When I went to college, playing against NC State was like watching a good action movie. Like most classic 80’s era bad guys, the Wolfpack always looked intimidating because they recruited well. Early on, they’d blow up a few bridges, shut down power grids, and kill Carl Weathers in the ring. And at halftime, the outcome always looked in doubt, but in reality, it never was. The games stuck to the script: good guys rally (Vasquez’s 4 year averages vs. NC St: 18.4/3.6/7.3) bad guys make some unbelievably obvious tactical oversights (come back Sidney Lowe, I’ll make you a mixtape), and the Terps always came out on top.
Those wins for Maryland came to an end around the same time “break shit Tuesdays” did for me, when I graduated. Not coincidentally, that’s the same time Mark Gottfried was hired. He’s gone 38-15 down in Raleigh, and is currently the coach of the best team in the ACC. As a college basketball fan, I love watching NC State play: they have a great fit at every position, and they function extremely well as a team because of how much trust the starters have in each other. As a Terps fan, I hope that for one night they turn on each other like rabid dogs and end up brawling before they get off the bus.
A Six Man Wolfpack
There have been four or five games this year where I thought “man, if this team had any semblance of offense, Maryland would be getting buried right now.” Well everyone, there’s no need to worry about that tonight. If Maryland starts slow out of the gates, NC State will bury them so quick that you won’t have time to worry about it. The Wolfpack are an extremely efficient and balanced offensive machine. Efficient because they lead the country in team field goal percentage at a ridiculous 52.8%, and are 8th in scoring at 81.5 ppg. And balanced enough that they have 5 players averaging in double figures, which is really a testament to how unselfish Gottfried has his team playing.
It all starts with ACC preseason player of the year C.J. Leslie, who’s fresh off convincingly outplaying Naismith award candidate Mason Plumlee. In a team full of bad matchups for the Terps, Leslie is definitely the worst. Remember Okaro White of FSU shredding the defense because nobody on the roster approached his combination of size and speed? Leslie is Okaro White, but significantly better, and he’s coming in hot (20.4/6.7 in his last 7 games). Mitchell and Cleare are big enough but too slow, Faust is quick enough but too small. Layman is the only player with a similar build, and that’s the only thing that he and Leslie have in common. I’m not sure how Turgeon defends him, but I’m certainly interested to see it.
I saw both of the Wolfpack losses earlier this year (to Oklahoma State and Michigan) and there was one common thread in each game: Lorenzo Brown got significantly outplayed. Like me, Brown is tall and lanky (6’5”, 185). Unlike me, he can do other things on a basketball court besides shoot wide open threes (which he actually doesn’t do that well at 28.1%. Check and mate Lorenzo). He can score (13.1 ppg), but he’s a true point guard who distributes effectively to everyone (7.1 apg, 1st in ACC). The one blemish with him is his turnover numbers which recently have been OK, but he does have 5+ TO’s in 5 games this year. If Maryland can force him into mistakes, it will go a long way towards a W.
The rest of the double digit scorers round out like this: Forward Richard Howell is a perfect complement to Leslie as a burly rebounder who feeds on second chances (6 offensive rebounds vs Duke). Shooting guard Scott Wood is a pure shooter who only ventures inside the 3-point line (45.2%) to bury late game foul shots (91.3%). And freshman forward TJ Warren (an afterthought to the highly recruited Rodney Purvis) provides a burst off the bench with yet another pure stroke. Purvis, a McDonalds All-American and top 20 recruit, is really an extra piece that can score in bursts (19 points on 7/10 shooting vs BC) if the machine needs a spare part.
And really, that’s it for NC State. Like Miami, this is a team that is more worried about the feng shui of the bench than the functionality of it. Now, if this game were later in the season or if there were an injury or two, that might be a factor. But it’s relatively early in the season, and State hasn’t played since their Saturday upset, so they should be fresh. NC State’s best defense is their offense, as they rank 8th and 11th respectively in the ACC in opponents field goal percentage (40.4) and points per game (70.1)
Three Things To Watch For
1. Anything More Creative On Offense
And NOW is when I’ll finally bring up Sunday night. Analyzing that game would be like psychoanalyzing Hannibal Lecter: just irredeemably awful at every level. But what worried me from a coaching standpoint was how boring and predictable the offense was. Every possession was the same thing: point guard at the top, Faust or Wells runs the baseline off a pick, they get the ball at the elbow, and 80% of the time reset to do it again. I can’t really recall any good shots coming from actual play that was run as opposed to Dez Wells driving and creating for himself. I’d be willing to stomach a few more turnovers for some better shots, so it’s time to wipe off the grease board and freshen up a staid and stagnant offensive game plan. Pick and roll’s with Len? Maybe some basic Hi-Lo sets to get easier touches in the post? Maybe the “house of mirrors” of screens for Aronhalt or Allen to get a few open threes? Anything that mixes it up would be great.
2. Recommit To The Offensive Rebounding
For a team that has made its reputation on the glass, it’s concerning to note that the Terps have been on the wrong side of the offensive rebounding battle in all three of their conference matchups. This was a team that grabbed 23 offensive rebounds against Kentucky, and for all the things they’re not, Kentucky is huge. There needs to be a better team commitment to going after second chance opportunities. Charles Mitchell can’t just bull in a china shop his way through smaller guys anymore, he needs to do it with old fashioned boxing out and getting position. Same goes for Cleare and Len. The guards following their own shot would be a nice touch as well. It will sacrifice a little bit of transition defense (which shouldn’t be a huge deal NC State ranks 87th in possessions per 40 minutes), but rebounding is what takes this team to another level.
3. Faust At The Point
Before I really saw any news or quotes about this, I saw that the most incisive passes against Miami came from Nick Faust. He had at least 2 or 3 good looks into the post that allowed for easy baskets. A combination of those brief sparks, and the incumbent point guards hitting rock bottom against Miami have unearthed the idea of Faust at the point again. I don’t need to tell everyone it’s an imperfect solution, Faust’s A/T ratio is very worrisome as is. Looking at it through the prism of a primary ball handler could definitely make it worse. But truth be told, he kind of fits in this game. Brown is a taller guard who did struggle when he was guarded by a similarly sized point earlier in the season (Marcus Smart of OK St). I can’t see Faust getting the start, Pe’Shon or Allen will have to play their way off the floor early (which with Turgeon isn’t tough). But this Maryland team still hasn’t found the right combination on the floor to unlock their full potential yet, and it wouldn’t shock me if Faust running the offense did just that.
Maryland CAN do this. I’ve seen an inexperienced Terps team shock me before (2007 at North Carolina), and if Maryland can somehow recapture their VA Tech form, NC State will get all they can handle in this one. But there are too many holes here. Judging by what I saw vs Okaro White, I don’t know Maryland begins to put the breaks on a red hot CJ Leslie. With two legitimate big guys underneath, this is a team that should be able to hang with the Terps on the boards thus minimizing that advantage. And they won’t be scared of the Comcast Center, because every meaningful player besides Warren and Purvis have been there at least twice. I will say, the road to an upset would start with frustrating Lorenzo Brown and getting one of the two big guys in some early foul trouble. But I think NC State takes this game, albeit by single digits.
NC State – 79, Maryland – 72