Sammy Zeglinski and the Hoos eye an ACC road win.
After bouncing back from the Virginia Tech loss with a 66-49 win over Boston College, UVa heads down Tobacco Road to face NC State at the RBC Center on Saturday night. Like the Hoos on Thursday night, the Wolfpack are coming off a devastating loss to their in-state rivals, a 74-55 defeat at UNC in a game that was even more of a blowout than the final score indicates. Can the Cavs pull out a tough road win in a game that could end up determining which team finishes in the top 4 of the ACC and maybe even which team makes the Big Dance?
Let’s look at the NC State Primer.
1. After years of piling up a number of great recruits but not many wins, Sidney Lowe was finally given the pink slip by NC State. His replacement, former Alabama coach and ESPN analyst Mark Gottfried, is a lot like our own Jeff Jones . After some initial early success with the Crimson Tide including an Elite 8, Gottfried saw his tenure end amid diminishing returns on court and personal issues off of the court. So far, Gottfried has breathed new life into a Wolfpack team that was 15-16 (5-11 ACC) last year. Even after the loss to the Tar Heels, the Pack stands at 15-6 and 4-2 in the ACC, with a No. 59 ranking in KenPom, a No. 69 standing in TAPE, and an RPI of 52. State’s only bad loss on the year was a surprising 82-71 home loss to Georgia Tech, and it boasts solid wins at Miami (78-73) and over Texas (77-74 at the Izod Center). Otherwise, NCSU basically has beaten bad to average teams and lost to the better teams on the schedule (Vanderbilt, Indiana, Syracuse, @Stanford, and @UNC).
Perhaps just as important to the team’s turnaround as Gottfried is assistant coach Bobby Lutz, who had great success at UNC Charlotte when the 49ers were in Conference USA and considerably less success when they moved to the Atlantic Ten. Most importantly for UVa’s purposes, Lutz was an assistant coach on the Iowa State team that came to Charlottesville last season and grabbed a 60-47 win over a Hoos squad fresh off the loss of Mike Scott. I’m sure that his insights into Tony Bennett’s schemes will be a great asset to the Wolfpack in the short turnaround between games for both squads.
2. Along with Georgia Tech, NC State is the only ACC team that doesn’t yet own a win over a Bennett-coached UVa squad. Two years ago, the Hoos swept the Pack 59-47 at home and 70-62 on the road, and last year Virginia won 69-58 at JPJ. State’s key losses from last year are Javier Gonzalez, who had 16 points and 4 rebounds against UVa last season, Tracy Smith, who had 10 points, and Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow, who we actually held scoreless.
3. When NC State runs its offense out of a halfcourt look, that set is usually the UCLA High Post, which Gottfried picked up when he was an assistant under Jim Harrick in Westwood. The High Post is run out of a 2-3 set (two-guard front) that is designed to pull the defense out of the paint, relieve pressure on the point guard, and create spacing for post-up and 3-point opportunities. Here is the basic alignment of the offense from a piece that Fran Fraschilla did on the offense for ESPN:
You can check out the rest of the article for some of the plays that are run out of it. Against Dana Altman’s Oregon squads the last two seasons, Virginia has faced a version of the High Post and had a good deal of success against it, holding the Ducks to 48 points in a 63-48 home win last season and 54 points in a 67-54 road win this season. This makes sense given that the Pack-Line isn’t going to be lured out of the paint, pre-empting the spacing that the High Post seeks to accomplish.
Moreover, NC State hasn’t run the High Post that efficiently all season although it ranks No. 51 in adjusted offensive efficiency. Instead, many of the Pack’s points come in the transition game, with point guard Lorenzo Brown often rifling 3/4 court passes that result in dunks and layups. When opposing teams force the Wolfpack to slow down and play halfcourt offense, there’s often a stultifying effect, with the Pack turning the ball over and getting low quality looks at the basket. I think that we can expect Tony Bennett to have the team crashing the offensive glass even less than usual in an effort to put the brakes on the Pack so that he can see what they can do when caught in a speed trap.
4. Defensively, Mark Gottfried’s go-to defense is man-to-man although he has been known to sprinkle in some 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, which could be effective given UVa’s recent struggles from behind the arc. The Wolfpack, however, are only No. 225 in the country in 3-point field goal defense, with opponents shooting 35.5% from behind the arc on the season. And overall, the Pack has played pretty poorly on the defensive end, coming in at No. 94 in adjusted defensive efficiency although its defensive performance has improved since the start of ACC play.
Malcolm Brogdon and UVa face a balanced State team this weekend.
5. Starting Lineup:
PG: As noted, No. 2 Lorenzo Brown, a 6’5″, 189-pound sophomore, runs the point for the Wolfpack. After playing like Malcolm Brogdon last year, Brown has made the seamless transition to full time point guard for the Pack. He is strong, athletic, and has a quick first step. He averages a team-high 6.9 assists per game but also turns the ball over 3.1 times per game. As you might expect from his shooting guard pedigree, he’s a solid shooter from the field (46.2%) and long range (37.8%). He also leads the team in steals per game (2.0), and, given his size and athleticism, is a terrific rebounder for a point guard (4.3/game). Last year, Brown had 9 points, 7 boards, and 3 assists against UVa.
SG: At the “2” spot, the State starts No. 21 C.J. Williams, a 6’5″, 224 pound senior. Williams is probably the Pack’s best perimeter defender and maybe the most improved player in the ACC this season. He’s hitting on 51.6% of his shots on the year and is a decent 36.1% from 3-point range. He’s also a terrific free throw shooter, averaging 82.1% on his attempts on the year and 11.8 points per game. Last year, he only managed one bucket against Virginia, but again, he’s vastly improved.
SF: The starting small forward is No. 15 Scott Wood. The next free throw that Wood misses will be his first of the season. Wood has connected on 58 straight shots from the charity stripe dating back to last year, an ACC record. Wood is also shooting an incredible 44.4% from 3-point range (on 6.3 attempts per game) and a quality 47.1% from the field. He also paces the Wolfpack with 13.2 points per game. That said, he’s not the fleetest of foot or athletic and doesn’t bring much in the way of defensive intensity or rebounding prowess (1.8/game). Last year, he scored 9 points against UVa on 3-of-7 shooting, all from 3-point land. Hopefully Joe Harris is fully recovered from his bout with the flu, because Virginia will need him to be in Wood’s face all game.
PF: At the “4”, the Pack starts another C.J., No. 5 C.J. Leslie. He is a 6’8″, 209-pound sophomore. Last year, Leslie suffered a good deal from inconsistent effort and performance, but he’s been more measured this season, especially on the defensive end. A long defender, Leslie blocks 1.8 shots per game and alters many more, and he chips in 6.3 rebounds per game. Offensively, he has a nice handle for a “4” and has cut the number of ill-advised 3’s he shoots by more than half (.4/game vs. .9/game last year), resulting in a rise in his shooting percentage to 51.5%. But he’s not nearly as good from the line, where he only connects on 61.7% of his freebies. Last year, Leslie had 7 points and 4 rebounds against UVa.
C: NC State’s starting center is No. 1 Richard Howell, a 6’8″, 250-pound junior, who cleans the glass to the tune of 9 rebounds per game. He’s more of a banger than a leaper who scores a lot of garbage points and averages 11.7 points per game on 51.6% shooting. Howell is not in the same league defensively as Leslie, but he’s become better on that side of the ball since dropping about 20 pounds in the offseason. Last season, he only scored 4 points against the Cavaliers but had a game-high 10 rebounds.
Key Bench Players:
Looking at the starters’ numbers, what becomes apparent is that the Pack might be the most balanced offensive team in the country. Their starters average between 11.7 and 13.2 points per game and shoot between 46.2% and 51.6% from the field. Given the balance and quality of their starters, the rest of the rotation is pretty shallow. Only two bench players average 12 or more minutes a game.
PG: No. 3 Alex Johnson, a 5’10”, 176-pound redshirt senior transfer from Cal-State Bakersfield, averages 20 minutes a game in relief of Brown (and Williams). Johnson is a seasoned veteran with a nice handle and the ability to dish the rock (3 assists per game). But both his defense and shooting (36.4% from the field, 31% from 3) aren’t great.
C: No. 0 DeShawn Painter , a 6’9″, 231-pound junior sees action in the post at a clip of 21.3 minutes per game. He’s developed a nice short-to-midrange jumper and has ridden it to 7.6 points per game on 45% shooting. He’s also a fixture on the glass, averaging 5.1 rebounds per game. Painter’s not going to set the word on fire with his game, but he’s a solid, sturdy player on both ends of the floor.
6. I see the Wolfpack as a somewhat better version of the Oregon team that Virginia beat on the road by 13 earlier in the season, both in terms of scheme and personnel. Of course, UVa played that game with Assane Sene , who anchored the defense and added buoyancy to offense. It’s clear that the Hoos have taken somewhat of a step back on both ends of the floor in his absence, but there were certainly signs of improvement toward the end of the game on Thursday, both from the team as a whole and Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins individually. In the NC State conference games I have seen, teams have decided to run with the Wolfpack, with Georgia Tech outshooting them and UNC outtalenting them but the other teams not being able to keep up.
What I haven’t seen a team do yet is try to slow them down. I see the Hoos doing that on Saturday, and I like their chances in the halfcourt game at both ends of the floor. Sabre Poster 504-C Brandon has the game as a 62.6-61.7 UVa victory with the Hoos having a 53% chance of winning. Meanwhile, the Team Rankings simulation (available here) has it as a 63.2-60.9 Virginia win. Both of these are almost exactly in line with what I’m thinking. I will call it a 62-60 win for the Hoos, but a hot shooting night for the Pack or a cold shooting night by the Cavs could easily swing things in the other direction.
Author’s Note: Many of the statistics and analysis in this article were gathered through watching the two teams, ESPN.com, 504-C Brandon’s TAPE site, Warren Nolan RPI site, Teamrankings.com, and KenPom.com.