This basketball season has had a lot of peaks and valleys. We started out the year with a preseason top ten ranking, were predicted to win the ACC and Leslie was the leading candidate for ACC player of the year. All of this hype was generated by the Pack’s amazing Sweet Sixteen run along with the addition of three McDonald’s All Americans. We lost badly to Oklahoma State in the Puerto Rican tournament and then did well in a loss to highly ranked Michigan. We beat both Duke and UNC but lost to Wake. Brown gets hurt and we lose three straight but the injury gives Lewis an opportunity and he performs better than even the most optimistic of us thought he would. Brown returns and we have won 6 of our last 7 games with a chance to finish 4th in the ACC.
So the question becomes were the initial expectations realistic? I thought coming into the season we could be a top ten team but were not there yet. There were a lot of things our team needed to improve on, one of the key being leadership. Johnson and Williams were great leaders and none of the current players seem to have that ability. Howell does a great job of leading by example but none of the other upperclassmen are vocal leaders. Another thing the team lacked was defense. Whether they did not know how or did not think they needed to, they did not play good defense at the beginning of the year. The same can be said for rebounding and playing with constant intensity. Let’s talk about the individual players.
Is there a player who has improved more than Howell? He reshaped his body, learned how to play defense without fouling and has thrived in the high post offense. Not only does he sport the best beard in college basketball, he also out hustles everyone. He worked his way unto the All ACC first team. He is the best player on the team. He has exceeded my expectations this year.
Wood is an elite shooter. When he has an open shot he rarely misses (at least at home). The problem is he rarely gets open and he has never developed a pump fake. As an aside, how can you not develop a pump fake? My 8 year old can do a pump fake. Which highlights my biggest problem with Wood, he is essentially the same player now as he was a freshman. He is a great shooter but is lacking in most other areas. I am very glad he is on our team but he has not improved like I thought he would.
He had a rough start to the year. His shot was not working and he was getting beat on defense. Since his injury he has been very good. His speed on the break and passing ability allow us to get a lot of easy buckets. But he also scores well in the half-court offense and has really picked up his defense. He is now playing how I expected him to play.
The question every game is “Will it be Calvin or CJ?” He is so athletically gifted but so lacking in fundamentals it is frustrating. It is not a case of effort. I have rarely seen a lack of effort from him. I think he is actually trying TOO hard. There was an early game in which he was getting double teamed but was able to still score and after the game Leslie said something to the effect of “coach wants me play through the double team”. And since that time he has tried to do that. The thing is, if he would kick the ball back out, it would both ease the double team as well give the guards open shots. He is willing to pass but he only passes to players near the basket. He never looks back out. His footwork is pretty bad as well which leads to way too many travelling calls. I love Calvin and am glad he is a Pack player but he has definitely not lived up to expectations.
Rodney has struggled this year. He has hit the three point shot with regularity but has not been able to finish his drives. I cannot figure out why as he is strong and athletic enough to do so and his free throws, well, let’s not talk about his free throws. Rodney has not been as good as I had hoped he would be but I think he is the future leader of this team. He has an infectious smile and has shown the propensity to be the vocal leader we will need.
“Buckets” has been the most pleasant surprise of this year. I watched him play 5 games in high school and every time I would look at that ugly shot and shake my head, but he would keep scoring and scoring and scoring. Surprisingly that ability continued right into college. He has an innate ability to get to the open spot and score. His has excellent body control which allows him to finish tough shots while rarely getting called for a charge. He has been more than I could have ever hoped.
Tyler came into the program with a lot of fanfare but struggled early on adjusting to the size and speed of the college game. When Zo was injured and he took over the team he came alive. He has that heady, “old man” game that drives other players and fans nuts. One play sums it up for me, in the Miami game Reggie Johnson hedged out on a pick at the top of the key. As Johnson turned around to run back to his man, Lewis noticed this and actually used Johnson as a pick to start driving the lane. He will be hated by the rest of the ACC by the time he leaves and that is a huge compliment. His emergence gives us a solid seven man rotation. His current play is about what I expected from him.
I do not like to beat someone when they are down so I will simply say he has not played as well as I expected. I hope he can improve enough to make some impact his senior year.
This team is now capable of making good runs in both the ACC and the NCAA tournaments. They have made constant improvement throughout the year.Their rebounding and defense, while not earth shattering is good enough and given the potent offense that is all it has to be. Whether they will or not is up to one person, Leslie. This team needs him to play hard and smart in order to win against great teams.
Now back to the original question “Has this season been a disappointment?” I think that answer depends on your expectations for this year. If you bought into the preseason hype you are probably upset. I am not. I have seen consistent and constant team improvement. I have seen a fun team who is a blast to watch. I have seen a team who can still do something special and I think that is about all you can ask for. If two years ago someone told you NCSU would be ranked most of the year, beat both Duke and UNC, get into the NCAA tournament without being on the bubble, have three top ranked recruiting classes including at least four McD’s AAs and have one of the top offenses in the NCAA what would you have said? I know I would be giddy with excitement. I do not believe this is a “peak year”. Miami is having a good year but they are having a once in a lifetime experience. With the talent we have in the pipeline I expect many more years of this type of enjoyment.