Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 11/17/11
The 2011-12 college basketball season is barely underway, and while its too early to start thinking about the NCAA Tournament, it's never too early for a coach to gauge his team's preparedness against Tournament-caliber teams. Thats what on the mind of Georgia Techs first-year head coach Brian Gregory. Its part of what makes a preseason tournament like this weekend's DirecTV Charleston Classic presented by Foster Grant so important. "They give you a great read on where you're at at that time," he said. "Plus they give you some insight into some things that you're going to need to improve on down the road. You're not at home. You're playing against high-quality opponents. You have a one-day prep. So you have to focus on the things that are going to make you a better team and focus on things that are important to your team." The Classic, in which the Jackets will play three games in four days, is everything Gregory described and just about everything their first two non-conference games were not road games against high-quality opposition. The 2-0 mark gained against Florida A&M and Delaware State was a nice first step as far as getting the young team's feet on the ground and in establishing Gregory's system of smothering, all-in defensive pressure and up-tempo offense. They proved they could do good things inside and on the boards (rebounding is another staple of Gregory's system) Winning both games without the squad's leading returning scorer Glen Rice was another unexpected test of character the team passed. They must take the next step against teams with NCAA pedigree (one of those without Rice as well). The first opponent is St. Joseph's of the Atlantic-10. The Hawks are a team similar to Tech, as they are young, starting four sophomores, and are rebuilding theyre coming off an 11-22 season (4-12 in the A-10) and a 12th-place finish. St. Joe's front line of C.J. Aiken, a 6-9, 200-pound shot-blocking machine he set a school freshman record with 3.5 blocks per game and had five in St. Joes season opener 6-8, 215-pound Ronald Roberts and 6-8, 260-pound Halil Kanacevic, all sophomores, poses a big challenge Tech's bigs, sophomore center Daniel Miller (6-11, 258), redshirt sophomore Kammeon Holsey (6-8, 226) and reserves freshman Julian Royal (6-7, 230) and sophomore Nate Hicks (6-10, 218). "From here on out, everyone is going to be big. They're going to have the bigs, they're going to be big at all positions," Miller, who had a career-high-tying 14 points and set career-bests with 15 rebounds and six assists in Tech's last game. "We can't back down. We have to go at them the way we've been going at these teams we've already played." Tech, which has gotten superb play from junior point Mfon Udofia, and sophomore Jason Morris are a faster, more athletic team than they've been in recent years. They've also been more selective and shown more patience in working the ball around looking for a better shot. "We're able, if we break the defense down and get a high-quality shot, even if we miss that, we have a great chance for an offensive rebound because the offense is out of position," said Gregory. "The one thing is, if you take a quick shot then the defense is underneath you and then it's harder to get an offensive rebound. So there are so many good things that happen when you break a defense down and so many bad things when you don't. Still, you want your guys aggressive and to make plays and to do some different things. We're still kind of getting into that comfort level that fine line between being aggressive and making sure that we're getting quality shots all the time." The Yellow Jackets have an opportunity to go 3-0 Thursday night despite not having Rice on the floor. Rice, who was suspended for the team's first three games for an undisclosed violation of team rules, will return Friday for the second game in their bracket against either VCU, a Final Four team last season, or Seton Hall, whose roster includes former Yellow Jacket Brian Oliver (he will be sitting out the '11-12 season after transferring). He's a big part of our offense, a big part of our team and we need him, said Miller. Whenever he can get back will be best for us. I'm really proud of the way everybody's been playing, stepping up for Glen not being here, he added. We've been playing well and responding to that very well. "He's ready to go," said Gregory of Rice. "That's going to be an important game for this team because we are either playing to get into a championship game or we're bouncing back after a loss. So that's an important game mentally both ways." Gregory, of course, is not looking past the Hawks, a team he knew well from his eight years as head coach Dayton. He admitted that coaching against good friend and an influential figure in Phil Martelli makes the game more difficult than a typical out-of-conference game. "It's harder because you don't feel quite as good if you win because I care about the guy on the other end of the court," he said. "I know it's the same way even though we're both going to compete and go from there." Moving on is important for Gregory, who said that he isn't placing all his eggs for 11-12 in this weekends wins or losses. He learned that lesson two years ago, when his Dayton team beat Georgia Tech in the preseason O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off. "I think sometimes if you're highly successful in these it's over-rated that it makes your season and if you don't do as well, it's probably over-rated that it ruins your season," he said. "Georgia Tech lost to Dayton two years ago. But at the end of the year, it was Georgia Tech playing in the NCAA Tournament. They made whatever adjustments needed to be made. At the same time, it's great for our guys to get out and, in a four-day period play three highly competitive games. "It's important that we continue to emphasize the process in terms of keep building the things that are important for this program," he added. "We don't want wins or losses that throw us off the track of performing a little bit better every game and developing the daily habits that we need to develop."
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