Make NO MISTAKE about it — NC State’s tournament-like schedule (Friday/Sunday) of home games against Davidson (7pm tonight on Fox Sports South) and Cincinnati (7:30pm Sunday on all Fox Sports networks) represent pivotal and highly important games for the Wolfpack’s 2007-2008 post season dreams.
Beacuse of State’s two unacceptable losses to New Orleans and East Carolina the Wolfpack enter the weekend with a record of just 5-3 with six out of conference games remaining and sixteen ACC games on the schedule. (Don’t forget that NC State played one of the tougher ACC schedules last season, and this season the Wolfpack plays Top 10 Duke twice instead of just once.)
Tonight, State hosts highly respected Davidson and sophomore phenom Stephen Curry. The fact that the Wolfpack doesn’t have a sharpshooter on our entire roster and Curry wasn’t recruited by the Pack is a painful pill to swallow for many. The contrast is made more clear by the fact that Curry has made more three pointers this season while competing against a tough schedule than the entire NC State roster has hit en route toa 29.4% three-point shooting percentage.
For our own sanity we won’t play the “what if” game here. Just know that State MUST guard Curry unlike we have guarded anyone all season. If some nobody from ECU can put thirty on us then the sky is the limit for Curry if he gets hot.
Davidson sets up to be a potentially miserable scenario for the Wolfpack. A lot has been made that Davidson has been ‘close’ many times but needs to breakthrough against a name to earn some respect. The Wildcats seem to expect that “name” to be NC State. Although they sport only a 4-5 record, the Wildcats have been nationally ranked this season and have suffered close losses to Top 10 UCLA, UNC-CH and Duke. (Compare that to State’s trip to Top 10 Michigan State). In their early season losses,
Davidson led North Carolina with six minutes left and gave up an 18-point first-half lead against UCLA before losing. Those losses, and losses to Western Michigan and Charlotte, had a similar theme.
Davidson as been competitive in the paint against some of the best post players in the country, but they poorly defend what NC State doesn’t do very well – the three point shot. The Wildcats allow 44% shooting from outside of the arc; but the Wolfpack only shoots 29.4% from behind the arc. Obviously, the Pack MUST capitalize on open looks from behind the line.
Another problem for the Wolfpack is that Davidson does well what we defend poorly – the three pointer. State’s defensive field goal percentage may look good on paper, but we all know that the Wolfpack plays horrendous perimeter defense. (See the kid from ECU). The Wildcats have the 20th highest ratio of 3-point field goal attempts to total field goal attempts in the country as 44% of their attempts from the field have been from behind the three point arc.
Section Six takes the preview of the Wildcats to a deeper level in this entry. You need to read the preview because he really hits the macro-keys of this match-up (and NC State’s problems).
The Wolfpack defense relies entirely on unforced errors, and that’s no way to make a living when you rebound as poorly as we do.
The Pack will have the services of Marques Johnson for the first time tonight since he announced his transfer from Tennessee last year. Unless Johnson has a better shot than has been advertised and is a more aggressive defender than the rest of our squad then I’m not sure how much of an impact that he will have.
The Charlotte Observer has some related nuggets that will be of interest to you. One set of comments baffled me:
At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Johnson is bigger than Degand and freshman Javier Gonzalez, the other backup point guard.
When Johnson does get in the game, the Wolfpack might switch to a more deliberate pace.
“He’ll get you into your offense, defend, hustle, nothing fancy,” Lowe said
A more deliberate pace? Is that a joke? What does that mean? Will we be playing in the 40s and 50s? How could we play a more deliberate pace than we do today?
Take note, no matter which players are on the floor NC State will continue to play close games and deliberate paces until we assert ourselves on defense and start rebounding – both of which will allow us to create some easy points in transition and take some pressure off of our half court offense.
Despite Cincinnati’s name recognition, the Bearcats are currently 4-6 with a miserable RPI of #249. They lost to Belmont by 11 points, beat Western Carolina by only 2 points at home and have struggled in other games that you would expect them to have won more impressively. State must avenge last year’s embarassment at Cincy – no Engin Atsur; Gavin Grant tryign to play the point; turned the ball over THIRTY times. No matter how bad Cincinnati looks on paper, if State can win as we should, the Bearcats are a ‘name program’ in a major conference that won’t help our RPI but won’t optically hurt us as people review our resume.
Full Season Perspective
Whether Coach Lowe and the team have chosen to hit the panic button or not, everyone needs to have their eyes open to where things currently stand if the Wolfpack truly wants to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Beacuse of State’s two unacceptable losses to New Orleans and East Carolina, the Wolfpack enter the weekend with a record of just 5-3 with six out of conference games remaining and sixteen ACC games on the schedule. So, one cannot under-state the importance of this next phase of the Wolfpack’s schedule that is being called a “tough stretch” by the media.
I’m going to reverse-engineer some numbers and some assumptions to highlight the importance of the next two games for State:
* An 8-8 record in ACC play used to guarantee an NCAA Tournament berth; that tenant has been challenged recently and is not as much of ‘rule’ given the ACC’s imbalanced schedule.
* With losses to bad teams like UNO and ECU conventional wisdom already posits that State needs to finish the out of conference portion of our schedule strong and may have to go 9-7 to earn an NCAA Tournament appearance.
* I’m not sold on that^ yet. State’s 16 ACC games are tough, and include EIGHT games against teams currently in the RPI’s Top 53. With this said, our conference schedule will serve to strongly support our RPI and give us plenty of opportunities to have a strong resume with an 8-8 record.
* The key to the debate of ‘how many conference games do we need to win?’ actually lies in the Wolfpack’s final record in out of conference games. State is currently 5-3 with six more OOC games. In addition to this ‘tough stretch of Davidson, Cincy and Seton Hall (currently #51 RPI) the Wolfpack should be able to win against Western Carolina, Presbyterian and NC Central
* If the Pack wins all six remaning OOC games and starts conference play at 11-3, then I think we will be fine with an 8-8 ACC record. That would mean that State would have wins over one sure NCAA Tournament team (Villanova) and three other potential teams (Davidson, Rider and Seton Hall).
* If State falls once (Davidson? Seton Hall?) and starts conference play at 10-4, then I think we CAN make the tourney at 8-8 as long as we have the proper “mix” of wins and losses. A 9-7 record in this scenario would definitely get us a berth in light of the strength of the conference.
* If State loses two more times and starts conference play at 9-5, then the Pack most definitely will need at least a 9-7 ACC record for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Earlier in the year we ran an analysis of how the Pack performed when Trevor Furguson was on the floor compared to how we performed when he was not on the floor. The numbers were striking. Section Six has an updated view of the comparison of the impact of State’s two most utilized lineups this season and the numbers are equally striking.
The summary of the analysis is that the line-up of Degand/Fells/Grant/Costner/Hickson have coutscored opponents by 39 points while the line-up of Degand/Fells/Grant/Costner/McCauley have been outscored by opponents by 12 points. A 51 point differential in just 8 games averages to be just under 6.5 points per game. That is a HUGE number.
As you can tell from that information, JJ Hickson is a key component of what State does well on BOTH sides of the floor. Relatedly, this is a super article about JJ Hickson and the Wolfpack’s need to adjust.