As we wait for football to heat up, it’s as good a time as any to analyze the coming basketball season. Over the next few weeks, we will analyze the logical rotation and depth chart, based on position. We analyzed the point guard position, the two guard slot, and small forward previously. Next is the Pack’s strongest position – power forward.
Last year, NC State boasted what looked to be a three-headed monster in the post. Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley had always been solid, and occasionally great in 2006-07. JJ Hickson was easily the most talented player on the team, with a work ethic to match. National publications rated the Pack’s frontcourt among the nation’s elite.
It didn’t work out that way. Ben McCauley had an illness early on, and Costner was slowed by offseason knee problems and the extra weight he carried. Hickson was even better than advertised, but Ben and Brandon each had trouble working off of his strengths. Both regressed markedly as rebounders and defenders. Despite being physically suited for the position, McCauley was never comfortable at the 4 (where the most minutes were available). Costner’s lack of conditioning held him back early, and an off-court incident with a teammate sent him into a downward spiral that left him virtually invisible by February.
Down the stretch, Coach Lowe called Tracy Smith’s number with more frequency, and he responded with tough, agressive play and very solid rebounding. His defense was inconsistent, but it was not due to effort or mindset. Offensively, he showed promise – but his free throw shooting was abyssmal. Dennis Horner also found himself in the mix, primarily because he proved incapable of handling the 3 (as did Costner). Costner and Horner both struggled with their outside shot, with Costner airballs an all too common spectacle. Without posing a perimeter threat, offensive spacing suffered mightily, and opponents focused their defensive efforts almost exclusively on Hickson. A long, humiliating stretch of defeats ensued.
On the bright side, many people have told SFN that Costner re-dedicated himself in the offseason. His body is better conditioned. He knows that he must carry the scoring load in the low post again. And he has always played best with a chip on his shoulder. Don’t forget that he was a near-unanimous preseason all-ACC candidate, with some talk of being an all-American.
Who should start? Brandon Costner, if his head is right (which I expect it will be). Costner is the only player on the roster with true “star” potential. Remember, this is the man who dominated the ACC tourney as a redshirt freshman, and was projected to challenge Tyler Hansbrough for POY last year. Underneath last year’s bruised feelings and 15 pounds of White Castle, I believe that guy still exists.
What should the rotation be? Costner can play up to 35 mpg if properly conditioned, but it’s safer to limit him to 30-32 minutes, to save wear and tear on his body. Even sans the extra weight he carried last season, he’s a big guy. PF is also the position with the most quality depth, as nobody cringes at the thought of Tracy Smith playing significant minutes. Smith should log 8-10 mpg at the 4, and significantly more when injuries or foul trouble strike. Dennis Horner will also log some minutes here – how many will depend on his production. We won’t have to play Horner much – he must earn his PT this year.
Position Grade: B+