Our weekly look toward March Madness and Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco begins with a team that won’t grace the Big Dance. That’s Georgia Tech, which authored another in its series of come-from-ahead losses Monday and prompted this correspondent to write that coach Brian Gregory needs to go.
As faithful — and perhaps unfaithful — readers know, I’d been leading up to this. (Here’s what I wrote after Tech lost to North Carolina State, and here’s one after the loss at Virginia Tech.) But what tore it for me was watching Louisville, which trailed by 13 points with nine minutes remaining, outscore the Jackets 11-0 while Gregory called no timeouts.
OK, he did get the under-8 media timeout in the midst of the Cardinals’ surge, but still: He had four remaining, and this was clearly the key point in a game the Jackets had nearly locked away. At such a moment, a coach cannot wait. He has to do what he can to change the dynamics. When finally Gregory got around to calling his first timeout, the Cardinals were within a point.
And then, for reasons unclear, Gregory spent his second timeout after the Jackets had scored to make it 45-42 — so his players could “calm down,” he said. Got that? It was OK for them to run around without rhyme or reason while Louisville was scoring, but an actual Tech basket — the Jackets would make four over the final nine minutes, the last with 1.6 seconds remaining and the game all but gone — was cause for pause.
I’m sorry, but that’s terrible coaching. If you wonder why Tech is 3-11 in games decided by five or fewer points or in overtime, look only to such brain-freezes on the bench. (There’s also this: After Timeouts No. 3 and 4 were burned in the span of 20 seconds — Gregory spent the first to set up a play that didn’t work, and Charles Mitchell called the last to save a held ball — the team that had four timeouts remaining with 5:33 to play had none over the final 1:14, which was kind of a major deal.)
Afterward, Louisville coach Rick Pitino proclaimed Gregory one of the 15 best coaches in the nation, which was sweet of him to say but demonstrably untrue. Here, off the top of my head, are 30 better: Pitino himself, Krzyzewski, Bennett, Williams, Boeheim, Brey, Calipari, Donovan, Izzo, Ryan, Beilein, Matta, Crean, S. Miller, Altman, Fisher, A. Miller, Smart, Self, Hoiberg, Kruger, Huggins, Mack, Wright, Ollie, Marshall, Few, Amaker, Jacobson and L. Brown. (I say again, that’s off the top of my head, and not in any order.)
I have nothing against Gregory. He’s a nice guy, and he has always been straightforward with me. But he has been on the job four years, and his fourth Tech team can go 5-13 at best in the ACC. His first went 4-12. Is that tangible improvement? And here, at least to me, is the chilling part: The Jackets are 1-3 against fellow bottom-feeders Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Boston College, all of which are in Year 1 under new coaches.
As for Louisville: If you’re looking for a brand-name team to pick against come March, the Cardinals would be it. They had 28 points in the first 31 minutes against Tech. The 17-point first half marked the third time in six games they hadn’t broken 20 in the first 20 minutes. (They had 13 at Virginia, 19 against Miami.)
They can’t shoot a lick, and Chris Jones, their third-leading scorer, was booted from the team Sunday after it was learned, according to the Courier-Journal, he’d sent a threatening text to his girlfriend. Pitino’s a great coach, but this is among his lesser teams.
As for Georgia: The vital overtime win at Alabama on Saturday stopped the rot after home losses to Auburn and South Carolina. If the Bulldogs can split their final four regular-season games, they should make the NCAA field with room to spare. (ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Georgia a No. 9 seed in his latest Bracketology.)
As for the team Georgia plays on March 3: Kentucky is still unbeaten and looking stronger with every week, and it’s a mark of the Wildcats’ depth of talent that the national player of the week is Kyle Wiltjer of once-beaten Gonzaga, who played two seasons at Kentucky before being deemed superfluous. Wiltjer scored 45 points against Pacific last week.