N.C. State at Wake Forest
NC State (12-5, 1-1) at Wake Forest (10-6, 1-1), 1:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
Wake Forest has played above expectations, beating Virginia Tech and nearly stealing a road win at Maryland. It will be very interesting to see how N.C. State responds to losing its first ACC game. Their head coach Mark Gottfried wasn’t shy about the number of ACC wins he sees as the goal – 11 – and if the Wolfpack want to get there, they have to win games like this. But Wake is confident, and N.C. State’s may still be shaken.
Stat to watch: Three-point shooting. This is not just because Georgia Tech, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in D-I, shredded the nets on 9-of-15 three-pointers against N.C. State on Wednesday. And it’s not just because N.C. State is allowing opponents to shoot 39.2% from three. It’s also because Wake Forest is a pretty good three-point shooting team. The Deacons are shooting just 36% from three but in wins, they have shot 41.5% (25.6% in losses). Wake Forest also defends the three-pointer pretty well, allowing just 32%. Wake has held ACC opponents to 10-of-37 (27%) from three, including Virginia Tech, who was red-hot from three coming in (the Hokies shot 6-of-22).
The Wolfpack has struggled to shoot three’s lately, just 7-of-28 in ACC play (25%) and 23-of-76 in the last five games (30.3%). If Scott Wood isn’t making three’s, N.C. State isn’t either: he has shot just 3-of-13 in ACC play and 12-of-35 (34.3%) in the last five games after starting the season 31-of-63 (49.2%). It’s not fair to put it all on Wood, who has made 47% of State’s three’s (44% accuracy) while his teammates’s accuracy is 30.6%. But Wood tweeted out an apology Wednesday night to N.C. State fans from @ScottWood15: “Sorry wolfpack nation. My worst game since coming to state. I’ll turn it around no more 10th plAce promise [sic].” If the Wolfpack wants to avoid disappointment, someone needs to help him.
Most important players: Richard Howell, N.C. State and C.J. Harris, Wake Forest. Howell averaged 13.6 rebounds in the five games leading into ACC play. He has a total of eight rebounds in two ACC games and just four against Georgia Tech. He also has averaged 3.5 fouls and 3.0 turnovers in two ACC games (four turnovers and four fouls against Georgia Tech) and no blocks. His foul trouble in the first half helped Georgia Tech take an 11-point lead at the break. Wake Forest is not a good rebounding team and Maryland was able to dominate the backboards, out-rebounding Wake 45-37 (21-10 on the offensive glass). It can be difficult to score against Wake at times, particularly if they slow it down, but N.C. State has to be able to exploit its size advantage and Howell is a big part of that.
Harris missed Wake’s last non-conference game against Wofford (Wake lost). But since his return, Harris has struggled (by his standards), averaging 11.5 points on 37% shooting. Before his injury, he was averaging 18.7 points on 54% shooting. In Wake’s ten wins, he has shot SIXTY percent from the floor and 64% from three, averaging 19.1 points. In the five losses he has played in, he has averaged 15 points but on 37% shooting (31.6% from three). Considering the damage the Georgia Tech guards were able to do against N.C. State’s defense, the Wolfpack had better be ready to deal with Harris.
Random Stat: Maybe it’s a good omen that N.C. State didn’t equal its longest winning streak since 2008 on Wednesday night. As the 2008 season began, the Wolfpack was coming off of a promising end to Sidney Lowe’s first season as head coach (2006-07), reaching the ACC Tournament title game. State started the 2007-08 season picked third in the ACC and went 11-3 in the non-conference, riding a seven-game winning streak into ACC play. It then got clobbered in its opener at UNC, 93-62: the Tar Heels went on a 25-0 run in the first half as N.C. State scored just 13 first-half points. As good as it would get for N.C. State in ACC play was 4-4 (15-7 overall) – then the wheels really fell off. The Wolfpack lost their last eight games to finish 15-16.
Prediction: N.C. State 89, Wake Forest 74
Last week: 6-3 (4-2)
Season: 68-24 (7-5)