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Brian Gregory is the new Georgia Tech basketball coach… a dissection

March 28, 2011

* I have let this space go fallow while I write on St. John’s basketball (over at SB Nation’s Rumble in the Garden), but I can’t really justify writing on Brian Gregory on a St. John’s blog.

Brian Gregory’s star has fallen. And rightfully so. A few years ago, programs were getting a little excited about possibly hiring Gregory; so much so that he earned a lucrative extension from the Dayton Flyers program in 2009. I always wondered why. The former Tom Izzo assistant has always earned some accolades for his ability to compete, but he took over a program that was already competing under Oliver Purnell after Purnell left to coach at Clemson. More stats, on his teams’ late-season swoons, and a look to the future, after the jump.


Gregory’s won-loss records – taken from the Wikipedia page:

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Dayton (Atlantic Ten Conference) (2003–2011)
2003–2004 Dayton 24–9 12–4 1st (East) NCAA First Round
2004–2005 Dayton 18–11 10–6 T–2nd (West)
2005–2006 Dayton 14–17 6–10 T–11th
2006–2007 Dayton 19–12 8–8 T–7th
2007–2008 Dayton 23–11 8–8 T–7th NIT Quarterfinals
2008–2009 Dayton 27–8 11–5 T–2nd NCAA Second Round
2009–2010 Dayton 25–12 8–8 7th NIT Champions
2010-2011 Dayton 22-14 7-9 T-8th NIT First Round
Dayton: 172–94 70–58
Total: 172-94

Eight years is long enough to run through two recruiting cycles, to have a coach’s inevitable bad year out of the system, to cycle through knuckleheads and character issues, to solidify a coach’s style, to build something strong.

Now, the Atlantic-10 has a strong reputation, so that 70-58 in-conference record (54.7% win percentage) could be excused. It’s not comparable to Sean Miller’s record in his five years at Xavier, where he won 71% of his games. It’s better than the 10 years of Jim Baron, who is 79-81 at the University of Rhode Island. And it’s comparable to Chris Mooney’s 56.3% win percentage in conference at Richmond. Let’s start with Mooney, who would have gotten an offer from someone to be their head coach in the offseason.

Compared to Chris Mooney

Mooney doesn’t run the sexiest system at Richmond. The Princeton offense is seen as too skilled, too slow, too loose, a bad way to profile high-level athletes for the professional ranks. Gregory’s system is wide open, and he’s had quick athletes, high-energy play, and transition scoring – enough to entice some very solid players to come to Dayton.

But Mooney has grown those Spiders in the right direction, losing less than 10 games for the past 2 seasons and earning NCAA berths both years. The under-10 loss plateau for a non-major conference coach isn’t a be-all end-all comparison. But given 30 games, with a couple of major-conference opponents, and familiarity in league play, winning more than 20 games a few times is a sign that a coach can at least handle his level.

Gregory has lost 10 or more games 6 of his 8 seasons.

Gregory’s certainly not the worst coach. But he might be consistently mediocre. He’s brought in what seems to be decent talent – and I won’t dig into the talent question much. But Mooney has been said to have inherited an untalented roster from Jerry Wainwright at Richmond, and has (mostly) steadily increased the team’s win total every year to 29.

Brian Gregory inherited a 16-2 Dayton Flyers team that lost 1 senior from the starting lineup in 2002-2003 and went a solid 12-4, reaching the first round of the NCAAs.

That was his best season. He’s had two second place finishes since, often finishing around the middle of the 14-team Atlantic-10. The A-10 has some consistently talented teams – Dayton nemesis Xavier, for one, and Temple for another – but St. Louis has scuffled, St. Joseph’s hasn’t returned to the heights of their Final Four season, Duquesne has been on-and-off terrible, Massachusetts has struggled, George Washington has been mediocre, St. Bonaventure, Fordham, and La Salle have struggled to get wins. Good conference. But a coach who wants to move up should be consistently in the top half of the 14 team A-10.

Late-Season Swoons

This season, the Flyers lost on the road to a George Washington team that was coming on, but nothing special (they did go 10-6 in the Atlantic-10 this year, 17-14 overall). The loss to the 12-18 St. Louis Billikens at home was an eyebrow raiser. Those losses ruined a season with solid wins against Seton Hall, George Mason and Ole Miss. Just a bad stretch?

No. Consider that 2010′s Flyers beat Georgia tech, Xavier, and Old Dominion, but lost twice to St. Louis, to Duquesne, and to Richmond, leaving them in the NIT (which they won).

The previous season saw the Flyers beat Xavier, Marquette, and Auburn, only to lose to weaker Charlotte, Rhode Island, and St. Louis (sensing a theme here). That year, they made the NCAAs (beating West Virginia in the first round).

2008? They beat Louisville… and promptly went 8-8 in conference, with losses to LaSalle and George Washington.

So on, and so forth. Since 2006, every Dayton season has featured a fairly promising “we’re gonna be a PROBLEM” Flyers win, with later season swoons. Brian Gregory’s record by month:

Month
Wins
Losses
November
31
8
79.5%
December
47
14
77.0%
January
39
24
61.9%
February
29
28
50.9%
March
25
20
55.6%
April
1
0
100.0%

Sometimes, these won-loss splits by month are a result of the schedule. But after 8 years, maybe it has something to do with the coach and his style. Pressing, trapping, high-energy basketball that features great offensive runs, and stunning offensive droughts. here’s a regular occurrence: Dayton gets a double-digit lead on some team. Dayton allows that team to get within 1 in the space of 4 clock minutes.

Rinse, repeat.

Season-long decency, not excellence

I honestly thought that running tempo-neutral numbers (i.e., per possession statistics – for more, read this tempo-neutral primer then come on back!) on Brian Gregory would show just how poor the Flyers shoot in conference. Instead, the numbers show some good things:

  • the Flyers try to get inside to score instead of taking three-pointers.
  • Gregory’s teams are slower than I remember them being as they helter-skelter their way up the court, though they have had a high of 71 possessions per game in-conference in Gregory’s 8 years – last year.
  • The Flyers rebound the defensive end very well, grabbing over 70% of available rebounds.

But then, there’s the mediocrity:

  • The Flyers turn the ball over more (20.7% of their possessions, on average) than they force turnovers (19.1%).
  • They also allow teams to get to the line more than they get to the line; the Flyers attempt free throws on a middling 34.4% of their field goal attempts.
  • The team is outshot inside the arc, 46.3% to 47.7%. One wants to see 50% or more on 2-point shots – that means that the offense is scoring once every other possession.
  • Speaking of efficiency, the Flyers only score 2.3 points per 100 possessions more than they allow. That’s mediocrity.

The table, compiled from Statsheet.com data. There is the average for the offense, the defense, and the average of the Flyers’ finishes/ ranking from 2003-2011. I computed 2-point field goal percentage and three-pointers as a percentage of all shots, and did not compile those numbers for all conference teams, hence no average rank:

Avg Offense
Avg Rk
Avg Defense
Avg D Rk
Wins
9.1
6.0
7.6
6.6
Losses
7.6
7.6
9.1
7.0
Winning Pct
54.1
6.0
45.9
6.6
Possessions Per 40 minutes
65.0
8.1
65.0
8.0
Efficiency
102.4
8.4
100.1
6.8
Field Goal Pct
43.3
8.3
42.3
6.6
Free Throw Pct
66.8
8.9
69.9
6.1
2-pt Field Goal Pct
46.3
47.7
3PA/ FGA
0.322
0.371
3-pt Field Goal Pct
37.1
4.3
33.0
7.5
Effective Field Goal Pct
49.2
7.9
48.4
7.3
Free Throw Rate
34.4
8.3
38.5
8.5
Points Per Possessions
1.02
6.4
1.01
3.8
Points Per Game
66.5
8.6
64.9
7.5
Offensive Reb Pct
35.2
5.4
29.6
9.0
Defensive Reb Pct
70.3
3.1
64.8
6.8
Assist Pct
57.6
6.8
55.0
8.6
Steal Pct
7.5
11.5
8.4
8.5
Turnover Pct
20.7
5.0
19.1
8.5
Block Pct
5.0
10.1
6.7
7.1

Maybe it’s because I only see 4-5 Dayton games on television (though I do follow the team out of curiosity), but I’m never sure quite what they are doing on offense in the half court. There is little post presence; the closest thing the team has to a big man is wing Chris Wright, who didn’t develop much in his four years as a Flyer. The Flyers have had big men, but none were back-to-the basket creators who can stop a run or be a consistent focal point; and between the mediocre turnover rates and the focus on shooting 2-pointers – that miss more than 50% of the time – it’s easy to see how the Flyers struggle to score for stretches.

Many of the Flyer fans are eager for a fresh start, maybe a chance to challenge for the top of the Atlantic-1o, rather than be mired in competitive mediocrity.

Still, the future isn’t necessarily bleak. He’s obviously not a horrible coach, exactly. But his inability to get over the middle of the Atlantic-10 is troubling. Does he need more talent? Better talent? Does he need athletes with more endurance? Better shooters?

Teams often experience a new-coach jump, so the Yellowjackets will be more competitive next year. But what does the future look like? Not the sunniest future, but maybe some stability is better than Paul Hewitt’s consistent dalliances with overall losing records. Gregory, at the very least, can win in November and December.

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