NC State’s Men’s Basketball team will tip-off the real season this Saturday night at New Orleans. (How in God’s name was Quinten Jackson allowed to schedule our first game of the year on the road to open another school’s arena? Could we REALLY not have gotten a scrub team at home to get a little more experience under our belt before having to go on the road to visit a team that beat us last year?)
No one knows all of the twists and turns the season will hold for the Wolfpack, but we have already experienced one very interesting twist – the role of freshman, CJ Williams as a starter at the shooting guard position. (If you are interested in what we have penned to this point then all you need to do is click here.)
Coach Sidney Lowe has started CJ Williams at the two-guard position in both of the Wolfpack’s exhibition game victories. As evidenced by this fantastic profile on Williams from the Fayetteville Observer, it is already well documented that Williams is one of those players that coaches love — he is a natural winner and leader who finds multiple ways to contribute to the greater cause of trying to win basketball games.
Make no mistake — I see no way that CJ Williams is ready to actually start &/or be a big contributor in Atlantic Coast Conference basketball. But, I really like the signal that Sidney Lowe is sending to his team – and future recruits – about the type of play that is valued and that is madatory to win basketball games.
Williams is probably a couple of years away from really making an impact on the floor. But as I think about his future, I just can’t help but think about potential comparisons between Williams and former Wolfpack player, Brian Howard.
Howard was simply – glue. He was the guy who did everything that needed to be done and rounded out every other player on the court while the likes of Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe and others delivered on their biggest strengths. It was a set of skills that not only served NC State Basketball well in the late 1980s, it served Howard for almost fifteen years of professional basketball – including two years with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
If the first month of practice has been a foreshadowing of things to come, teammates and coaches alike expect Williams to be as dependable as Maytag.
They are already lauding Williams’ savvy and his knack for quickly picking up the nuances of the State system. Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe sums up Williams’ skills with one word.
“Solid,” Lowe said. “C.J.’s just solid. He’s very bright. And he always know what we want out of him. He always knows where to be. He knows every play. He knows every cut.”
Senior forward Ben McCauley sees an ambition and a mental sharpness in his freshman teammate that promises to add vitality to a State offense that could use a pick-me-up.
“Being a passing big man, one thing that I really like about C.J. is that he cuts to the basket really well,” McCauley said. “If he’s not open outside, he’s going toward the basket. That’s a great thing to see from a wing guy. … The kid is extremely well-rounded and only getting better.”
Williams can only grin when told of the glowing scouting report. And then, true to his personality, he tries to water down the compliments with some of his trademark humility.
“It’s probably not as smooth as they think it is,” he said. “Sometimes, I hesitate a little bit. But I don’t think they see me hesitate because I cut so hard and I run so hard and I play really fast. How I feel inside is not the same as how it might look outside.”
Williams didn’t make a huge impact while playing just over 24 minutes in the Wolfpack’s second exhibition win against Catawba on Tuesday night, but the overall depth and play of the Wolfpack’s backcourt was featured in this article that focused a little more on Javi Gonzalez from today’s N&O/CHLT OBS.
If you want/need more about the Catawba game, you can check out WRAL’s story about the game by clicking here and/or you can watch their video highlights by clicking here. (Whatever happened to the option to embed video?)
Lastly, Ryan Craig wrote a super entry that analyzed the Wolfpack’s final exhibition and described it as a ‘mixed bag’. Click here for the entire piece. I am going to keep my eye on Craig because his entry was the type of honest observation that fans like to read. As you can see from some of his comments below, he identifies the Pack’s problem with only one legitimate wing currently on the roster and highlights CJ Williams’s role as the current starter.
First off, and most importantly, Farnold Degand looked as though he’s playing at close to 100% after returning from last year’s ACL tear. The Pack’s starting point guard only missed one out of eight shots last night and tallied four steals in just 22 minutes.
Again, it’s not about the numbers, but what those numbers meant. The 6-foot-3 playmaker showed range from three, the ability to get into the lane, and the lateral movement to keep his man in front of him and force turnovers. I was impressed with the way he was able to play the up-tempo style Sidney Lowe is looking for without seeming like he was forcing the issue.
As you might expect, if I thought the team looked better with Degand at the one, then I thought they looked worse when Javier Gonzalez was there. At least against the Indians, Javi’s jumper still seems to be more of a liability than a weapon. The sophomore had three wide open looks from beyond the recently-extended three-point line and missed all three.
One of State’s problems last year was its inability to knock down open jumpers. When defenses don’t have to respect your ability to shoot from outside, defenders can sag off your perimeter players, compromising your ability to get into the lane and clogging the paint for low-post playmakers like Ben McCauley and Tracy Smith.
The biggest issue the Pack is going to have in the back court, other than the chance the team may faint from holding its breath while Javi is playing point, is the complete lack of a shooting guard.
Trevor Ferguson is not as bad as his Brian Zoubek-like four fouls in ten minutes stat line, but he’s not a legitimate ACC two-guard either. Of course, it doesn’t really matter, because for some reason, C.J. Williams, the true freshman out of Jack Britt, is the starter for now.
I always make it a point to say that I’ve never coached a college basketball game – or a high school game – or a pickup game – and I will reiterate that point right now. But, this is the second time I’ve seen Williams play in person now, and if he’s the best option State has at shooting guard, this is going to be a long season in Raleigh.
Coach Lowe re-stated his affinity for his style of play after Tuesday night’s contest, but I just don’t see it. Sure, his body may be college-ready (Williams is already filled out at 6-5, 205 pounds), but his game isn’t. I understand that as a freshman he has a lot to learn, but for now he is absolutely no threat on the offensive end of the court. State doesn’t have enough talent at the other spots on the floor to play 4-on-5 on offense, and that’s exactly what they are doing right now with a player that didn’t even look for an opportunity to score until there were two minutes left in the game.
State’s depth is in the front court, and because of that, I think you go with Degand at the one, Fells at the two, Costner at the three and then McCauley and Smith at the four and five respectively. Sure, you probably lose some of Fells’ offense because of the energy he’ll have to expend playing the other team’s two, but you make up for it by moving Costner to his best position and having your two best low-post players on the floor together.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Craig’s suggestion ultimately take root in the Wolfpack’s line-up, but ONLY if Brandon Costner proves that he can actually defend the wing and if we can find a way to basically utilize McCauley’s high-post passing to balance the floor on offense because if we learned ANYTHING last year it was that Brandon Costner is NOT a wing.
Costner’s atrocious ball handling and defensive footwork were so bad last year that I find it impossible to imagine them improving to the point where he could legitimately play the wing. Costner is a four-man who can shoot better than the average four-man when guarded by a post player and who can post up a 3-man when guarded by a wing. This is the value of his versatility. It was proven last year that reversing those positive mismatches creates our own set of problems for Costner and the Wolfpack.
As long as the starting five can stay on the floor (I’m counting Fells, and not Williams, as one of those five), State will be competitive in its games. Unfortunately, the bench isn’t deep enough to keep the five best players fresh enough to run like Lowe wants to this year, meaning a lot of the Pack’s games will feature a quick start to both halves and a likely drop-off from there (similar to what happened against Catawba).