NC State started fast, but puttered through final half on their way to a 66-59 loss to Michigan.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Gottfried and company as Michigan was forced to play most of the game without their leader Derrick Walton Jr. who left with a sprained ankle in the first half and still won.
This is a young NC State team, but not a team void of experience. There were some positives last night, but also some red flags and things that desperately need to be addressed if they want to be in tournament contention by the end of the season. Here are a few areas that NC State came up short against the Wolverines last night.
What’s going on with the bigs?
Abu, Anya and Freeman were being relied on for some major contributions this season, but this group has been largely underwhelming thus far. It’s not all their fault. The Pack is not playing as a cohesive unit. The guards are not feeding the posts enough. Then when they do, the Wolfpack bigs are forcing shots in fear that they won’t get the ball for a few more possessions. This has got to stop. The guards need to trust their bigs. When they get position, feed them the ball. The bigs, however, have to be quick to move the ball when a double comes or if they’re not in great positions to score.
Last night we saw some glimpses of what Beejay Anya could be if he was more aggressive and he was given more touches in the post. His frame, added quickness and length allowed him to get some really easy buckets. He was 4-5 from the field for 9 points (and added 7 boards and 3 blocks) but his free throw shooting was crippling. He was 1-6 from the stripe and has had trouble there his whole career. If he gets the ball in the post and keeps attacking he’ll get his points but may really hurt the Pack if he’s getting to the line and not knocking down the free ones.
Abu has gone missing. At the end of last season we were watching a future NBA star emerge. He was strong on the blocks, always in attack mode, and getting to the line at will. He was playing with tenacity, his emotion sparked runs and his play pushed the Pack into the sweet 16. This year has been puzzling. He has gone back to settling for jump shots, playing less aggressive and without the edge we’ve seen from him in the past. Gottfried says he’s not hurt, but you have to wonder why a kid with this much size and athleticism is shying away from contact and post play. Last night, the guy who many thought could be the centerpiece of the Wolfpack offense played 13 minutes, went 0-6, finished with 2 points and didn’t have a single rebound. This game is on the heels of another 14 minutes, 2 point performance against Winthrop in a game Abu should have absolutely dominated. We will monitor this situation, but we are as surprised as you are by Abu’s play of late.
Shooting (shot selection) Woes Continue
Last night we were made aware of a stat that said only Caleb Martin and Maverick Rowan have hit 3s for NC State this season. When we looked back, it was correct. And it’s not only the 3s that have been a problem for State. Cat Barber is shooting just 36% from the field (last on the team) after hitting nearly 44% last season. He’s also 0-8 from 3 so far. Last year Cat hit 38% of this 3s.
So if State isn’t shooting well from 3 (31%) and their bigs aren’t getting touches, then how are they attempting to score? The answer is that they are relying on mid range contested jumpers far too often. They are forcing 3 points shots at times, which is hurting their percentage, and they are not getting to the rim with any consistency. At the end of they day they are shooting such a low percentage because they are taking such low percentage shots. That has got to change.
If this team wants to win it needs to play as a unit. They need to move the basketball, run the offense, cut with conviction and attack with authority. This team is playing too soft, too loose and too selfish to be considered dangerous in the ACC. Gottfried may say that this group is just missing their shots (video below), but it’s most certainly a deeper problem than that. It’s fixable for sure, but not just guys missing shots.
Find your Identity and Embrace it
The trend we’ve seen with Gottfried is that his teams get better as the season goes along, and are usually in contention by season’s end. That may be the what we’ll witness as the season unfolds, but if it does, it will be because this team found it’s identity.
This team’s identity won’t be it’s sharp-shooting, or it’s ability to spread the floor and let one person out athlete everyone else. No, if this NC State team wants to be great it’s going to have to start getting serious about it’s defense.
Now, denying the basketball and staying in the passing lanes doesn’t fill up the stat sheet. Boxing out and constantly communicating on help side aren’t exactly the sexiest things one can do on the basketball court, but these are qualities of teams that have an edge about their defense. Teams that take it personal when their man scores on them and are happy to expend most of their energy not trying to get open, but to get stops. These are the qualities of teams with a killer instinct. These are teams that want to win together. They’re not looking at points or rebounds or trying to make a highlight reel play on the break. These qualities are only found in teams that are playing for each other and for a common goal. Right now NC State isn’t close to being this type of team. Aside from a few spurts where Cody Martin has really locked down, and a couple possessions when Cat has decided to harass his man, this team has played passive defensively.
This team doesn’t have a Trevor Lacy. Maverick Rowan hitting more 3s isn’t going to change the game. Caleb Martin knocking down deep 3s isn’t going to make this NC State team a true threat night in and night out. However, buying into defense will. By forgetting about the box scores and the fans and the scouts, and by being obsessed with locking down their opponent, disrupting offensive sets, making it a chore for the PG to get down the court, this team could be a true disrupter in the ACC.
Great defensive teams make it difficult for the initiating pass to be made. They keep a hand in the passing lane. They see man and ball at all times. They force teams to start their offense from further out by pressuring the ball handler. They never lose focus on the defensive end. This is the type of teams that offenses are afraid to face. These are the types that get people out of their comfort zone and out of their rhythm. If this Wolfpack team is going to achieve greatness this season, it’s going to have to change is style and focus and start getting down to the dirty business of defense.
It’s Not Over Till It’s Over
Look…I know the odds of NC State’s Men’s Basketball team going to the NCAA Tournament is next to zero percent.
In fact, according to Bart Torvik, the Wolfpack have a 1.1% chance of making the Dance as an at-large bid.
Don’t accuse me of wearing rose colored glasses, because I’m not. The fact remains, it’s not over until it is over.
What would have to happen for NC State to make the NCAA Tournament?
More than likely, NC State would have to win out the rest of the way, in games against Boston College, @ FSU, @ UNC, Duke and @ Pitt.
Maybe there’s a scenario where the Wolfpack beats BC, FSU, Pitt and beats either Duke or UNC. In order for that to play out, I imagine the Wolfpack would have to make a splash in the ACC Tournament as well.
Or maybe NC State could earn a bid winning 4 of 5 if they all of a sudden put together astronomical offensive and defensive efficiency numbers, which thus far has killed their position in the NET Rankings.
Either way, you would need some legit Cardiac Pack vibes for this team to make the Dance.
Call me unrealistic, but I think NC State should be in the NCAA Tournament every single season. Historically speaking, heading into this season, NC State ranked 27th for the most wins in college basketball history. If I lowered the standard a bit to 75%, accounting for an off year every now and then, the program is still way off the mark.
Read into this what you will, but if the Wolfpack doesn’t go to the Big Dance this year, that means they will have only gone twice in the past 7 years, and in my opinion, that’s unacceptable.
With that being said…GO PACK!
#6 NC State 70 UNC 80: BOX SCORE (with notes)
#6 NC State was defeated by their rival UNC this evening, falling 70-80 to the Tar Heels. Below is the Box Score with notes underneath.
- This game came down to shooting.
- UNC shot 50.8% from the field and NC State shot 35.2%.
- The Tar Heels shot an insane 52.4% from three, hitting 11 from beyond the arc.
- The Wolfpack shot 9 of 27 from deep.
- Junior Guard Aziaha James led the Pack with 24 points (10-24), and also grabbed 9 rebounds.
- Senior Forward Mimi Collins had a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
- The Pack needed to feed Collins. She was 3 of 6 from the field.
- Junior Guard Saniya Rivers had 13 points (4-13), and knocked down 4 three pointers (3-6).
- Senior Guard Madison Hayes had 11 points (4-12) and 9 boards.
- Senior Center River Baldwin struggled, hitting 2 of her 9 shots.
- The Wolfpack did manage to score 17 second chance points, compared to UNC’s 7.
- They also made 11 free throws, compared to UNC’s 5.
- UNC played extremely good defense, but NC State missed an obscene amount of shots around the rim.
- The Tar Heels looked like the better team tonight, leading for 3/4th of the game.
The Wolfpack will play at Duke on Sunday at 5:30pm on ACC Network.
#6 NC State Looks to Sweep Rival UNC This Evening
The 6th ranked NC State Women’s Basketball team is looking to sweep their rival UNC this evening at 8pm on ACC Network. Back on February 1st, the Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels 63-59. At the time NC State was ranked 5th, and UNC was ranked 24th.
Since arriving in Raleigh, Wolfpack Head Coach Wes Moore has led NC State to a 13-9 overall record against the Tar Heels, but they are 4-6 in Chapel Hill under his watch.
NC State lost to UNC the last time the game was played in enemy territory, falling 46-57 loss in Carmichael Arena on January 15th of last year. In that contest, the Wolfpack were ranked 11th and the Tar Heels were ranked 22nd.
If NC State wins tonight, it will mark the 4th time that Moore has led the Wolfpack to sweep UNC in the regular season.
Historically, NC State holds a 63-54 advantage in the series against UNC, but they are 20-30 on the road.
NC State’s Wes Moore is 1 of 15 on the Late Season Watchlist for the Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year Award
NC State Women’s Basketball Head Coach Wes Moore is 1 of 15 on the Naismith Late Season Watchlist for the Coach of the Year Award.
The leader of our Pack 🐺🐺
— NC State WBB 🐺🏀 (@PackWomensBball) February 21, 2024
Currently, Moore has led NC State from being unranked in the preseason polls, to #6 currently. The Wolfpack are 23-3, and numerous publications project them to be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Moore was a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year Award in 2020-21 and a Semifinalist in 2015-16.