I’ve been very proud of NC State fans for not excessively harping on Tracy Smith’s absence due to a knee injury the last few weeks. It is a testament to our fans as well as to the program because I think an inherent feeling from most is that the program has enough talent to absorb almost any personnel loss (for at least a short time).
But, I don’t know how appropriate that feeling may be. I think that we may have collectively under-estimated how important a healthy Tracy Smith is to this team.
Today, I wanted to re-set the table on how important Tracy is to this team and this year’s quest to reach the NCAA Tournament. I ask that you click here for some excellent work done before the season from Rush The Court that includes more than just Tracy:
Tracy Smith (6th) – Sr, F – NC State. This is the season of great expectations in Raleigh as head coach Sidney Lowe has rounded up the nation’s fifth ranked recruiting class with power forward C.J. Leslie and guards Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow bringing plenty of excitement with them to campus. But it is Smith who is already the known entity here, and a very effective one as well. Smith averaged 16.5 PPG as a junior and did so in a consistent manner, failing to score in double figures just three times. He also pulled down over seven rebounds a night and was the team leader in a variety of other statistical categories, ranging from minutes played to fouls drawn to field goal percentage, a category in which he led the entire ACC. Smith is a 6’8, 255-pound beast, capable of overpowering defenders and dominating with his strength, but last season Smith proved himself to be more than just a power player, showing a capable face-up game, a set of polished post moves and some excellent footwork. In his senior season, with a significant infusion of talent on the Wolfpack roster, Smith should see fewer double-teams and better chances on the offensive end. His scoring average may not improve, since he’ll have to share touches with those more talented players (especially Leslie as his frontcourt running mate), but the already efficient Smith may prove even more adept at the offensive end. There are a couple areas where Smith needs to improve, however. First, while he is quite accomplished at using his skills to draw fouls and get to the line, he needs to continue to work on his stroke from the charity stripe. As a junior he improved to a 65% free-throw shooter (from just 59% as a sophomore), but given the rate at which he gets to the line, another little bump in accuracy could be huge. Second, while his 7.3 RPG ranked ninth in the ACC, Smith is capable of far more on the glass. While he was a monster early in the season (in his first 10 games he never failed to grab less than seven rebounds), he faded late, grabbing only ten total rebounds in the Pack’s final three games and never grabbing double-digit rebounds after January 23. Smith needs to be a double-double threat on a nightly basis, a role he is perfectly capable of playing. As the accomplished veteran on a young Wolfpack team that is trying to break its NCAA Tournament drought (they last received a tournament bid in 2006, the longest such drought in the ACC), Smith will need to be not only the go-to offensive player, but also a team leader, providing an example to the younger players of the hard work that is necessary to succeed, and there is no better place for him to begin that task than cleaning the glass on a regular basis.