Sunday, December 23, 2012

season preview: NC State

NC State Wolfpack
Media prediction: 1st of 12

Last season:

Record: 24-13 (9-7); ACC 5 seed
Postseason: NCAA 11 seed; lost in Sweet 16
KenPom: 35th of 345

Returning scoring: 68.1%
Returning rebounding: 67.4%
Returning assists: 65.5%

2011-2012 all-ACC:

1st team: none
2nd team: F C.J. Leslie
3rd team: G Lorenzo Brown
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

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


F T.J. Warren (Fr.)
G Tyler Lewis (Fr.)
C Jordan Vandenberg (rJr.)

Coach: Mark Gottfried (2nd season)

ACC schedule:

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

NC State got a lot of press for their freshman class this year, and unsurprisingly so as all three of them were Burger Boys.  It got to the point where it was probably unfair to the returning veterans.  At least, it seemed that way during the Michigan game.  The freshmen got all the NC State pub; the veterans were just kind of there.  But really, it's the veteran core of this team, which made a Sweet 16 run in the NCAAs last year as a double-digit seed, that's the driving force.

The Pack do most of their work inside.  Only 23% of their shots are from three range, which is 331st in the country.  When you've got two forwards hitting more than two-thirds of their shots (Richard Howell at .675 and freshman T.J. Warren at .682) there's no need to overthink things and get fancy.  Those two are part of an excellent frontcourt rotation that also includes C.J. Leslie (last year's team-leading scorer) and wingman Scott Wood, a historically deadly three-point shooter with a career percentage over 40%.  Wood takes most of NC State's threes, but there are others who shoot just often enough and more than well enough to keep defenses honest.  Howell is also an elite rebounder and Leslie cleans up most of what Howell doesn't get to.

At the point, Lorenzo Brown has a solid well of experience to call upon, and a quality assist rate of 29%.  Brown is a good defender as well, averaging over two steals per game.  Freshman Rodney Purvis starts alongside Brown in the backcourt, although a couple times this year Mark Gottfried has chosen to go really big and start Warren instead.  That gives them a huge starting lineup, since Brown is a 6'5" point guard.  Purvis has been fairly pedestrian so far this year; of the three freshmen, it's really been Warren who's been the best on the court, and it's not even close.

Tyler Lewis is the third of the super-frosh, but he sits at the back end of the very short rotation, and only spells Brown and Purvis for a short time as he apprentices at the point.  Brown hardly comes out of the game; he's averaging nearly 34 minutes.  The Pack will also occasionally unglue big center Jordan Vandenberg from the bench, but not much since the play of the excellent group of forwards makes it kind of moot to have a true center.

That's it for the rotation; it's kind of a short one.  Six players are averaging 26+ minutes a game, and three are in the 30s; the next-closest is Lewis with about 12.  Three guards is a thin way to go about filling out a rotation, so they can't afford even a single injury here.  An injury to a forward would mainly result in more minutes for Vandenberg, but this just isn't a deep team.  Very, very talented, but not deep; injury trouble would derail their very high hopes.

Just how high are they?  Well, they were voted the preseason favorite by the media and the coaches as well, which has to mean something.  The truth is this is an exceedingly difficult team to stop on offense, but they struggle with defense.  Unless Howell or Leslie is on the court, they're not rebounding, and they don't get turnovers.  Their KenPom numbers have them 7th in the country on offense (which is 2nd best in the conference behind Duke) but 119th in the country on defense (4th-worst in the ACC.)  I think their lack of depth and those defensive numbers mean that Duke remains the conference favorite until proven otherwise.  That said, if this team is healthy all year, they won't lose very much, and should be expected to make some deep tournament runs.

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