Duke opens the ACC season up with a rebuilding Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have a new coach and no home floor as the Thriller Dome is being rebuilt. But better days are ahead for Tech. If not Saturday, they're coming.
Georgia Tech is adding talented players fast. They've gotten commitments from big man Robert Carter, wing Marcus Hunt and guard Chris Bolden, all of whom will likely help significantly.
And on Friday, former Kentucky player Stacey Poole announced he'll restart his career in Atlanta.Â This may give Tech a leg up on his brother, talented point guard Solomon Poole (he's also friends with short-termer Pierre Jordan, who was at FSU but took the NCAA's option of finishing his fifth year of eligibility at Tech as a grad student.
So whatever happens this season, there are grounds for excitement and optimism in Atlanta.
They still have to get through this season though, and lately that hasn't been easy.
Tech has had 71 turnovers in their last four games, and that makes life hard for anyone.
Mfon Udofia has struggled at the point: he coughed it up seven times against Alabama A&M.
It's not just him of course: against Alabama, Kammeon Holsey had five, Daniel Miller had four, Brandon Reed had two and Jason Morris had three.
Udofia had four of his own.
As a matter of fact, it might not be wise to draw many lessons from this game as Tech was just 4-14 from three point range, a truly wretched 33.3% from the free throw line and wound up with 22 turnovers total.
They're definitely down, but they do have some talent.
What they don't have yet, acording to Gregory, is much leadership.
You'd expect it to come from Glen Rice, Jr., a junior in both senses, but he hasn't had a great start in the new regime.
Rice was suspended for the first three games and Gregory does not seem to trust him much as a player. Ideally he'd be the leader; instead he's coming off the bench now and played just 19 minutes when Tech lost to Fordham.
Gregory points to consistency, but says it's not just Rice, it's something the entire team needs to work on.Â He told the Journal-Constitution that "I think weâve seen some inconsistency and, again, what ends up happening when you do it well â Georgia game, VCU game, different games (won by Tech). Now, everybody thinks the riddle is solved. Itâs not. Thatâs going to take some time. Youâve got one side of the Rubikâs cube set. Now you look around the corner and not everything is set."
Duke comes to Atlanta with issues of their own.
You can be sure that after the Temple game, there was, as there always is, a ruthlessly honest discussion of what went wrong. Video packages were assembled for each player detailing where they made mistakes, but positive reinforcement is always part of those sessions.
And adjustments will be made.Â Individual sessions will provide a lot of positives, but Duke will work hard on developing schemes toÂ hide the fact that the perimeter defense is not where it should be. Make no mistake: defense is expected and required at Duke.Â It's the cornerstone of the program.
However, there have been teams which weren't necessarily as athletic or perhaps inexperienced.Â Reality is reality, and you adjust.Â If that conclusion is reached, Duke will try something else.
There's no particular reason, however, why you can't find an effective defensive scheme when you can draw on Austin Rivers, Quinn Cook, Seth Curry and most of all Tyler Thornton.
Thornton is a dynamic defender and Cook, whose knees have held him back, is improving rapidly.
Rivers, we're guessing, has always seen himself self more as an offensive force, but he has the ability to be a fine defender and is in fact improving.
Curry is not a dominant player physically, but you underestimate a member of his family at your peril.Â He's also been playing on a sore ankle which makes everything tougher.
And there's a wild card in Michael Gbinije.
The 6-7 rookie played 16 minutes in seven games before being called on against Ohio State.
Since then, although he only got one minute against Washington, his minutes have gone up: 16 against Ohio State, 10 against Colorado State, 14 against UNCG, 16 against Western Michigan, 10 against Penn and eight against Temple.
He's also shown some abilities, particularly on the defensive end.Â More than once now he's tracked down a layup and blocked the shot, and he is showing promise as a stopper.
As you may remember, Coach K has always said that the way to help your team is to find something useful that you can do and then build on that.
Gbinije's increased minutes suggest that he's carving out a niche.Â The Temple game suggests that it's fairly important that he do so.
For Brian Gregory, he might have picked an easier ACC debut if he had his druthers. His chances of catching Duke napping are gone after the Temple game.Â Duke will play with the intensity they always play with after a loss.
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