The 25th-ranked NC State Wolfpack will be seeking our fourth consecutive victory tonight in the “Battle of the Block S” when the Stanford Cardinal visits PNC Arena for a 9pm game that will televised on ESPN2.
Tonight’s game gives NC State a chance to avenge a stinging loss from last season when Stanford came from 12 points behind with approximately 10 minutes to play for a 76-72 victory. In hindsight, had the Wolfpack pulled out the victory in Palo Alto in December there would’ve been a lot less concern regarding our invitation to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. (Link)
The Pack led by as much as 12 in the second half, but it saw its lead disappear and Stanford take control when C.J. Leslie exited the game with cramping issues at the 10 minute mark and Scott Wood fouled out with five minutes remaining in the contest. Leslie left the game with 14 points, shooting 6-for-8 from the field, including 1-for-1 from 3-point range, and 1-for-1 from the line.
Make no mistake about the importance of tonight’s game as the Wolfpack very much needs to continue improving and evolving from a start that has been a tad more rocky than we’d all originally hoped. Nonetheless, there is a HUGE difference between an 8-2 record and a 7-3 record at this point of the season (and with a 5-game stretch of schedule ahead where State will be favored in every game).
Tonight’s game serves as a ‘solidifying’ and ‘seeding’ opportunity for the Wolfpack. Do we deserve to move up in the Top 25 rankings? Will we have a claim to strong seeding when the NCAA Tournament rolls around in March? These are the types of questions that are positively impacted by winning games like tonight’s. As ranked by the RPI, NC State has played the 11th toughest schedule in the country to this point of the season, so playing another team that should end up in the Top 100 of the RPI certainly won’t do anything to diminish what we’re building. But, you can’t lose to ‘Top 100′ teams and hope to have a differentiated season.
Stanford’s visit to Raleigh has created some national attention for the Pack.
CBS‘ ‘Eye on College Basketball’ calls tonight’s match up the best college basketball game on the schedule and has this to share.
Both squads had struggles in mid-to-late November, but have each won three in a row and are looking for some momentum heading into the holidays. Stanford has been relying heavily on Dwight Powell and Chasson Randle for points, although injured guard Aaron Bright has returned for the past two games. NC State is getting plenty of balance and can score with the best of them, but turnovers have been an issue at times. In this one, Stanford has to limit NC State’s points in the paint, while NC State has to keep Stanford off the offensive glass.
NBC has chosen to focus on what the Wolfpack must improve upon to continue our (hopeful) evolvution into a “Top 10″ team from a “Top 25″ team this season.
Gotta have it list-topper: Defensive stops
NC State ranks 226th in the nation, giving up 68.3 points per game. Granted, that is in part due to their up-tempo pace and they put up 78.4 points per game themselves, but they’ll have to lock down defensively before the start of ACC play. With how impressive they have been offensively (Top 30 in scoring, nearly 40 percent from three-point range, best field-goal percentage in the country), working to get defensive stops turns NC State from a Sweet 16 contender to a team that can run deeper into March.
Gottfried doesn’t have a go-to shot blocker or enforcer in the paint, but Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie are both capable of denying or altering shots at the rim. On the perimeter, NC State ranks in the top half of the conference in steals, thanks in large part to guard Lorenzo Brown (2.3 steals per game).
Stocking stuffer: Cutting down on turnovers
It usually happens for everyone after the holiday season, hitting the gym and trimming some pounds off the waistline after they’ve accumulated from all that eggnog and pie. But for Mark Gottfried and his NC State Wolfpack, they’re trying to trim down on turnovers before the start of conference play after the New Year.
NC State turns the ball over 14 times per game, which ranks them in the bottom half of the ACC. Against teams like Duke, which turn the ball over much less, conference play will take a toll on them. The turnover number is in part because of pace, as well, but they don’t force turnovers particularly well, either, which leads to a low turnover margin.
Lastly, FoxSports’ Andrew Jones takes similar tact to our views in this entry (Link):
If North Carolina State has truly made progress over the last couple of weeks, it should show in Tuesday night’s home game with Stanford.
The Cardinal are the last team from a power conference the Wolfpack (6-2) will face before diving into an 18-game ACC schedule, so it’s important on several levels that Mark Gottfried’s nationally ranked team keeps moving the nose in the right direction.
Stanford’s best win so far is probably over Northern Iowa, which recently beat George Mason on the road, and the 7-3 Cardinal have fallen at home to Belmont and on neutral sites to Missouri and Minnesota. The defeats were close, and Stanford, which is coached by former Duke great Johnny Dawkins, has won three consecutive games. So it should go into PNC Arena with some confidence.
N.C. State can’t afford to go through funks that seemingly pop up in every home game, often a trickle-down effect courtesy of junior forward C.J. Leslie. If he plays with a purpose, N.C. State will win this game with relative ease. If he doesn’t, N.C. State can still win, especially if combo guard Lorenz Brown continues to play well and grow into the role of game-manager more.
This is a very important game for RPI purposes, confidence and more education against a quality foe with legitimate size and athletic ability.