NC STATE BASKETBALL
Thereâ€™s something missing from N.C. Stateâ€™s basketball team and has been for the past two games.
Turnovers have hurt, coach Mark Gottfried said, and the execution on offense needs to be better as does the teamâ€™s post defense. But more than any specific on-court problem, thereâ€™s a more nebulous concern for the second-year coach.
“Weâ€™re going to play and weâ€™re going to play hard but weâ€™ve got to get our groove back,” Gottfried said. “Weâ€™ve lost our groove a little bit.”
After the 82-80 win over Asheville last Friday, Gottfried questioned his teamâ€™s chemistry. He expanded on the topic on Monday, clarifying he didnâ€™t think jealousy was the root of the teamâ€™s problems, rather the adjustment between the four veteran players and three new freshmen.
“We use the term chemistry a lot,” Gottfried said. “What is chemistry sometimes? Chemistry is getting a group of guys to completely give to the team first. Then you usually end up with good chemistry.”
Other than grooves or chemistry, the biggest problem for N.C. State has been taking care of the ball, Gottfried said. The Wolfpack had 19 turnovers against Asheville and 12 against Oklahoma State.
Junior point guard Lorenzo Brown has 12 turnovers, to five assists, the past two games. In 37 games last season, Brown had 234 assists to 118 turnovers.
“Turnovers have killed us,” Gottfried said. “We have to handle the ball better and it starts with Lorenzo. He has to be better.”
No 3 Michigan (5-0) vs. No. 18 NC State (4-1)
SERIES RECORD: 3-2, NC State leads
LAST MEETING: 74-67 NC State at PNC Arena (11/27/2006)
PxP: Mike Tirico Color: Dan Dakich
No. 18 NC State gets its first true road test of the season on Tuesday when it travels to third-ranked Michigan for the 2012 ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
This is the third time the two programs have met in the event, with each holding a home victory. The Wolverines won the first meeting, 68-61, in 2003 in Ann Arbor, Mich., while the Pack posted a 74-67 win in Raleigh in 2006. Overall, NC State leads the series, which dates back to the 1949-50 season, 3-2.
NC State is looking to snap a four-game losing streak in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Ironically, the Pack’s last win was its 2006 victory over the Wolverines. NC State’s record in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge is 5-7 with a 4-2 home record and a 1-5 mark on the road. The Wolfpack’s only road win was at Purdue, 61-59, in the inaugural event in 1999.
Andrew Jones (FoxSports)
Despite win, No. 16 NC State still needs a leader
North Carolina State needs leadership. Richard Howell said so.
And he’s right. The Wolfpack has all of the tools in the shed to develop into an outstanding team that sticks around for a while in the NCAA Tournament, but it isn’t going to happen if this club doesn’t identify a capable leader, soon.
That was apparent in NC State’s 20-point loss to Oklahoma State last Sunday and again Friday night at home in an 82-80 victory over UNC Asheville. Friday’s performance was more perplexing than last week’s because of the opponent and how one would have expected the Pack to come out and play.
Second-year coach Mark Gottfried said it would have been easy to expect to “blow ’em out of here right from the get-go,” but that wasn’t the case. He believes his team was wound too tight, though their nonchalant ball handling and passing, laissez-faire defensive effort, and overall body language for most of the first 34 minutes of the game told a different story.
It spoke of a team with a disposition not geared toward success. And NC State, which made a run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last March, looked like a team resting on its laurels.
“I just told my team it was about heart; it was gut-check time,” said Howell, who had 23 points and 15 rebounds. “It all depended on who wanted it, and whoever wanted it was going to get it. I told my team they wanted it, I wanted it so we out there and played hard. I thought like we should have played that way from the beginning.”
Why wasn’t it, especially given State’s performance in the loss to Oklahoma State? And why was it needed considering the program’s expectations of finally leaping neighborhood rivals and national powers Duke and North Carolina? And why for a program in which its slogan is “Our State,” which is what their pregame video is all about?
Maybe that silly video represents part of the problem here: NC State used it to take a swipe at UNC’s football team in the summer because it had won five straight in the series. But overall, State was 3-30 against UNC in sports last school year, including two losses in basketball.
Maybe in some respects the cart was put before the horse, and that mentality must change.
Junior point guard Lorenzo Brown was asked why there was no blowout as expected.
“That was our intent coming into this game, but I guess it didn’t go that way,” he said, looking down, almost dumbfounded.
“Honestly, at the beginning of the season I would say we didn’t have one,” when asked to identify the team’s leader. “I felt like everybody could step up and everybody could speak their mind. But as we get more into the season and I feel like we do need a leader and I am that person.
“I’m starting to build leadership roles and starting talk to that about coach â€¦ and that’s something that we need.”
“Richard is emerging right now as somebody that wants to win bad, and you could see it tonight in how he played,” Gottfried said. “He wanted to win, and that’s what leaders have. They have a competitive spirit that you want to follow. And if you don’t have that competitive spirit nobody wants to follow you, so you can’t be a leader. So he emerged tonight in that role.”
Gottfired: We have to play better
NC State head basketball coach Mark Gottfried repeated multiple times in his press conference Monday that his team has the talent but they have to play better as a unit if they are going to be successful.
Dylan Burkhardt (UMHoops.com)
Five (too early) statistical takeaways through five games
Itâ€™s too early to draw any real conclusions after five games, but itâ€™s safe enough to start to observe a few trends. Michigan has looked very good, good enough to move its Ken Pomeroy rating up from 12th to 6th. The Wolverines rank 4th in offensive efficiency and 15th in defensive efficiency thus far and have impressed against both mid-major and high-major competition alike. Hereâ€™s a look at five statistical observations, both on a team and individual level, through five games.
1. Inside upgrade quantified
Michiganâ€™s upgraded talent, size and athleticism inside (and even on the wings) has been well documented. The question was whether a John Beilein-led team could begin to excel in areas where his previous teams simply havenâ€™t. Through the first couple weeks of the season, it appears that Michigan is ready to adapt.
Michigan is the third best defensive rebounding team in the country, grabbing 81.1% of its opponentsâ€™ missed shots. The Wolverines are also doing a great job defending twos, holding opponents to 40.1% shooting inside the arc, but most importantly while avoiding foul trouble. Michiganâ€™s free throw rate (FTA/FGA) allowed is a NCAA-best 16.8%.
Those numbers are especially impressive given that Michigan has played Pittsburgh and Kansas State. Pittsburgh is the nationâ€™s fifth best 2-point shooting team and has rebounded over 40 percent of its misses against every team other than Michigan, when it only grabbed 18 percent. Kansas State isnâ€™t a great shooting team but is the nationâ€™s sixth best offensive rebounding team, grabbing over 40 percent of its misses against five other foes before just 27 percent against Michigan.
The Wolverines arenâ€™t just beating up on the mid- and low-majors of the world (although they did that too), theyâ€™ve been able to impose their will against larger, more athletic and physical, teams.
5. The Beilein Break
Michigan isnâ€™t going to be mistaken as a completely uptempo team anytime soon. The Wolverines are still averaging 62.4 possessions per game this season, 326th in the country. But that doesnâ€™t mean you wonâ€™t continue to hear opposing coaches praise Michiganâ€™s transition game.
The transition game has stemmed more from defensive rebounding than creating turnovers. Michigan has forced turnovers on just 14.3% of opponentsâ€™ possessions â€“ the worst forced turnover rate among high-major programs this season. Using data from Hoop-Math.com, 15% of Michiganâ€™s initial shots on offensive possessions come within the first 10 seconds of the shotclock after a rebound. Michiganâ€™s effective field goal percentage in those situations is a stellar 62%.
There have been some signs of struggle in the half court offense and those numbers are also relevant when breaking down Michiganâ€™s offense. 47% of Michiganâ€™s offensive possessions come after an opponent made shot and between 11 and 35 seconds into the shotclock. The Wolverines have a still productive but noticeably lower effective field goal percentage of 51% in those situations.
David Goricki (The Detroit News)
Michigan, coach John Beilein eager to measure progress
Beilein is thrilled to have Tim Hardaway Jr. back in the lineup. Hardaway was named the NIT Tip-Off Most Outstanding Player after his 23-point, seven-rebound effort in the title game, when he made 10 of 15 shots. He had a scare in the final minutes when a K-State player’s knee hit his head, leaving him wobbly.
“He’s fine,” Beilein said. “He practiced yesterday and he’s fine.”
Hardaway is averaging 18.2 points and 6.8 rebounds. Burke, who also earned a spot on the NIT Tip-Off all-tournament team, is averaging 16.4 points and seven assists.
Michigan has outstanding freshmen as well, led by 6-6 forward Glenn Robinson III, 6-6 guard Nik Stauskas and 6-10, 250-pound forward Mitch McGary.
Robinson has played strong defense. Stauskas, the Big Ten’s freshman of the week, is averaging 11.6 points and is 10-of-17 on 3-pointers.
Stauskas is looking forward to the challenge of playing against N.C. State’s talented backcourt.
“They’re really athletic and their guards are quick,” Stauskas said. “I think they have the No. 1 backcourt in the country; that’s how ESPN ranked them. So definitely keeping their guards out of the lane and rebounding the ball is something we’re going to have to do.”
N.C. State at Michigan
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m., Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 18 N.C. State is 4-1, No. 3 Michigan 5-0
Outlook: The game promises a terrific matchup between U-Mâ€™s talented backcourt and North Carolina Stateâ€™s Lorenzo Brown and Tyler Lewis , called the best in the land.
Facing the ACC
Schedule of games in this yearâ€™s ACC-Big Ten Challenge:
Iowa at Virginia Tech, 7:15 (ESPNU)
Minnesota at Florida State, 7:15 (ESPN2)
N.C. State at Michigan, 7:30 (ESPN)
Nebraska at Wake Forest, 9:15 (ESPNU)
Maryland at Northwestern, 9:15 (ESPN2)
North Carolina at Indiana, 9:30 (ESPN)
Virginia at Wisconsin, 7 (ESPN2)
Purdue at Clemson, 7:15 (ESPNU)
Michigan State at Miami, 7:30 (ESPN)
Georgia Tech at Illinois, 9 (ESPN2)
Boston College at Penn State, 9:15 (ESPNU)
Ohio State at Duke, 9:30 (ESPN)
Andrew Carter (N&O)
ACC set for basketballâ€™s Big Ten Challenge
For the first time, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will feature three games between teams that on Sunday were ranked among the top 16 nationally in the Associated Press top 25. No. 16 N.C. State plays at No. 4 Michigan on Tuesday, the same night No. 9 UNC plays at top-ranked Indiana.
On Wednesday, No. 3 Ohio State visits No. 5 Duke, which is certain to ascend in the rankings after its 76-71 victory against Louisville in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge has produce no shortage of compelling games, but the storylines of the marquee games have perhaps never been richer.
After losing against Oklahoma State and narrowly defeating UNC-Asheville, N.C. State can prove its legitimacy with a strong performance at Michigan. At Indiana, UNC will play against Cody Zeller, a player of the year candidate who is the little brother of Tyler Zeller, the Tar Heelsâ€™ former center who won ACC Player of the Year honors a season ago.
And Dukeâ€™s Cameron Indoor Stadium on Wednesday night could host two of the top three teams in the nation after the new polls come out Monday.
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge, then, will provide ACC teams â€“ especially the Tar Heels and Wolfpack â€“ with a chance to redeem themselves after some puzzling early-season performances.
â€œI donâ€™t think the conference has anything to prove, but the teams do,â€ Davis said. â€œN.C. State is a great example. N.C. State, theyâ€™re not playing for the ACC. Theyâ€™ve got problems. They got embarrassed by Oklahoma State, they were lucky to beat UNC-Asheville at home.â€
Davis recalled a conversation he shared with Mark Gottfried, the N.C. State coach, before the season began. Gottfried said then, as he has many times in recent weeks and months, that the expectations that surrounded the Wolfpack would be neither a burden nor a distraction.
After a surprising run to the Sweet 16 a season ago, the return of C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown and the addition of a highly-regarded recruiting class, the Wolfpack began the season surrounded by their grandest expectations since in more than two decades.
â€œI think itâ€™s affecting them,â€ Davis said. â€œI think itâ€™s more an individual team. I think thatâ€™s a big enough problem without having to carry the mantle for an entire league.â€
Bret Strelow (FayObserver.com)
1980s powerhouses tip off ACC/Big Ten Challenge
They combined for five national championships in the 1980s. North Carolina has won three more since then, but N.C. State, Indiana and Michigan have been shut out.
Tonight, all four are ranked as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge begins, with No. 18 N.C. State (4-1) on the road at No. 3 Michigan (5-0) at 7:30, and No. 1 Indiana (5-0) playing host to No. 14 UNC (5-1) at 9:30.
It wasn’t an easy climb back to prominence, even for the Tar Heels. Head coaches Roy Williams, Mark Gottfried, Tom Crean and John Beilein entered difficult predicaments with pressure from demanding fan bases to rebuild their programs.
Here’s a breakdown of how the Tar Heels, Wolfpack, Hoosiers and Wolverines rebounded. All four schools missed the NCAA tournament as recently as 2010, but each one has been ranked in the top 10 this season.
’80s hits: Defeated Seton Hall in the ’89 championship game
Rough times ahead: Led by the “Fab Five,” Michigan reached the NCAA tournament final in 1992 and 1993, but coach Steve Fisher was fired four years later after an investigation into booster Ed Martin’s relationship with the program cited three NCAA violations. In 2002, Michigan imposed its own sanctions, vacating 114 games over six seasons, removing commemorative banners and withdrawing from postseason consideration in 2002-03. The NCAA accepted the penalties and additionally placed the school on probation until 2006. In 2007, sixth-year coach Tommy Amaker was seeking his first NCAA tournament berth, but the Wolverines blew a six-point lead with less than four minutes left in their regular-season finale against No. 1 Ohio State. Michigan lost 65-61, and Amaker was fired two days after his team was eliminated from the NIT. The Ohio State game “was a crushing loss for a fan base that had been waiting for that watershed moment to put the past 10 years in their rearview mirror,” a long-time Michigan fan told the Observer.
Stabilizing force: A week after coaching West Virginia to the 2007 NIT title, John Beilein took over at Michigan.
Early returns: Beilein went 10-22 in his first season and led Michigan back to the NCAA tournament in 2009. The next year, Ohio State’s Evan Turner drilled a 37-foot buzzer-beater to win a Big Ten tournament game and close a 15-17 season for the Wolverines.
Turning point: Patience was running thin in 2011 with Michigan on a six-game losing streak, but it pulled off a 61-57 upset at No. 25 Michigan State to give the school its first basketball or football win over the Spartans in 1,181 days. The Wolverines finished the regular season on an 8-3 run and routed Tennessee by 30 points in the NCAA tournament before falling 73-71 to Duke.
Present-day outlook: Led by point guard Trey Burke and two 6-foot-6 wings with famous dads (Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III), the unbeaten and efficient Wolverines are averaging 81.2 points per game on 53.5-percent shooting from the field.
’80s hit: Defeated Houston in the 1983 title game
Rough times ahead: Following the release of “Personal Fouls,” N.C. State was placed on two years’ probation and barred from postseason play in 1990 because of NCAA rules violations. Jim Valvano resigned as coach after the 1990 season, and Les Robinson coached the Wolfpack to an NCAA tournament victory in his first year, but N.C. State didn’t return there until 2002. Herb Sendek took five straight teams to the tournament, yet Wolfpack fans weren’t thrilled with his style or lack of success against rivals UNC and Duke. He resigned in 2006, and Sidney Lowe didn’t make any NCAA appearances in five seasons at his alma mater.
Stabilizing force: Last year, athletics director Debbie Yow surprised many people by bringing in former Alabama coach and ESPN analyst Mark Gottfried, who was a freshman at Oral Roberts in the early 1980s when he dated Margie Jackson, one of Yow’s players.
Early returns: The Wolfpack squandered opportunities during the non-conference portion of its 2011-12 schedule but tied for fourth place in the ACC and reached the Sweet 16. By reaching the NCAA tournament, Gottfried received an automatic two-year extension to a contract that now runs through 2018.
Turning points: Before he coached a game in Raleigh, Gottfried received a commitment from local standout Rodney Purvis. The Wolfpack signed three prep seniors with in-state ties, and all three were picked to participate in the McDonald’s All-American Game. Capitalizing on a year in which the state had elite-level talent, Gottfried’s staff has used that momentum to expand its recruiting base and become a player for top prospects all over the country. Making the NCAA tournament, and doing it dramatically as the last team added to the bracket, also increased the program’s exposure.
Present-day outlook: N.C. State entered this season as the ACC favorite with a No. 6 national ranking, its highest starting point since being No. 1 following the 1974 national championship. A 20-point loss to Oklahoma State and two-point home win against UNC-Asheville have curtailed some of the hype.
Mike DeCourcy (Sporting News)
Week ahead: N.C. State-Michigan, North Carolina-Indiana kick off challenge
Given that a significant member of the Atlantic Coast Conference recently pledged its allegiance to the Big Ten, weâ€™re pretty far past the point of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge having anything to do with conference pride.
(Really, now, how can there be any argument about conference superiority when one league walks into the otherâ€™s neighborhood and walks away with one of its prime members?)
Itâ€™s really about numbers now. Every result on one side of the ledger or the other pumps up this seasonâ€™s profile and conference RPI for the winner, and that means more NCAA Tournament bids and higher seeds for those included.
North Carolina State (4-1) at Michigan (5-0), Tuesday 7:30 p.m., ESPN. It would have been nice if the Wolfpack cooperated by not getting slaughtered by a developing Oklahoma State team, but Iâ€™m relishing any chance this winter to spend a couple hours with Glenn Robinson.
North Carolina (5-1) at Indiana (5-0), Tuesday 9:30, ESPN. The Tar Heels already have been waxed by what might be the state of Indianaâ€™s third-best team. But that dreadful loss to Butler could provide the impetus for an inspired Heels performance, and the Hoosiers still are feeling their way toward greatness.
Ohio State (4-0) at Duke (6-0), Wednesday 9:30, ESPN. The Buckeyesâ€™ decision to play it safe with solid veteran Evan Ravenel at center rather than shot-blocking sophomore Amir Williams seems to have taken some of the juice out of their start. And the Devils are going to want to make a statement in response to last yearâ€™s 22-point beatdown in Columbus.
Minnesota (6-1) at Florida State (4-1), Tuesday 7:15, ESPN2. Since their opening night bomb against South Alabama, the Seminoles have handled some quality teams (BYU, Saint Josephâ€™s). They appear determined to act as though they started the season one night late.
Maryland (4-1) at Northwestern (6-0), Tuesday 9:15, ESPN2. There may be no team in this challenge week confronting a greater opportunity than the Wildcats, who get a home game against a tournament-quality team to fortify a solid start. With the infusion of big men not quite taking, though, theyâ€™ll have a devil of a time coping with the Terpsâ€™ exceptional 7-footer, Alex Len.
Iowa (5-1) at Virginia Tech (5-0), Tuesday 7:15, ESPNU. Anyone else thinking about how much more buzz thereâ€™d be about the Hokies if they had Montrezl Harrell in the frontcourt and Seth Greenberg on the bench? Winning this one might get us all talking less about what might have been.
Michigan State (4-1) at Miami (3-1), Wednesday 7:30, ESPN. This game might have been worthy of more respect if the Hurricanes hadnâ€™t managed to drop one to Florida Gulf Coast and the Spartans werenâ€™t trying to get by without scoring star Gary Harris.
Georgia Tech (3-1) at Illinois (6-0), Wednesday 9, ESPN2. The Jackets couldnâ€™t run effective offense against Cal in the quiet of the DirecTV Classic. How will they fair against the commotion of the Orange Crush?
Eamonn Brennan (ESPN.com)
Poll Thoughts: See you, UCLA
College hoops polls might be inconsequential noise, but that doesn’t make the arguments any less fun. In that spirit, I present the creatively named Poll Thoughts, which you can expect every Monday until the season is over.
Since we started Poll Thoughts, I’ve spent a lot of time making fun of the coaches poll. This is not hard to do. We can safely assume most coaches don’t really spend all that much time worrying about their ballot; it is a notorious joke. But the Associated Press poll deserves nearly as much scorn, because I’m pretty sure there are a ton of AP poll voters who don’t really pay all that much attention to college basketball.
Associated Press poll voters: Please pay more attention to basketball!
â€¢ This goes for North Carolina, too. Perhaps it makes sense that UNC didn’t fall all the way out of the poll — at least the Tar Heels have been good on a per-possession basis, and have a road win at Long Beach State, and have stomped on teams they’re supposed to beat badly — but last week’s 82-71 loss to Butler in Maui was hardly impressive. The young Tar Heels were thoroughly schooled by Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs, especially in a blowout second half, and it took a ferocious comeback (in which Butler never really lost control of the game) for North Carolina to make the final score look remotely respectable. Even then, it was deceptive. UNC didn’t guard anyone, didn’t have any clue how to get offense in the half court, and just generally looked like the type of team that is going to blow out the Chaminades of the world based on sheer talent alone, but will run into serious trouble when facing remotely competent foes. And for all this, they fell a grand total of … five spots. Maybe I’m being harsh, but that seems too few to me.
â€¢ I have no problem with the top 10 to 12 spots of the poll. I can understand the Duke-as-No. 1 movement, considering the number of quality opponents Duke has already beaten, but it’s impossible for me to unseat a No. 1-ranked team that a) hasn’t lost and b) is solidly ranked No. 1 in adjusted efficiency. Gonzaga probably deserves to rank higher, but oh well.
â€¢ NC State basically stayed where it was, thanks to its 82-80 survival of UNC-Asheville. I did not rank them in my power rankings last week or this week. Maybe I am just more ready to abandon preseason expectations than most, I don’t know. But I struggle to understand why they should be included and not, say, Pittsburgh.
Joe Ovies (WRALSportsfan.com)
When to worry and when not to worry
When not to worry? Losing college basketball games in November.
NC State and North Carolina are back on the mainland after dealing with separate island setbacks. The Wolfpack looked more interested in their post tournament Puerto Rican lechÃ³n than they did playing Oklahoma State on Sunday, while North Carolina never recovered from an early punch to the gut from Butler in Hawaii.
Each loss raised red flags of varying severity, but the stakes of November basketball are of slightly less import. It’s unfortunate both the Pack and the Heels return from their holiday invitationals empty handed, but the only consequence suffered at this point is a few spots in the early rankings. It’s foolish to judge either team beyond the immediate quick fixes.
North Carolina is a work in progress with a variety of players learning to execute their new roles, so the key takeaway from their trip to Maui was how they shook off the loss and dominated Chaminade in the consolation game. Now the Tar Heels will get another developmental look-in when they travel to top-ranked Indiana. It’s a contest not many expect the Heels to win, but there is an expectation for North Carolina to assert themselves better than they did against Butler.
While the “don’t freak out, it’s November” mode of thinking still applies to the Wolfpack, their loss to Oklahoma State raised a few more eyebrows because guys were either oddly quiet or fell into bad habits from last season. Lorenzo Brown, CJ Leslie, Scott Wood and Richard Howell combined to score 20 points.
It’s important to remember NC State was a team that spent most of last season learning how to finish games and didn’t put it together until a condensed period of time in March. Most, if not all, of the hype going into this season was based on that window. Now they’re expected to look like that all the time, even if Mark Gottfried has correctly pointed out his team has ways to go in the different grind of the regular season. The Wolfpack get an opportunity to bounce back Friday night against UNC Asheville, but the real test arrives Tuesday against Michigan.
If last season was a gradual progression to playing good basketball at the right time, this season should be about NC State playing at that level against equally talented teams regardless of when the games are in the calendar.
Eric Bossi (Rivals.com)
Sophomores star on Saturday at Hoopfest
Thomas stacking offers
While McClure was making his case on one end of the floor, Thomas was making his case on the other for Rockwall. As it turns out, the 6-foot-8 sophomore was making a pretty convincing one.
A low-post scorer with an advanced feel for the game, Thomas has significant game on the low block. You wouldn’t classify him as a high flyer, but he’s got great hands, a soft touch and a great understanding of how to use his body. In particular, Thomas is great at using his broad shoulders to gain separation and space from defenders before spinning to either his right or left for jump hooks and finishes off the glass.
“Coach (Rob) McQuaid of my AAU team has really worked with me on my post play,” Thomas told Rivals.com. “He’s taught us all a lot, and we work out with him a lot in the summer and then every Sunday during the season.”
While many young post players are in a hurry to show that they can step out and play on the perimeter, Thomas has a great understanding of his strengths. He knows that he can get buckets around the rim, so he does what comes naturally and knows the face-up aspects of his game will show with time.
“I don’t really worry about facing up until I need to do it,” Thomas said. “I’m working on it, but I don’t have to show it just yet because I’m successful down low.”
Saturday night, Thomas earned his latest offer from N.C. State after head coach Mark Gottfried watched his performance. The N.C. State offer is added to a group that includes Baylor, Illinois, Texas A&M, California, Oklahoma, SMU, UMass, TCU and North Texas.
“It’s all right, pretty cool,” Thomas said of having so many early offers. “I’m just focused on trying to get better and better and working harder on my game.”
More Saturday notes
Five-star Julius Randle went down with a foot injury midway through the second quarter for Plano (Texas) Prestonwood. Still, Prestonwood kept things close with Duncanville thanks to the play of senior point guard Marquan Botley. The 5-foot-9 floor general has speed to burn, and he was outstanding both days in using it to get into the lane and finish. Schools across the country are desperate to find point guard play, and Botley looks like a good option for mid-level programs.
Eric Bossi (Rivals.com)
Randle shows off at Hoopfest
On Friday, the nation’s No. 2 player Julius Randle, reminded everybody of just how good he can be, while some of Dallas’ next stars, such as Austin Grandstaff and Terrance Ferguson, impressed.
The middle of the day’s schedule provided quite a treat when 2013’s No. 2 player Julius Randle and Plano (Texas) Prestonwood faced off with the No. 12 player Jarell Martin and Madison (La.) Prep.
The 6-foot-9 forwards squared off a bit when the teams weren’t playing zones, and when they did it was a big-boy affair. Both Randle and Martin play with a high level of physicality and they are both guys who are already very strong.
Headed to LSU, Martin is a strong rebounder, runs the floor and can step out to make jumpers in pick-and-pop situations. He’s not quite as athletic as North Texas forward Tony Mitchell, but some similarities can be seen in their playing styles.
Martin was very good, but when he wanted to be, Randle was on another level Friday. Dropping a game-high 29 points, the undecided senior power forward was quite impressive. Randle has always been a strong kid, but his frame has really been shaped up and he’s added more explosion to his game.
He’s always been very quick off the dribble and tough to stop in situations attacking the rim because of his size and quickness, but Randle has sometimes lacked lift in traffic.
That’s no longer the case; he’s gotten much quicker off the floor when jumping off of both feet and doesn’t need to gather himself around the goal in traffic near as much as he used to. His jumper also looks reworked.
“I’ve been working hard on my jumper,” said Randle. “You didn’t see it as much today but I’m really trusting it and feeling comfortable with it.”
Because he’s so big and strong, onlookers often want Randle to play more around the hoop. He will do it when he needs to and the matchup calls for it, though and onlookers just have to understand that attacking from the perimeter and playing facing the basket is a big part of his game. It’s also a big part of his recruitment.
“Everybody tells me I can play facing the hoop,” Randle said. “Coaches like that I can attack off the dribble and that I’m versatile.”
On the school front, Randle is still looking at the same six of Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, N.C State, Oklahoma and Texas.
He’s visited the Gators and Wildcats officially and told Rivals.com that he’ll visit N.C. State the weekend of Jan. 25. He also said he’ll take visits to Kansas and Texas sometime in the next month or so. Like Texas, Oklahoma received a fall visit and Randle said that he may replace the Texas official with an official to OU.
NC STATE FOOTBALL
Sammy Batten (FayObserver.com)
Tom O’Brien firing signals N.C. State will not settle for mediocrity
Tom O’Brien ran a clean football program at N.C. State, graduated his players, took most of his teams to bowl games, and posted winning records the last three seasons.
But that wasn’t enough for N.C. State director of athletics Debbie Yow, who envisions the Wolfpack with an annual place in the national Top 25 rankings.
“Coach O’Brien and I agree on the goal of becoming a top-25 program,” Yow said at a press conference Sunday afternoon, when she announced that O’Brien had been fired after six seasons. “We just don’t agree on what it takes to do that.”
“I think that it’s always a good policy to look at people with proven track records,” Yow said. “At the same time, there can be individuals who are coordinators who have not yet had that opportunity to prove what they can do. So we’re not going to lock those individuals out of the process.
“I knew a young man like that I thought very highly of 12 years ago. He’s now the head coach at Vanderbilt. James is one of those people who was a coordinator and is in the midst of proving himself.”
Whether N.C. State opts for a proven head coach or a hot-shot young coordinator, he will face some intense pressure from the get-go because Yow isn’t going to accept mediocrity for the school’s football program any longer.
She made that message loud and clear Sunday by firing a man who was doing just about everything right.
Caulton Tudor (N&O)
Yow needs to make charmed hire to reach her goals
While you have to admire N.C. State athletics director Debbie Yow for setting a high football bar, itâ€™s going to take something close to a charmed coaching hire for those goals to be accomplished.
After firing sixth-year coach Tom Oâ€™Brien on Sunday, Yow said the next coach should be someone capable of turning the Wolfpack into a top-25 program.
Senior offensive lineman Camden Wentz said Yow was more ardent in her discussions with the team. Wentz said Yow referred to a new coach who would bring in â€œAlabama-type talent.â€
Almost nothingâ€™s impossible in sports, but hereâ€™s an imposing to-do checklist of what would have to happen for the Wolfpack to get Alabama-type talent:
â€¢ Overwhelmingly dominant in-state recruiting: Mack Brown, at North Carolina in the â€™80s and â€™90s, ruled in-state recruiting more than any North Carolina-based coach since the formation of the ACC in 1953.
So successful were Brown and his staff that it was rare for a top-10 in-state player to pick another school, even those from the SEC.
And yet, Brown never won an ACC title, much less a national championship. He had teams that finished 19th (1992 and â€™93), 10th (â€™96) and sixth (â€™97) in the Associated Press final polls but couldnâ€™t beat Florida State or land a spot in of the five major bowl games of that era.
Last year, six of the stateâ€™s top 10 recruits, according to Rivals.com, signed with SEC schools. Two others signed with Clemson. The top four picked Florida and Georgia, which hooked Raleigh running back Keith Marshall. North Carolina signed three players ranked in the top 20, Duke signed two. N.C. State signed four players ranked Nos. 22-30, according to Rivals. In the 2013 class, N.C. State has commitments from three players ranked Nos. 23-30. Raleighâ€™s Connor Mitch, the stateâ€™s top-rated quarterback prospect, signed with South Carolina.
â€¢ Above-average recruiting in Virginia: Historically, N.C. State has had better luck finding players in Florida, South Carolina and at times Pennsylvania than in Virginia.
That situation needs to change dramatically. Recruiting Florida only gets more difficult each season and the suffocating shadow of the SEC shows no hint of relenting.
Virginia doesnâ€™t have Florida-like talent in numbers, but the state is among the 10 or so most fertile in the nation.
There was an expectation that Oâ€™Brien would improve the Wolfpackâ€™s fortunes in Virginia and his final team certainly wouldnâ€™t have finished 7-5 without quarterback Mike Glennon (Centreville, Va.) and defensive lineman Brian Slay (Ashburn, Va.), but there wasnâ€™t another Virginian on the Wolfpack roster for Saturdayâ€™s final regular-season game.
The new Wolfpack coach will arrive at a time when Virginia Tech (6-6), Virginia (4-8) and Maryland (4-8) are down and North Carolinaâ€™s Larry Fedora isnâ€™t yet entrenched in Virginia.
Joe Giglio (N&O)
How good can 2013 Pack be? Yow, Oâ€™Brien disagree there too
The previous day, in his final comments in his final press conference as N.C. Stateâ€™s football coach, Oâ€™Brien went through the depth chart on offense and defense for the players returning and offered hope for the 2013 season.
“Youâ€™ve got a lot of guys coming back on the two-deep,” Oâ€™Brien said after the 27-10 win over Boston College. “And bowl practice will be important for the young guys that weâ€™ve redshirted.”
Yow pointed to the departure of this yearâ€™s senior class, which included nine starters in Saturdayâ€™s win, and 16 players in all, as a reason for the timing of the coaching change.
“We all know that we have a very important senior class that is getting ready to leave here,” Yow said Sunday. “This is going to be a rebuilding process and that will be part of the conversation with the people who are interested.”
Yow didnâ€™t get into the specifics about the personnel the next coach will inherit. As she did during the search for menâ€™s basketball coach Mark Gottfried, Yow said she will “have a very candid conversation about where we are as a program and what they are inheriting and the challenges they face.”
As a post-script, Gottfriedâ€™s first season, with players he inherited from Sidney Lowe, ended with 24 wins and in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
With a 24-14 record the past three seasons, the football program is in better condition than the basketball program was when Yow made a coaching change.
Senior safety Earl Wolff was named first-team All-ACC today by the conference, while offensive guard R.J. Mattes and cornerback David Amersonwere named to the second-team.
Wolff currently leads the Pack with 136 tackles on the season, and his current career total of 391 is fifth all-time at NC State. Wolff had a career-best 19 tackles at Clemson, and has four games of at least 17 tackles this season. Wolff has also recorded a pair of interceptions this season, and has five for his career.
Dane Huffman (nbc17.com)
NC State trustee: Pack won’t take long to hire a coach
A key member of N.C. State’s Board of Trustees said Monday that he expects the school to move quickly to hire a new football coach after the firing of Tom O’Brien.
“It won’t take long. We don’t have time,” said Lawrence Davenport of Pactolus, which is near Greenville.
“I’m expecting her [athletics director Debbie Yow] to do something pretty quick.”
The trustees are having an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. The meeting is to discuss “the amount of compensation and other material terms of an employment agreement contract or future employment contract,” according to a school news release.
Davenport said the trustees have not been told the nature of the meeting, and said the trustees are asked to approve contracts and deals for the school.
Chou: NC State job has appeal for new hire
With Tom O’Brien out, the focus moves to the search for a new head football coach at NC State and the campus has plenty to offer so long as the money is right.
Pat Forde (Yahoo! Sports)
Forde-Yard Dash: Breaking down college football’s major coaching openings
RATING THE JOB OPENINGS
With coaches being whacked right and left, The Dash created a desirability pecking order for the open major jobs. There are regional considerations here (a coaching candidate from the West may like Colorado a lot more than he’d like Boston College) but in general, this is the Dash breakdown, best to worst:
Tennessee (1). The Dash initially had this as No. 2 behind Arkansas until consulting with some college football insiders, who cited facilities, larger stadium, superior tradition and softer side of the conference as factors in the Volunteers’ favor. The drawback is in-state recruiting â€“ most years the best talent is six hours away in Memphis, an SEC free-for-all city. (In more ways than one.)
Arkansas (2). Showed with Bobby Petrino they will pay big money to the right coach, and the athletic department is on solid footing with Jeff Long. Razorbacks also own the entire state when it comes to fan loyalty. Drawback: Like Tennessee, there isn’t a lot of home-grown talent. Unlike Tennessee, Arkansas has to bang heads with LSU and Alabama every year â€“ and here comes Texas A&M on the rise.
North Carolina State (3). The right guy can win here â€“ only Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech are more committed to football. The league isn’t the least bit daunting â€“ at least competitively. The daunting part might be concerns over what will happen to it via conference realignment, if Maryland sets off an exodus to other leagues.
Auburn (4). This should be the top job on the list in terms of absolute institutional commitment to football, recruiting area and fanatical following. But there’s the ongoing NCAA investigation, and questions about whether heavy-handed booster involvement is still an issue for whoever is the next coach. Dysfunction is the Auburn norm â€“ sometimes it’s a workable dysfunction, but sometimes it’s not. Right now, this job has hazard lights flashing all around it.
California (5). Always nice to have a home-state recruiting edge in a place like California, plus a prestigious school and a newly renovated stadium to recruit to. But being football coach at Cal has never been like being football coach at USC or UCLA when it comes to institutional support. And with Stanford rolling across the Bay, the pressure to keep up with the archrival will be present.
Purdue (6). A school that has operated on the cheap is now sending signals that it’s ready to spend like a contender. If that’s true, this could be a place to win fairly quickly. With Penn State due to dip and Wisconsin wobbling a little, second place in the Big Ten Leaders Division behind Ohio State is not an impossible dream.
Boston College (7). There is a recent history of success (12 straight winning seasons from 1999-2010, under three different coaches), but momentum is going the other way at a place that doesn’t have the natural resources to reload quickly. New athletic director Brad Bates is well-regarded, which should help draw decent candidates. And the ACC is hardly the SEC.
Kentucky (8). Word is the school is talking a good game to prospective coaches about getting serious about football, but talk is cheap. UK hasn’t been able to fund facility upgrades in the recent past, and basketball has never devoured a bigger portion of the athletic budget than it is now. The new guy will get SEC pay, but he’ll also be expected to win SEC games. Precious few coaches in program history have ever left happily and voluntarily.
Colorado (9). Former power program is in shambles, riding a seven-year streak of losing records. Bottom fell out this year in a 1-11 disaster that forced the ouster of second-year coach Jon Embree. Worst thing is, nobody in the administration seems to know how to fix it. Colorado has one of the most beautiful campuses and stadiums to sell to recruits, but fundraising is difficult and resources are way behind. With UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State all freshly respectable, upward mobility in the Pac-12 South won’t be easy.
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
What kind of year has it been: Lousy. Two teams ineligible for postseason (North Carolina, Miami). A 6-6 team in the ACC championship game. Another punking at the hands of the SEC in rivalry games. Florida State overrated again. Maryland walking out after 60 years. But, hey, at least Notre Dame is (sort of) a member.
Offensive Player of the Year: Tajh Boyd (18), Clemson. Fourth nationally in pass efficiency and eighth in total offense while leading the Tigers to a 10-2 record. Only major downside was a second annual poor game against rival South Carolina.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bjoern Werner (19), Florida State. He’s third nationally in sacks per game, and even when he doesn’t get to the passer in time he’s still disruptive â€“ Werner has seven batted passes and five quarterback hurries on the season.
Coach of the Year: David Cutcliffe, Duke. It’s been a long, arduous climb to respectability for the Blue Devils, but Cutcliffe has gotten it done in his fifth year on the job. A lot of people thought it would never be done.
Bust of the Year: Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer hadn’t won fewer than 10 games since 2003, and hadn’t won fewer than seven since 1992 â€“ until now. If the Hokies weren’t 2-0 in overtime games, they’d have their first losing record in 20 years.
Psycho Team of the Year: North Carolina State. Scored 48 points in a loss and 10 in a win. Stunned unbeaten, third-ranked Florida State. Also lost by 27 to a bad Virginia team. Unpredictability of performance helped cost Tom O’Brien his job.