Saturday, November 24, 2007

Preview -- North Carolina State

The Wildcats and Wolfpack winner their respective semifinal games at the Old Spice Classic are slated to face each other in the final. The Wolfpack has come a long way in the past eighteen months. The program was in turmoil in Herb Sendek's last season on Tobacco Road. Sendek's unsolicited departure to the Arizona State job sent shock waves through the NCSU fan-base, triggering yet another (mercifully for Sendek the last...) controversy of the Sendek Years. AD Lee Fowler threw a wide net through the elite of the D1 coaches, and after working very hard for six weeks to secure raises and contract extensions for Tom Brady (LSU), Rick Barnes (Texas), John Calipari (Memphsis -- Calipari got 2 raises during the NCSU coaching search, plus an all-expenses paid tour of the NCSU campus for himself and his staff...), Frank Haith (Miami) and Greg Marshall (Winthrop at the time, now Wichita State), Fowler settled on an NC State alum (sort of, he hadn't actually graduated yet...) Sidney Lowe, a former NBA head coach and career assistant working for Toronto at the time. If there was one positive development in that NCSU coaching search it was that Sidney Lowe finally got his college degree (he could not meet the qualifications without it). Lowe pulled together a staff of NC State program alums and began the job of putting things right in the program. The season was a bit better than most expected (the Wolfpack was picked for last in the ACC, they finished with a 5-11 record) and capped the season with a mini-run in the ACC Tournament & an NIT invitation. More is now expected...

What Others Say...
...Despite defections in wake of Lowe's hire, the team was competitive last season and made a nice ACC tournament run at the end of the year. According to The Basketball Prospectus, "...State brings everyone of note back, except point guard Engin Atsur. And they bring in at least one impact recruit in power forward JJ Hickson. So improvement is all but guaranteed....". Blue Ribbon gives the backcourt a B, the frontcourt a A and the bench/depth a A.

Why Everyone Believes...
...Lowe held on to a few of Sendek's incoming recruits (Brandon Costner and NJ 2006 POY Dennis Horner for example) and brought in another very nice forward, JJ Hickson, an MDAA. With Branden Costner & Ben McCauley in place, the Wolfpack has a terrific front court complement to throw at opponents. Lowe's NBA experience has proven to be a useful tool on the recruiting trail. And coupled with Monte Towe's D1 head coaching experience NCSU appears to be well ahead of the curve for recovering. The Wolfpack was ranked #24 in the preseason ESPN/Coaching poll, and #21 in the AP writer's poll.

So Far...
...NCSU brings a 4-1 record into the game. They opened the season with a win over William & Mary (CAA, 0-3, RPI #268), dropped a pre-Old Spice Class warmup against the University of New Orleans (Sun Belt, 2-0, RPI #34) and then headed down to Orlando where they moved past host school Rider (MAAC, 3-2, RPI #305) in the first round and slipped by South Carolina (SEC, 3-2, RPI #198) in the semi-final. The 'Cats and Wolfpack shared no opponents so far this year -- though both have played a CAA team.

North Carolina State By the Numbers...
...Over the past 5 years NCSU's RPI has stayed in the #50's, spiking at #19 under Herb Sendek in 2003-04, and then slipping to #72 last season. NC State is a lower than average pace team this season (66.4 possessions, adjusted, via Ken Pomeroy's NC State Scout Page which ranks the Wolfpack #242 out of approx. 341 - the current average for pace is 69.6). The table below contains NC State's Four Factors Stats as compiled on their Scout Page on Ken Pomeroy's website. Stats do not reflect their game Friday with South Carolina.


 eFGRnkTO%RnkOR%RnkFTA%Rnk
NCSU Offense51.013919.68032.319430.370
NCSU Defense38.11014.533633.316823.333

As the table indicates, North Carolina State is a middling team for scoring/shooting, pretty good (but not great) for valuing the ball and getting to the free throw line. They are mediocre at offensive rebounding. Their shot defense is very good and they keep opponents off the line. That may be troubling for Villanova because the team tends to look for/get about 20% of their points from the free throw line. The Wolfpack are not especially good at defensive rebounding (from the table's OR% column, subtract 100 from 33.3 to get the defensive rebounding percentage). And they do not force turnovers. Their best defensive feature is on-the-shot defense.

Frontcourt vs frontcourt...
...Lowe has selected 3 from Gavin Grant (6-8, 208), JJ Hickson (6-9, 242lbs), Brandon Costner (6-9, 238lbs) and Ben McCauley (6-10, 238lbs) to start every game so far. These four have typically played between 50.0% (McCauley) and 77.5% (Costner) of the minutes. Hickson is a scoring machine -- he has a PPWS of 1.52 (very high, he scores and gets to the line) and an eFG% of 75.0 (extremely high) which will come down as opponents devote more resources to stopping him. Lowe has him firmly in the offensive scheme; Hickson takes 30% ("star-level" involvement) when he is on the floor. Grant, Costner and McCauley are also reasonably accurate (eFGs of about 45.0), though McCauley is more a role player in the offense, while Costner and Grant take about 20% (regular/starter-type) shots when they are in. Lowe's deeper rotation includes Dennis Horner (6-8, 220lbs). Coach Wright has started Drummond (c), Cunningham (pf) and Clark (sf) throughout the tournament. All have played well so far, though some would say Drummond has exceeded expectations and Cunningham has had foul trouble in the past two games. Clark quietly recorded his second double-double of the season Friday (before fouling out) against George Mason. A deeper rotation will bring Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena off the bench.

Backcourt vs backcourt...
...The Farnold Degand (6-4, 168) and Courtney Fells (6-5, 239) tandem have srarted all four games so far, logging 75.6% and 86.3% of the available time in the process. Sophomore Trevor Ferguson (6-5, 185lbs) and freshman Javier Gonzalez (6-0, 176) have been used to give Degand/Fells in game rests. Though Degand and Fells are resonably accurate (PPWSs of 1.01 & 1.04 respectively), it is clear the back court takes a back seat on offense. Villanova's back court rotation includes Reynolds and Redding (starters so far), with Malcolm Grant and Corey Fisher taking double digit minutes.

Final Thoughts...
...There is a bit of a full circle for this Old Spice Classic. Villanova faced (and overcame) a very good back court in their first game with UCF. George Mason offered a better balance of front and back court complements in the second game. And NC State offers the best front court Villanova has seen this season (possibly the best until the 'Cats start the Big East season...) in this third game. Nova's frontcourt has had problems staying on the floor with GMU's Will Thomas, NC State's frontcourt offers and even bigger challenge. The question is how well their back court will be able to set up their frontcourt for scoring. And how well will the bigger NCSU players keep up with the smaller (faster?) Wildcats. Perimeter shooting is not in the NC State arsenal, which is to Nova's advantage (that's where they have been most vulnerable). The Wolfpack backcourt seems to be tasked with getting ball up the court and into the hands of Grant, Costner or McCauley. While Degand does have 9 assists so far this season, Grant (13) has more, and Costner (at 9) and McCauley (5) are clearly involved, if not with scoring directly, certainly with setting each other up. Interior passing must have been a point of emphasis for Lowe.

I will be interested to see how Drummond, Clark and Cunningham handle this challenge. This game may offer an opportunity to test the ball handling/press breaking skill of the Wolfpack guards. The Villanova staff has a number of press & trap schemes to exploit the careless. The risk is in giving up the easy basket when the press/trap is broken. The Nova Nation has lavished a good deal of attention on the back court (they are very good). This game may well be a good opportunity for the front court players to step forward.

5 comments:

Pete said...

Nice write-up. Interesting that you consider Stokes a member of the frontcourt. I know he has ample height and can play the swingman, but so far I see no difference in his game in terms of perimeter play from Reggie Redding who you consider to be part of the backcourt.

Any reason for this distinction?

Jamie said...

Pete - I think we are going to have to wait a little to really find out what Stokes will bring to the table this year.... his shooting - besides the Bloomsburg game - has been atrocious....hopefully he can put it together soon because his deadly 3 point range would help the team tremendously... he has no confidence right now..

greyCat said...

Coach Wright describes everyone as a basketball player, and to some degree Anderson, Clark, Stokes and Redding (like Randy Foye...) would all fit that description. They could as easily play the #2 as the #3 (or #4). But when I think through the games I have seen so far (and the game logs I have reviewed...) I can remember seeing Redding in with a single (other) guard, usually Scottie to start the game, but even occasionally with Fisher. Anderson, Stokes and Clark however don't seem to ever be in with just a single guard. There always seems to be an off guard to go with the point and Stokes, Anderson or Clark. I expect that one part of Stoke's game that will improve with college is his ability to take the ball to the cup, and take the guy in front of him off the dribble. He may ultimately play more of a guard-type game when he gets to the NBA.

Pete said...

Good points, Jamie and greycat, though I believe I saw a few stretches of Stokes with just the point guard out there against NC St... maybe I was hallucinating.

I think the lineup was Fisher, Stokes, Dante, Casiem, and Pena. Might have been Reynolds and Stokes though.

greyCat said...

Maybe Pete, but if you are referring to the last 3 minutes of the NCSU game you might be right. I think at that point I was kneeling in a fetal position, pounding my head on our hardwood floor...I might have missed the exact lineup for a minute or two.