of their free throws (313rd nationally).

They excelled in some areas, though. They finished 10th in offensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com. And they fought most nights. They lost 11 games (19 losses total) by five points or fewer.

Next season, Alabama transfer Nick Jacobs, a 6-foot-8 forward who averaged 8.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in 2013-14, will be eligible. Former Virginia Tech standout Adam Smith, who averaged 13.4 PPG and shot 42 percent from behind the 3-point line last season, will be allowed to compete immediately as a graduate transfer.

Just. Like. That. Georgia Tech added some key pieces that should upgrade its competitiveness in the ACC and beyond.

Georgia Tech reportedly hosted Providence graduate transfer Tyler Harris (9.9 PPG last season) last week. He’d be eligible to compete immediately for the school he chooses. That would be another major addition for Gregory.

Charles Mitchell (9.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG) had some big nights in 2014-15, just not enough of them. He had seven double-doubles, but he wasn’t consistent. Georgia Tech will need more from him next season. Marcus Georges-Hunt (13.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG) led the team in scoring last year. He’s back, too. But he’s coming off a broken foot, an injury suffered late in the season.

Troubled Chris Bolden’s return is questionable and Demarco Cox is making a push for an NFL roster spot. Gregory didn’t add any top 100 recruits, so he’ll rely on the veteran additions and returnees to anchor the program. A stronger program in 2015-16? Should be.

Well, could be.

Georgia Tech lost several heartbreakers. But if you can’t close the show in a dozen or so tight games, that’s not just bad luck. That’s a failure to show up in the final chapter. The best teams know how to finish. Gregory’s program did not last season.

Perhaps the additions of Jacobs and Smith will allow Georgia Tech to stretch defenses in ways it couldn’t last season without any deep threats. Opponents weren’t afraid to send them to the free throw line, either -- Mitchell made just 66 percent of his 83 attempts -- because the Yellow Jackets were so cold. Georgia Tech must find the rim next season and continue to play respectable defense.

The ACC will not be as stacked as last season. There should be more balance with Duke, Louisville, Notre Dame, North Carolina, NC State and Virginia all losing key starters to the NBA and graduation.

But that doesn’t mean the road to a Georgia Tech turnaround will be an easy one. Gregory has a lot of work to do to make things right and hold on to his job.