Thursday, January 31, 2008

NC State Preview

Coming into the season, NC State was a consensus pick to be a certain tournament team and possibly to make some serious noise in the post-season. They added an All-American center to an already talented mix of wings and posts. Sydney Lowe's red coat had been the centerpiece of a remarkable string of wins to end the season, nearly taking the ACC tournament crown from the 10th spot.

When JJ Hickson had arguably the most impressive debut for an ACC freshman, all the pundits and prognosticators patted themselves on the back - look how good the Pack can be. Pretty much since then, the season has been a colossal "ugh." The Pack's lack of a point guard has been a killer, particularly since Farnold Degand went down with an injury. Javier Gonzalez and Marques Johnson, the replacements, both turn the ball over in more than 1/3 of the possessions they use. The other major problem has been the inability of Costner, McCauley, and Hickson to coexist inside. The result of this has been as drastic a fall-off in performance for the two incumbents as I can recall. Last year Costner and McCauley had high offensive ratings and high field goal percentages. They each cleaned up on the glass, and McCauley even posted a 20%+ assist rate. This year, their numbers are down in every category - fewer points, fewer rebounds, worse shooting, fewer assists, and more turnovers. Costner's performance has been so bad he got himself pulled from the starting lineup, and he played just 15 minutes against Georgia Tech. Part of me says this has to be statistical aberration, and that Costner (and to a lesser extent McCauley) are too good for this to continue. And yet, it continues with every passing game, and if anything, it's getting worse.

NC State ranks last in defensive efficiency and second-to-last in offensive efficiency in conference play. Their fg% defense isn't bad, thanks to lots of size, both in the post and on the wing. But the Pack is really hurt by an inability to secure defensive rebounds and a total lack of interest in taking the ball away from their opponent. NC State ranks 335th nationally in defensive takeaways - yes, you read that correctly, 335th. This means opponents get a lot of extra opportunities to try to put the ball in the hole (262 more field goal attempts, to be precise), effectively negating the good shooting defense and leading to lots of scoring for the opposition.

This does not look to be a good matchup for the Pack. Gonzalez and Johnson are turnover-prone points playing their first game in Cameron, against a Duke defense that has fed off of steals all season. Courtney Fells and Hickson have been the only reliable scorers on a team that doesn't have a high-scoring offense. The recipe is right for a blowout. Yes it's the ACC, and yes the games have been unpredictable, and yes NC State has lots of size inside where Duke is weak. But I just can't see the Pack staying close in this one - too many turnovers and easy baskets for Duke will doom NC State tonight. I expect a 15-25 point margin, something in the 80s to something in the 60s.

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