N.C. State: ACC Outlook

Scott Wood had to make a last-second shot to beat Delaware State last year. This year, the Wolfpack beat them by 34.

Record to date: 11-4

Strength so far: Shot selection. Under former head coach Sidney Lowe, to call N.C. State’s shot selection questionable would be an understatement. This year, new head coach Mark Gottfried will not abide bad shots. N.C. State has assists on 64% of their made field goals. The team is averaging 17.8 assists and is shooting 48.1% from the floor, averaging 77.3 points. The Wolfpack is third in the league (behind Carolina in Duke) in points per possession with 0.95, even with their tough non-conference schedule.

Needs improvement: Defense of any kind, but particularly forcing turnovers. N.C. State is allowing 0.87 points per possession, 11th in the league and slightly better than Maryland. The defense is 11th in forcing turnovers (15.2% loss of ball). State doesn’t play great on-ball defense, but they have some active hands on the perimeter and their transition offense feasts on turnovers. The Wolfpack is averaging 16 points a game off turnovers, but they haven’t had 20 or more since scoring 21 in a come-from-behind win over Texas. Wolfpack opponents have committed fewer than 15 turnovers in 11 straight games. State has averaged an insane 24.3 fast break points in the last four games, and that could go up even higher if the Wolfpack could force a few more turnovers.

Most important player: Scott Wood. The Marion, IN native is shooting 47% from three and has made nearly half of State’s three-pointers (40 of 85) on just over a third of their attempts (85 of 230). He’s been in a bit of a “slump” (by his standards) to end non-conference play, making 15-of-41 in the last six games. His presence has opened up the Wolfpack offense. Without him, State lost to Vanderbilt and barely beat Princeton. With him, they’re 7-3 an had a chance to beat Indiana and Syracuse. He missed one of N.C. State’s four losses, but in the other three he shot 12-of-23 (7-of-15 from three). The issue has been that he fouled out twice. He has averaged just 1.6 fouls in the last seven games.

Reason for optimism: Offense. This team is capable of scoring with anyone in the league, even Duke and North Carolina. The Wolfpack also starts ACC play with four ACC teams ranked 125th or lower (per Ken Pomeroy) and has a chance to gain some early momentum. With Scott Wood making three’s and Richard Howell emerging as a really good big man for them, there’s so much balance to this offense.

Reason for pessimism: No depth. N.C. State has essentially pared down its rotation to seven players that will likely play in every ACC game. Alex Johnson has made his way into the rotation (19.9 mpg), but Jordan Vandenberg (11.9 mpg) will likkely redshirt and Tyler Harris (10.1 mpg) hasn’t played much in big games. Just one injury, suspension or foul-riddled game could be really bad.

Surprising stat: Lorenzo Brown didn’t make the Cousy Award finalist list despite averaging 12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He has an assist to turnover ratio of 2.2 (45 turnovers, his only bad statistic), and he’s doing all this in his first year as a point guard.

Most likely wins (8): Maryland (1/8), Ga. Tech (1/11), @Wake (1/14), BC (1/19), @BC (2/1), Wake (2/4), @Ga. Tech (2/9), FSU (2/18)

Most likely losses (4): @Miami (1/22), @UNC (1/26), @Duke (2/16), @Va. Tech (3/4)

Toss-ups (4): UVA (1/28), UNC (2/21), @Clemson (2/25), Miami (2/29)

Best-case scenario: 12-4. The Wolfpack’s schedule stacks up nicely. If they win their toss-ups, they have a legit shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Worst-case scenario: 8-8. That’s pretty good for a worst-case. But it still means no NCAA Tournament.

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