Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ACC basketball preview: N.C. State

N.C. State

2009-10 record: 20-16 overall, 5-11 ACC (11th)

Postseason: NIT (1-1, lost to UAB)

Projected starting lineup: G Javier Gonzalez, G Lorenzo Brown, F C.J. Leslie, F Tracy Smith, F Rich Howell


• Level playing field

With the addition of freshmen C.J. Leslie, Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown to a core of Tracy Smith, Scott Wood, Rich Howell and Javier Gonzalez, N.C. State has as many functional parts as any team in the league.

You could never write that sentence under Les Robinson and maybe only once or twice under Herb Sendek (2003-04, Julius Hodge's senior year, was arguably his best roster).

That means Sidney Lowe has put himself in position, in Year 5, to win games not by fluke but by simply being better than the other team. That's a major step up from any position he's operated under in his professional career, going all the way back to some bad NBA teams in Vancouver and Minnesota.

• Flexibility

Brown and Leslie have the ability to play multiple positions which adds a flexibility to the program. Brown can handle the ball, shoot and create his own shot. Leslie can defend the "four" and play the "three."

One of the freshmen guards can be on the floor with Gonzalez and move him off the ball, where he has proven to be an effective 3-point shooter.

Wood should get more space to do what he does best (hit shots) while not having to defend the other team's best forward (although he still could).

There are options for Lowe, which, of course, is both good and bad, because he has shown a propensity to do too much with his rotation for too long during the season, but at least he has options.

• Light bulb

It's dangerous to extrapolate too much from the end of one season to the beginning of another, but the way State finished 2009-10 — with six wins in nine games and an emphasis on defense and decision-making — suggests the light finally clicked.

A "Oh, so this is how we have to play to win" kind of epiphany for a group that returns three starters and loses really only one valuable piece (Dennis Horner).

It was not an accident that State went 6-1 down the stretch when it held an opponent under 70 points.


• Turning potential into reality

Lowe's in a delicate position because he needs to win now to keep his job but he also needs to tread carefully with this team.

For the better part of two years, we've all heard how good this class is — including the current players — so there's a natural tension between the returning players and the new ones.

That tension doesn't have to be combustible, the way the 2007-08 roster was, but the situation needs to be managed carefully lest it turn into the sequel of "Nightmare on Hickson-Costner-McCauley-Grant Street."

Gonzalez has given his blood and guts to the program, paying his dues early in his career in some trying and overmatched situations, and developing into a productive (yet still erratic) ACC player. How will he mesh with Harrow and Brown?

Wood was the only player to start every game last season, as a freshman no less. How will he handle coming off the bench, if that's how the lineup shakes out?

Smith was the center of this team's universe last season and had the numbers (16.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) to prove it. How will he handle not being options 1 through 4? His touches are going to be reduced, is that going to be a problem?

• Schedule

This is both a plus and minus because with six games against Duke, UNC and Florida State, N.C. State's RPI certainly won't be lacking but the conference record could be.

The good news is Georgia Tech, in a similar situation last year, went 7-9 in the ACC and got into the NCAA tournament (they did reach the ACC tournament final, though, keep in mind) while Virginia Tech went 10-6 and watched the NCAA tournament on TV because it didn't have enough wins (or games) against the top ACC teams.

Bottom line

Lowe compiled a 79-229 record in parts of five NBA seasons. His ACC record is 20-44 at N.C. State. He has been quick to point out the discrepancy in talent between his teams and his competition.

That's no longer the case and if he doesn't win enough this season, it will be his last head coaching job for the foreseeable future.

That could be construed as pressure or a challenge. It's up to Lowe to decide which one it will be in what promises to be an entertaining season.

He will have to manage the roster, and egos, better than he has previously but the way the 2009-10 season finished suggests this team is ready to listen and continue its progress from March.

Given the schedule, it will be difficult for this team to win 10 ACC games but a 9-7 record is there for the taking if the right buttons are pushed.

Returning players
F Tracy Smith Sr. 16.5 7.3 1.1
G Javier Gonzalez Sr. 9.5 3.3 3.7
G Scott Wood Soph. 7.8 2.9 1.4
F Rich Howell Soph. 4.9 4.6 0.6
G C.J. Williams Jr. 4.3 2.6 1.3
F DeShawn Painter Soph. 1.6 1.2 0.0
F Jordan Vandenberg Soph. 1.0 1.8 0.2
F Dennis Horner 11.9 4.9 1.4
G Farnold Degand 5.5 2.4 2.5
G Julius Mays (transfer) 4.6 1.2 1.6
F Josh Davis (transfer) 2.6 1.7 0.5
F Johnny Thomas (transfer) 0.8 0.9 0.2
F C.J. Leslie Fr. 6-8 190 11
G Ryan Harrow Fr. 5-11 155 25
G Lorenzo Brown Fr. 6-4 175 28*

Note: Brown's rank from the class of 2009.

Recruiting analysis by Dave Telep,

Harrow: "A trickster with the ball and a major threat to find the bottom of the net. He has work to do in the weight room but what he lacks in strength he makes up for in swagger. The Pack needed a guy to get buckets and he's at the front of the line to provide the punch."

Brown: "Don't be surprised if he becomes the primary offensive decision maker. He's physically ready, can score it in his own right and may be most ready to handle the decision-making as a freshman. Either way, he and Harrow are a super 1-2 tandem."

Leslie: "End to end, he's as athletic as they come plus he gives the Pack a helpside shot blocker, above the rim player and forward who can create his own offense. He's the perfect complement to Tracy Smith."

-- J.P. Giglio


Anonymous said...

No way Harrow does not start from game one.

Anonymous said...

"the situation needs to be managed carefully lest it turn into the sequel of 'Nightmare on Hickson-Costner-McCauley-Grant Street.'"

What a prescient comment.