Georgia Tech basketball coach Brian Gregory didn’t plan to play Cal, Saint Mary’s and Illinois in succession. And perhaps given the opportunity to face teams that have played in three of the past four NCAA tournaments (Cal), two of the past three (Saint Mary’s) or are undefeated and ranked No. 22 (Illinois), he might have declined.
But, through the draw at the DirecTV Classic in Anaheim, Calif., and their pairing in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, that’s the Yellow Jackets’ lot. Tech plays the Illini Wednesday in Champaign, Ill., at 9 p.m. in a game televised on ESPN2.
“If you looked at it, you would say that would be a little overambitious in your scheduling at this part of the year,” Gregory said, “but I think it’s been good for us.”
After taking third at the DirecTV Classic, where they beat Rice and Saint Mary’s and lost to Cal, the Jackets face their biggest challenge of the season. Illinois won the eight-team Maui Invitational, defeating Butler 78-61 in the final and is 7-0.
“It’s a huge challenge for us, and, again, another opportunity for us to get a good read on where we’re at,” Gregory said Tuesday.
Tech has lost its last four in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. For Gregory, the game at Illinois’ Assembly Hall is a return to his home state and his Big Ten coaching roots.
“You’ve got to really maintain your composure and your poise,” he said. “It really is us against everybody else when you go into a venue like that.”
As he prepared to bus down from Chicago, where the team camped after completing the Anaheim tournament Sunday, Gregory presented a promising report on his team, which is 4-1.
“I think defensively, we’ve been pretty darn good,” he said.
Tech is limiting opponents to a field-goal percentage of 37.1 percent, 43rd in the country and second in the ACC. He has particularly liked his defense on the perimeter.
“We have a pretty good mix there, so we’ve been able to change up some coverages and some assignments,” Gregory said.
Guard Jason Morris had perhaps his best defensive game of the season against Saint Mary’s, Gregory said. Playing 17 minutes off the bench, Morris defended Gaels point guard Matthew Dellavedova, a starter on the Australian Olympic team and last year’s West Coast Conference player of the year. Dellavedova finished with five points on 1-for-8 shooting and eight assists against five turnovers.
Tech beat Saint Mary’s 65-56 in the third-place game Sunday.
Tech will return to Atlanta Wednesday night following the game, completing a nine-day trip.
By Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog