ATLANTA -- He meant no offense to last year's team, but Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory says this year's team is better.
It's hard to tell the difference by the overall record. The Yellow Jackets are 6-2, just like they were a year ago. But this year's team has achieved more against a more difficult schedule and stands a better chance for longterm success.
Perhaps the biggest test of the season will come Tuesday night when the Yellow Jackets host VCU.
"They're really good," Gregory said. "They're as good as any team we've played. I put them on the same par as Tennessee, Villanova ..."
VCU, under first-year head coach Will Wade, has a 5-3 record, but the Rams' losses have come to Duke (by seven), Wisconsin (by one) and Florida State (by five), and all were on the road.
The game offers an excellent opportunity for Georgia Tech to show the strides it has made this season.
"We're a lot better, a 100 times, but you've got to be better during the 40 minutes you play," Gregory said. "Being better, being more cohesive, we have more options, we're more talented, we have great experience ... you have 40 minutes twice a week to prove that.
"You look at the numbers, look at practice, look at the games, look at the plays you make that you've never been able to make before. Add those up, and it puts you in position to be 6-2."
Georgia Tech began discussing a home-and-home series with VCU when it couldn't get a firm answer about whether it would have a home game for the annual Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
"I knew we needed a high-profile game at home," Gregory said.
So the Yellow Jackets hooked up with VCU, which made a reputation for beating programs from the Power Five conferences under former head coach Shaka Smart, who left last spring to become the head coach at Texas.
VCU is led by senior Melvin Johnson, who might be the best player Georgia Tech has seen this season. The 6-foot-4 guard creates problems because of his scoring ability (19.9 points per game) and versatility (47.8 percent on 3-pointers). He scored 36 points against Florida State and earlier this season had 20-plus points in three straight games.
"If you're not fresh on him, he takes advantage," Gregory said. "He doesn't get tired. He knows how to put the ball in the basket in a variety of ways, and he's one of the best 3-point shooters in the country."
Georgia Tech senior Marcus Georges-Hunt, the team's best defensive player, knows he'll spend time trying to guard Johnson.
"He's a great shooter; he takes a lot of tough shots," Georges-Hunt said. "He's going to make a lot, but you've got to keep your head up and keep playing."
VCU's other big scoring threat is senior guard Korey Billbury, who averages 11 points and 5.5 rebounds. Point guard Jequan Lewis averages 8.9 points and 4.4 assists, and forward Mo Alie-Cox averages 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.
"They have very good size inside, and they play physical defense," Gregory said. "We've got to take care of the basketball, we've got to rebound the basketball, and defensively we've got to really be locked in. Melvin is so talented offensively, and they've got other people who are good, too. If you're not locked in in every aspect, they'll carve you up."
Georgia Tech has four players averaging double figures: Georges-Hunt (14.6 points), Charles Mitchell (14.5), Adam Smith (12.1) and Nick Jacobs (10.8). Mitchell has posted a double-double in every game and leads the ACC in rebounding (13.0).