Purdue & Manhattan: Wolfpack Basketball Week in Review

For NC State Basketball fans who do not live near Raleigh or have been able to attend a game this season, the two televised games of the last seven days have provided our first look at what should easily be Herb Sendek’s 9th, and best installment of Wolfpack Basketball.

I didn’t post anything after the Wolfpack’s sluggish 60-53 win over Purdue…so, this will focus on a consolidation and blend of comments from the Purdue victory and Sunday night’s 76-60 win over Manhattan .

– Against Purdue, the Pack’s offense struggled to get on rhythm and the cause was very easy to identify – quite simply, Engin Atsur, Tony Bethel, & Levi Watkins were a combined 1-15 from the 3 point line, missing many in the first half as the Pack attempted to pull away.

The first half of the Manhattan game didn’t provide much improvement. This triumverate was a combined 1 for 5 from behind the arc in the first half of the Manhattan game and struggled in the second half until Atsur hit two 3’s in the last two mintues of the Manhattan game. Excluding those meaningless 3’s, Atsur-Watkins-Bethel combined for 1 for 10 from the arc. Including Atsur’s late-game 3’s, these three are a combined is 4 for 27 in the last two games.

* With the strong play of Andrew Brackman and the Wolfpack’s talented depth, you have to wonder how long Levi Watkins continues to merit the amount of minutes that he has gotten the last couple of games when compared to his performance. Watkins has never been an exceptional defender, and his offense He looks horrible right now (as he just dribbled the ball off of his knee on a tentative move to the basket against Manhattan).

* Is Engin Atsur experiencing a sophomore slump? After a surprisingly solid freshmen season, Atsur has not looked particularly crisp in these couple of games – until the last 2 minutes of the Manhattan game.

Julius Hodge has improved his “scoring” ability. Historically, Hodge has been at his best when he puts together 40 minutes of a a solid game and earns his points over the natural course of the game. Against Purdue, Hodge exhibited an improved ability to decide that he wanted to score and deliver the points.

While we are talking about Julius, the popular notion is that Hodge may translate into a point guard at the next level. I’ll believe it when I see it. For three years I have been worried when JH attempts to break a press or juke a defender in the open court. From what we have seen this year, things haven’t improved all that much. Hodge had at least three horrible turnovers in the first half of the Manhattan game that included blatant strips by Manhattan defenders.

* What is the deal with Julius’ struggles from the free throw line this year? While going 1-5 from the line against Manhattan, Hodge is shooting around 60% for the year compared to almost 90% last season. As much has he has the ball in his hands, Hodge will need to regain his FT shooting form from last year to insure that the Pack avoids the kind of chokes that have plagued us in recent years.

– Some fans on the Pack Pride Message Boards used the term “underwhlemed” to decribe their first look at the Pack after the Purdue game. You can’t much argue with that depiction. I was feeling the same way 12 minutes into the Manhattan game when the Pack was down 7. But, the last 8 minutes of the first half looked good. State held serve in the second half without looking too good, or too bad.

– In the first half against Manhattan, the Wolfpack attacked the basket the best that I have seen in years. This team is the most secure in its decisions to attack and play offense without worry that Sendek has ever fielded. The experience and familiarity with the system that this team has is obvious.

– Speaking of things that feel different than in the past, when Purdue cut into the Pack’s lead in both the first half and then to four points with less than a minute to play, the Wolfpack did not seem to panic or crumble uunder pressure. Same with Manhattan’s early 7 point lead on Sunday night. Let’s hope that we see this same kind of poise in an ACC or other big game when it is needed.

– Everyone has to be impressed with Jordan Collins. The Purdue game was easily the best he has ever played. Collins ability to develop over the last 4 years is a testament to the Wolfpack coaching staff and also an example of why the litany of transfers from the NC State program over the last decade have been so hurtful. Not every player in the country is built to contribute in his first couple of years; but, by the time a decent player has been in a program for 4 years, odds are that they have developed to a point where they can contribute. Collins is a testament for coaches haveing patience, not running players out, and ultimately reaping the fruit of experience and development.

– State’s ball handling and offense was supposed to be ehanced by the arrival of Tony Bethel. Bethel flashed some offensive punch in the first half against Manhattan, but there hasn’t been much other than those 4 minutes.

Additionally, the Pack had 10 turnovers at halftime of the Manhattan game. Bethel didn’t have many (if any) of those…but, if we have a point guard that is supposedly a better ball handler than the rest of the team…then give him the damn ball and let’s cut down on the turnovers. Bethel’s spectacular play in the open floor in the 2nd half of the Manhattan game further underscores this point.

I love Julius, but if the ball is more than 30 feet from the basket, the ball should be in Tony Bethel’s hands more than Hodge’s.

– I hope that you were thankful over your Thanksgiving holiday for Ilian Evtimov. Remember how we all played the game of “what if” Philip Rivers had redshirted a year and had been around to be a part of this past year’s football program? Next year, Shoush’s knee injury of two years ago may be the equivalent. His experience and steadying influence is going to go a long way in the post-Hodge transition.

– It has been disappointing that Cedric Simmons didn’t play in either game. Andrew Brackman is obviously more prepared to contribute to the Pack’s front court needs at this point in the season than Simmons. Brackman looks superb in his time on the court and, if we were being fair, has significantly outplayed Levi Watkins over the last two games.

– Let’s keep these two victories in perspective. Neither of these opponents are very good, and the #13 team in the country should have beaten at least one of them more impressively than we did. Let’s keep rolling. The key for this team to differentiate itself from Sendek’s previous teams is to play well on the road at BYU and at Washington.

– Don’t look ahead, but the Pack could be on the way to 14-0 record and a Top 10 Ranking prior to the Duke game in Raleigh on January 13th.

General NCS Basketball

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