Georgia Tech’s ACC basketball struggles continue in 2015

Published 11:44 am Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) — Once the proud home of Final Four teams, Georgia Tech has become the ACC’s punching bag.

Disappointing doesn’t truly describe the Yellow Jackets, who are last in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They are 0-7 in conference play, the Yellow Jackets’ worst ACC start since 2002.

The losing ACC record isn’t an aberration.

Georgia Tech, which plays at Miami on Wednesday night, has only one winning conference record in the last 19 seasons.

The recent woes could threaten coach Brian Gregory’s job security.

Gregory’s four years at Georgia Tech haven’t come close to the glory of the 1990 “Lethal Weapon 3” Final Four team that featured Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver. Recent recruiting hasn’t produced talent similar to the 2004 Final Four team led by Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum.

Asked what he tells fans who ask if Gregory can turn the program around, athletic director Mike Bobinski said Sunday, “It’s impossible to answer that question and not box anyone into a corner or give disingenuous answers. I choose not to answer those questions.”

The dismal ACC start has left the Yellow Jackets 9-10 overall. And six of their seven ACC losses have been seven points or less. Fans can see that trend as evidence the team is competitive — or that it can’t win the close games.

Bobinski said the team needs “a breakthrough” and he’s still hopeful the turnaround can come this season.

“The appearance to me is a team that’s shackled,” he said. “It’s just not fluid. … I’d like to believe we can enjoy some greater success and put ourselves into position where we can go into the next offseason on a positive note. But that remains to be seen. I’m hopeful and I believe that can happen but I also understand that we’ll see that unfold or not as the year moves on.”

Tech fans have seen a lot of losing under Gregory, especially in the conference.

Gregory, 52-62 overall, is a woeful 16-43 in the ACC with no NCAA or NIT appearances.

The Yellow Jackets last posted a winning record in the ACC in the 2004 Final Four season when they were 9-7 — Paul Hewitt’s only winning ACC mark in his 11 years. Before that, Georgia Tech’s last winning record in the ACC came in 1995-96 under Bobby Cremins, who produced nine straight NCAA tournament teams. Cremins’ last four teams finished below .500 in the league.

Georgia Tech is still paying for Hewitt’s generous buyout clause — $7.2 million over five years when he was fired in 2011. Gregory’s contract runs through the 2017-18 season.

A decline in attendance hurt Hewitt. Poor turnouts also could prove difficult for Gregory to overcome. The attendance for Sunday’s 64-62 loss to Boston College was 5,587, leaving about 3,000 empty seats. Attendance was over 7,000 for recent home games against Syracuse and Notre Dame.

That was a subject Bobinski had no qualms addressing.

He said “it’s extremely important” for basketball, as well as football, to produce revenue.

“You miss on one of those and you’re really handcuffing yourself in some ways,” he said. “It does matter. It’s important to us.”

Gregory described the close ACC setbacks as “gut-wrenching, heart-breaking losses.”

“I think we’ve proven we’re good enough,” Gregory said. “It’s just to this point we haven’t been good enough to win a game. That’s a fine line.”

It’s a line the Yellow Jackets need to find a way to cross.

Boston College was winless in the ACC before beating the Yellow Jackets. Wake Forest’s only ACC win came against Georgia Tech on Jan. 10.

The one lopsided defeat was a 57-28 loss at No. 2 Virginia on Thursday night. It was the fewest points for any ACC team in the shot-clock era and Georgia Tech’s low total since 1947.

Players say they haven’t lost faith.

“We’re right there,” said forward Quinton Stephens. “I mean right now we have to stick together. … We know that we can play. We know we’ve been in these situations where in the last four minutes, last eight minutes, we’re right there. We’re going to break through this wall. We’re going to get it together.”