Sunday, January 8, 2012

season preview: NC State

NC State Wolfpack

Media prediction: 8th

Last season:

Record: 15-16 (5-11) - ACC 10th seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 91st of 345

Returning scoring: 66.3%
Returning rebounding: 70.7%
Returning assists: 58.4%

2010-11 All-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: F Tracy Smith
Rookie: F C.J. Leslie
Defensive: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Lorenzo Brown (So.)
SG: C.J. Williams (Sr.)
SF: Scott Wood (Jr.)
PF: C.J. Leslie (So.)
F: Richard Howell (Jr.)


C DeShawn Painter (Jr.)
G Alex Johnson (Sr.)
F Tyler Harris (Fr.)

Coach: Mark Gottfried (1st season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Wake Forest
Once: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech

One of the greatest pities of the ACC coaching carousel is that we'll no longer see Clifford the Big Red Coach - also known as Sidney Lowe in a plus-sized, red-as-hell sportcoat - patrolling the sidelines at NC State.  Would've been even better if he'd borrowed some of Chuck Amato's red shoes. (Let's hope Seth Greenberg doesn't get any ideas, though.)

NC State has quietly been one of the better teams in the ACC through the nonconference schedule under new coach Mark Gottfried.  In each of their losses - all to teams that will probably be in the tournament - they had a lead or otherwise put a big scare into the opponent.  Even Syracuse.  And they knocked off Texas on a neutral court.  They haven't earned a ton of press for their efforts, though.

The Pack are led by sometimes-mercurial sophomore C.J. Leslie, a mega-recruit who picked NC State over Kentucky to end his recruitment.  Leslie is an athletic scoring forward with long arms and a talent for shot-blocking - he gathers 2.3 per game.  Leslie had to miss the first three games of the season for accepting benefits and was suspended for the Duke game last year, and might be as famous for his poetry as his basketball.  (Lord Byron he ain't, but on the plus side, at least he wrote it himself, which isn't always the case with athletes sometimes.)  The Duke suspension plus Leslie's occasional tendency to hork up shots that never had a prayer of finding the rim even led to point-shaving rumors, almost certainly unfounded since "he jacks up stupid-ass shots" isn't exactly an uncommon gripe about hyped-up basketball players.  Leslie has dialed down the three-point attempts considerably this year, anyway.

All five of NC State's starters, however, average between 12.2 and 13.0 points a game.  Partly this is an artifact of the fact that NC State plays with the third-fastest tempo in the ACC, but the players are about that good, too.  The Pack have the 18th-best offense in the country, per KenPom, and they crash the offensive glass and do it very well.  Richard Howell gathers in 15.5% of available offensive boards, an excellent number that makes him top-25 in the country, and he's a terrific rebounder on the other end, too.  Howell battling Mike Scott on the glass should be a great rebounding duel.  Scott Wood is an excellent three-point shooter (though he's really the only one on the team) and C.J. Williams is a guard who's hitting a shooting percentage of .533.  Plus, there isn't a weak free-throw shooter in the bunch; if any could be called that, it's Leslie, but at .618 he's not exactly terrible.

If there's a weakness, it's in the lack of true big men.  With 7'1" center Jordan Vandenberg having been phased out of the rotation lately, the largest player that usually sees the court is 6'9", 235-pound DeShawn Painter, a former UVA recruit.  Painter is essentially NC State's sixth man, and he, Howell, and Leslie make for one of the ACC's better frontcourts, if somewhat undersized.

They say that UVA could well turn out to be the ACC's third-best team - assuming, of course, that Duke and UNC are the obvious top two.  But NC State is one of the biggest threats to that particular prize.  They're a well-rounded team, and one of a handful of contenders (including UVA, Miami, and VT) for a tournament berth.  They have a great chance at both that tourney berth and a winning record in-conference, neither of which they ever achieved under Sidney Lowe.


Anonymous said...

Watching the Pack/Terps game, I can't help but think that the Pack should be a team that finishes with a winning record in conference BUT may not be consistent enough to do so. Granted, this Terps team is perhaps even a bit underrated (Len really seems to have made a big impact, and PeShon Howard stabilizes things), but the Pack had more overall talent on the floor and opportunities to push forward, but simply couldn't, whether through poor decisions or poor shots.

Brendan said...

I agree they're not 100% consistent, which I'm sure comes from learning a new system. But when you compare the Pack to similar competitors like Miami and VT, I think NC State has the most talent (and best on-floor results), and both those other teams are inconsistent too - Miami also because of a new coach, and VT because of the old one.