My favorite scene in “The Godfather” is the opening scene when an old friend of Vito Corleone is begging the Don for revenge over a few college thugs that tried to rape his daughter. Vito’s response is epic:
What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? Had you come to me in friendship, then this scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And that by chance if an honest man such as yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies… and they would fear you.
And thus is the aura surrounding NC State these days. With the incoming of an apparently talented coach and recruiter, it’s hard to avoid getting wrapped up in the feeling that NC State might return to something not just “respectable”, but competitive and maybe even a little feared.
We have asked the Gottfather for help and now our enemies have become his enemies. Question remains: will we be feared or will we flop?
On the week of December 17th, NC State finds itself in a strangely familiar situation. Much like last year, the Wolfpack have faced several respectable teams with RPIs above 50, and have a record of 6-3. At this time last year, NC State was lined up to play Arizona, a game that would perhaps be the death-nail on the coffin that was the last remaining hopes in a Sidney Lowe revival. Gottfried similarly finds himself with the same record and looking forward to a game against Syracuse. Syracuse is currently ranked #1 in the nation as well as #3 in the RPI ratings. The only thing that makes the two situations different from a scheduling perspective is that ‘Zona had lost to two teams last year prior to meeting the Pack while Syracuse is currently 9-0.
How we ‘arrove’ at our 6-3 record was very different last year, however, than it is this year. Last year, we averaged only 63 PPG against teams with top 50 RPI ratings, 9 games into the season. Similarly, we were losing, on average, by 12 points to those top 50 teams. This year we have cut that average loss margin down to 8 against top opponents and are beating our opponents in the top 150 (last season at this point, we were losing to an average top 150 RPI opponent by more than 6 points).
At this point in the season, RPI ratings are very immature and subject to change, but it’s worth noting that last season we had 3 opponents with ratings around 300 (USC-Upstate, Youngstown St, and Fairleigh Dickinson, whatever the Hell that is… ). This season, NCCU has been the “worst” team we’ve played with a current RPI of 270. The average RPI rating of our opponents that this point is approximately 117 compared to last seasons 131.
The bottom line is that while the Wolfpack find themselves in a similar situation as last season at this particular date, in terms of scheduling and their current record, it’s obvious that we are posting far more points and playing a tougher schedule than we did last year prior to going into the ‘Zona game. Good thing, too, since we will be facing a much tougher opponent on Saturday.
The bad news is that we are also allowing more points. This was probably expected due to Gottfried’s style of gameplay… which is offense, offense, and more offense. That’s not to say NC State hasn’t seen massive defensive improvement on a player-by-player level, but when more shots are physically getting fired, the other team will score more points. Note the difference between last year’s scores compared to this year’s scores in the graphics below (expressed in relationship to opponent’s RPI).
Last year, we did a better job taking care of the scrub teams on our schedule (average margin of victory was 15 points in 2010-2011 and only 12 points in 2011-2012 for teams with RPI ratings above 150), but Wolfpack fans seem to be content… for now… not posting 40 points against NCCU if it means we are beating teams like Texas…
…especially only one season after finishing in a 4-way tie for 8th place in the ACC.
IMMEDIATE PLAYER IMPACTS
One major criticism of the last coaching regime was the lack of player development. Basic concepts like ball handling and passing were woefully horrible under Sidney Lowe. I thought it would be interesting to see how our players have improved in the short OOC season the Wolfpack has played thus far.
(Before I get into this, I should note that many of these averages may change, and perhaps radically. Still, the numbers show a significant improvement over what we saw last year, at least 9 games into the season.)
For the sake of not belaboring the point more than it needs to be, we will focus on points per game (PPG), assists per game (APG), and steals & blocks which we will look at together to make a generic defensive point. We’ve already talked about the ability of this squad to score more than previous years. The data supports it.
What is interesting is the improvement in our seniors, which is essentially just CJ Williams and to a much lesser extent Kendall Smith, as well as the increased improvement in our juniors. You can expect a group of players to improve as their experience increases, but in the case of our juniors, it appears that Coach Gottfried has increased these kid’s ability to produce points. Ironic since our shooting percentages have been…. less than inspiring. When we take a closer look at our scoring juniors, Painter, Howell, and Wood, we can see this increased rate of improvement.
I left Vandenberg off this graphic because he is a much, much lower scorer than the rest of the Pack, but I should note his scoring has improved from 1PPG his freshmen year to 1.6PPG last year to 2.0PPG this year.
It wasn’t that long ago that many of us on this site and elsewhere were making jokes that “CJ Leslie never sees a bad shot he doesn’t like”. Well, that has completely changed and it shows that we owe Calvin a bit of an apology. Gottfried’s ability to move the ball around the court has resulted in a much higher paced and higher scoring offense.
But offense isn’t everything. Defensively, the Pack has improved considerably as well. Divided by class, we get…
With the exception of our junior class’s “steals” stat, we see marked improvement. Again, much of the improvement in the senior class is due to CJ Williams really stepping up to the plate to become a contributor.
CONCLUSIONS (if you need one…)
We’re better than we were last year. If it doesn’t sound like anything to get excited over, consider that we have a brand new coach implementing a completely different program (from the offensive style to the training regimen). Also consider that last year in the games we lost, we averaged under 60 points per game. This year, against our “tough” opponents, we are still managing to hang up 75 PPG and Gottfried continues coaching down to the last few seconds, believing there is still a chance to turn it around.
There are a lot of reasons to be excited. Does this mean we’ll win the ACC Championship this year? Reality check: we are still the same team that tied for 8th in the conference last season. If anyone thinks we’re not going to lose some games, they’re crazy. HOWEVER, there is a chance, more than a good one perhaps, that we can really shock some people. If we play our cards right, we can probably make some good enemies together with the Gottfather at the head of the family.