Doug Browman and the Hoos seek their fourth straight ACC win.
After riding a strong second half to a 65-51 home victory against Boston College on Saturday afternoon, the Virginia Cavaliers (14-5, 4-2 ACC) return to action at the John Paul Jones Arena on Tuesday against the NC State Wolfpack (16-4, 5-2 ACC). Will the Wahoos win their fourth straight, or will the Wolfpack follow up on their first victory over UNC in 14 games? Find out in the NC State Primer.
1. Team Introduction. Last season, coach Mark Gottfried’s first in Raleigh, the Wolfpack finished 20-11 (9-7 ACC), with one of those defeats being a 61-60 home loss to UVa. NC State followed up on that regular season with a run to the ACC Tournament semifinals, including a 67-64 win over the Wahoos, and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen that ended with a 60-57 loss to Kansas. This season, the Wolfpack were picked to finish first in the ACC in both the preseason media and coaches polls and No. 6 nationally in the preseason AP poll. The Pack went 11-2 in out-of-conference play, with their losses coming against Oklahoma State (76-56) and Michigan (79-72), and their best wins coming against Connecticut (69-65), UMass (94-76), and Stanford (88-79). In ACC play, NC State has won all four of its home games, beating both Duke (84-76) and UNC (91-83 on Saturday night). NCSU, however, has not fared as well on the road, with a tight win in Chestnut Hill over Boston College (78-73) and losses at Maryland (51-50) and Wake Forest (86-84). On the season, NC State is No. 16 in RPI, No. 39 in KenPom, and No. 36 in TAPE.
2. Offense. Based on his time as an assistant to Jim Harrick at UCLA, Gottfried has employed the UCLA High Post offense at both Alabama and NC State. In a recent ESPN Magazine article, Gottfried was quoted as saying “we’re running the same offense that’s worked for half a century now. It’s the UCLA high post. Guy named Wooden came up with it.” In other words, we’re likely to see this offense from State as long as Gottfried is coaching in Raleigh. As I wrote in last year’s NC State Primer, 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.” Moreover, this breakdown of the High Post offense by Fran Fraschilla is still the best that I’ve seen on the subject.
NC State is currently ranked No. 10 in adjusted offensive efficiency, with the High Post firing on most cylinders. Good spacing has allowed NCSU to rank No. 9 nationally in 3-point percentage (40% vs. 35.5% last season) and No. 12 in effective field goal percentage (55.4% vs. 50.4% last season). Moreover, State is No. 25 in adjusted free throw rate, which tells you that the players are either getting the hoop (their “4” and “5” are shooting 55.8% and 58% from the floor) or the harm when they feed it into the post.
Much of this offensive efficiency, however, comes from easy transition buckets that end in high percentage shots. As with last season, the question is how well the Pack can perform offensively in the half court game against a team that puts the breaks on their transition attack. Maryland was able to play this style against NC State and held the team to 50 points, and I similarly like UVa’s chances to force the Wolfpack to have to grind it out. The key statistic is that State is a mere No. 319 in opponent turnovers per possession, which means that is likely to hit pay dirt against teams that crash the offensive glass and don’t get back in transition. These are not characteristics of a Tony Bennett team, so the question should be whether the Pack has the patience to crack the Pack-Line.
3. Defense. Defensively, Mark Gottfried primarily employs man-to-man defense, with some 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones as fallbacks. In the Wolfpack’s games against Clemson and Maryland, two teams that employ methodical offenses like Virginia, Gottfried had his team switch from man to zone, and both times the move was successful. The switch in the Clemson game allowed NC State to eke out a 66-62 home win, and Maryland scored a mere 51 points in a game that the Wolfpack lost on the offensive end. Neither Clemson (No. 189 in 3-point accuracy) nor Maryland (No. 217) could make State pay for its zone defense, but with UVa’s No. 17 ranking in 3-point accuracy (39.1%), Gottfried might be a bit gun shy about getting in the zone. As noted, this is one of the worst teams in Division I at forcing turnovers, which explains why the Wolfpack are No. 148 in adjusted defensive efficiency despite ranking No. 71 in opponent effective field goal percentage.
4. Player Turnover. Swingman C.J. Williams, who averaged 10.6 points per game for last year’s squad, is now lacing them up in Cyprus for Intercollege Etha Engomis. As we all know too well, big man DeShawn Painter (6.2 PPG last year) transferred to Old Dominion. Backup point guard Alex Johnson (2.8 assists/game) exhausted his eligibility last year after playing as a graduate transfer. Also gone from last season’s team are little used forwards Tyler Harris (transferred) and Kendall Smith (graduated) as well as guard Jaqawn Raymond (transferred). Finally, power forward Thomas de Thaey, who was averaging 5 points per game this season, left the team and went back to his native Belgium after 4 games.
5. Possible Starters. A look at the likely starters …
Point Guard: Lorenzo Brown (No. 2), a 6’5″, 186-pound junior, will man the helm for the Pack for a second straight year after playing as more of a combo guard during his freshman campaign. Brown is the complete package. He has strength, athleticism, a quick first step, and he is a solid scorer and great distributor to boot. Brown is second on the team with 13.2 points per game and averages a slick 7.2 assists against a too-high 3.5 turnovers per game. Brown doesn’t take too many shots from 3-point land (1.9/game), but he’s shooting a decent 35.1% from long range to go along with passable 44.2% accuracy from the field. Brown uses his size and athleticism to be a terror on the defensive end (when he wants to be), forcing 2.1 steals a game, and he gives the Wolfpack better than average rebounding from the “1” position, with 4.4 boards a game. Jontel Evans has his work cut out for him in this matchup, and it is a big ask to have either Teven Jones or Doug Browman attempt to mark Brown.
Shooting Guard: After getting cleared to play in mid-September by the NCAA, Rodney Purvis (No. 0), a 6’3″, 195-pound freshman, has hit the ground running, starting 18 of 20 games this season. Purvis is a freshman in the Justin Anderson mold as he had a college frame in high school and the type of speed, athleticism, and leaping ability that NBA scouts covet. Purvis is primarily a slasher although he does shoot 40% on his 2.8 3-point attempts per game. Given that he likes to take it to the hoop, the fact that he’s only shooting 43.6% from the field tells you that he doesn’t yet have much of a midrange game, which is confirmed by his mere 53.6% accuracy from the charity stripe. Overall, Purvis is averaging 9.8 points per game. Like Anderson, Purvis has the potential to be a great defender, but I would say that Anderson has progressed further in this regard. Purvis needs to increase his intensity on the defensive end and make sure that he doesn’t give opponents too much space. I can definitely see Paul Jesperson getting some open looks from 3-point range against Purvis, and any minutes that he’s matched against Justin Anderson should be fun to watch.
Small Forward: The Wolfpack’s biggest liability on the defensive end is Scott Wood (No. 15), a 6’6″, 169-pound senior. Wood, averaging 11.8 points per gam, is mainly in the Wolfpack starting lineup for two reasons: 3-point and free throw shooting. This season, 6 of his 7.7 shots a game come from long range, and he’s connecting on 42.5% of them. He also continues to be one of the premier free throw shooters in the ACC, hitting on 91.2% of his attempts. Those two things are pretty much what you get from Wood, with his 3-point attempts usually coming off screens as Wood doesn’t have the speed or athleticism to create his own shot. Wood’s lack of mobility means that opposing swingmen often have free reign to hit the open triple or take it to the lane with impunity. I will be interested to see who Bennett slots against Wood. Does Tony play Evan Nolte at the “3,” with Joe getting the tougher defensive assignment against C.J. Leslie based upon the foul trouble Nolte had against BC? Or does he keep those two players at their usual roles at the 3 and the 4 defensively? In either case, whichever sharpshooter is matched against Wood on the offensive end should have some space to operate.
Power Forward: C.J. Leslie (No. 5), a 6’9″, 200-pound junior, is a load down low. He paces the Pack with 15.4 points and is second on the team with 7 rebounds per game. Leslie possesses a good handle, speed, and explosiveness for a “4” and has a nice variety of post moves. State likes to isolate him in the post and let him beat his man off the dribble. Given his 2.9 turnovers per game, Leslie is a good candidate for the Pack-Line post trap, but doubling him will be dangerous given the presence of Richard Howell down low. Based on his length and athleticism, Leslie should be an above average defender, and he does average a steal and 1.1 blocks a game, but the effort and positioning just aren’t there on a consistent enough basis. Again, the question here is whether Leslie is matched with Harris or Nolte, but, in either case, UVa will have a tall task on the defensive end dealing with Leslie.
Center: Richard Howell (No. 1), is a 6’8″, 257-pound wrecking ball, who can cause Virginia a lot of problems, as when he pulled down 18 rebounds against the Hoos at the RBC Center last year. Howell is a banger who averages a double-double (12.8 PPG and 11.1 RPG) and takes high percentage shots close to the basket. Howell’s offense doesn’t extend that far away from the basket, but it doesn’t need to. Defensively, Howell isn’t especially mobile and can be exploited on the perimeter, with the former feature favoring Akil Mitchell and the latter feature favoring Mike Tobey . Howell is the only Wolfpack player who averages more than 1.7 offensive rebounds per game (he has 4.1), and keeping him off the offensive glass could be the key to the game.
6. Key Reserves. Some of State’s other contributors …
Forward: T.J. Warren (No. 24), a 6’8″, 233-pound freshman, is a player who averages 1.7 offensive rebounds a game. Warren is also fourth on the team with 12.6 points per game and is connecting on an eye-popping 65.3% of his shots. Essentially a sixth starter, Warren averages 25.5 minutes per game and can fill it up from all of the court in a variety of ways, including pull-up jumpers and drives to the basket. Warren isn’t the fastest or most athletic player you’ve ever seen, but he simply knows how to find holes in the defense and put the biscuit in the basket. It is on the defensive end where Warren’s limitations are more apparent, and he’s still learning how to play defense at the college level and could use some more time in the weight room in the offseason.
And, that’s it. Freshman point guard Tyler Lewis has played a total of 23 minutes in 7 ACC games while redshirt junior center Jordan Vandenberg has played a total of 29 (including 14 against Wake Forest). Unless NC State has some injuries or foul trouble, neither of these guys should see more than spot duty.
7. Prediction. The key statistic that was bandied about after NC State beat Duke and then lost at Maryland is that the Wolfpack is 1-13 in its last 14 ACC games following a victory over Duke or UNC, with that one win coming at home against UNC after a win against Duke. You get the idea. NCSU has historically had difficulty getting up for an opponent after beating its two premier rivals on Tobacco Road. So, will the Pack be 1-14 after Tuesday night since they just beat Carolina?
The Team Rankings Simulation has this one as a 65.8-64.1 Wolfpack win while 504-C Brandon has it as a 64.9-62.9 UVa win, with the Wahoos having a 56.3% chance of winning. I think that these predictions pretty much have it right, with this year’s contest looking a lot like last year’s regular season game.
There is, however, one key difference. Let’s look at the two statistics that I love: Last season, NC State was No. 283 in opponent turnovers per possession. As noted, this year, the Pack are No. 319. Last season, State was No. 37 in offensive rebounding rate. This season, the Pack is No. 102. These aren’t huge differences, but they do indicate that NC State is less dangerous than it was a season ago in the two categories that seem to cause Virginia the most problems. Indeed, the Wolfpack’s combined score of 421 would make them worse in these categories combined than any team that has beaten the Hoos this season. Virginia should force the visitors to play at its pace and limit transition opportunities in this one too.
So the question will be whether the Cavaliers can score enough to keep pace with the Wolfpack, and I will predict that the Hoos do just enough to eke out a 63-61 win.