I’ve gotten a few emails from friends in the last 48 hours asking what I think of the Wolfpack’s chances to knock of #2 seeded Texas today. The only reason that anyone has asked…as if my opinion means two cents..is because (a) I have lived in Texas for the last five years and (b) because I make no secret of my respect for the job that Rick Barnes has done at Texas and that Billie Gillispie has done at Texas A&M.
So…here is a consolidation of what I shared…
If this State team and this Texas team played a series of 100 games, Texas would win 75 or more of them. But, the only thing that matters is today’s game. NCAA Tournament games are played differently than others. Unless the match-up is tremendously imbalanced, the nature of the game and the intensity surrounding it usually creates close games no matter what the situation.
I think that the primary keys to State’s ability to win today are pretty simple:
(1) The Wolfpack must have one of our blowout nights from the three point line. Of course, this is no secret recipe that any fool can’t figure out, but without the three point shot falling the Pack simply cannot match the Longhorns basket for basket.
(2) State will need the benefit of a key Longhorn getting in foul trouble. The athleticism and talent of the Longhorn’s starting five is going to spread State thin on defense. There will be mismatches that Texas can exploit. But, if PJ Tucker, Daniel Gibson, Brad Buckman, or LaMarcus Aldridge can be neutralized by some foul trouble then one of the Longhorn’s key advantages will be neutralized.
(3) Limit turnovers. Turnovers haven’t plagued the Wolfpack very much this season because of the ball handling skill and experience of Tony Bethel, Engin Atsur, and Cam Bennerman. But, the Pack has looked vulnerable to the press at times (throughout Herb Sendek’s tenure) and it wouldn’t surprise me to see some press to help the Longhorns force tempo some. This current Wolfpack squad has excelled when they have attacked the press head on; and looked horrible when they play tentative. Like everything, at this point it is about execution. State can’t play scared with the press hits them.
(4) Rebound. State is not a good rebounding team. Period. Texas’ size, athleticism, and tenacity could create big problems for the Pack on the boards. Cedric Simmons’ importance to the Wolfpack today will be most prominent on the boards. He has got to be a machine for us.
Laugh at this phrase with me. But, you understand what an “X Factor” is.
(1) Texas – PJ Tucker
This has nothing to do with State’s highly-publicized failure to recruit PJ Tucker from Enloe High School just down the street from campus. It has everything to do with match-ups.
Tucker is a great blend of size and versatility for which State has no counter. Perhaps Cameron Bennerman can match the athleticism, but he can’t match Tucker’s strength nor can he guard the versatile Tucker on the block. Do you remember what David Noel has done to State? And PJ Tucker is a much better complete player than David Noel.
(2) NC State – Ilian Evtimov / Andrew Brackman
Ilian Evtimov and Andrew Brackman have had little impact for the Wolfpack the last few weeks. Because of individual match-ups, the Pack must have Evtimov or Brackman get hot from the three point line. Most likely, Evtimov/Brackman will be matched-up against the more athletic and taller (than Evtimov) LaMarcus Aldridge.
On offense, State must be successful at pulling Aldridge away from the basket into defensive no-mans-land and cause him to struggle to keep up with the perimeter skills and shooting of Evtimov & Brackman.
(3) Texas’ Zone
Rick Barnes likes to employ a 2-3 zone more than most college coaches. It has been effective for him. On the surface, one would think that a three-point shooting team like the Wolfpack would salivate against the zone…but, because of State’s offensive system, we have been atrocious against zones since the first day of Herb Sendek’s arrival on campus.
This goes back to the key about shooting the three pointer — if we are hot then we will neutralize the Longhorn zone. If we are not, we will struggle even more mightily to score as we will not be able to get Cedric Simmons shots on the post nor will we be able to break free for lay-ups created by the not-Princeton offense.
* Position by position, the Longhorns starting five is significantly better than State’s. In particular, the Longhorns are much more athletic than most every team in the country — usually a problem for State.
* This will be Texas’ fifth consecutive game on this court in Dallas.
* Defensively, State will struggle to match-up with all of Texas’ athletic offensive fire-power. We will need our kids to play with the commitment and intensity quite different than the debacles against Seton Hall, Carolina, Wake Forest, and others. If Texas gets ahead and we look like we are rolling over then I can’t see us executing a big comeback.
* Texas is an 8 point favorite in Vegas.
* In games like these, I have to wonder how much one values competition through the year. Texas is 9-5 vs NCAA Tournament teams this season, tripling NC State’s three wins en route to comprising a 3-6 record vs NCAA Tournament teams.
I’m not going to make a prediction today because I don’t have a clue what to expect. But, maybe this will help you know what to potentially look for in today’s game.