N.C. State at Miami
NC State (14-5, 3-1) at Miami (10-6, 1-2), 12:00 PM, ESPNU
This is the start of a brutal three-game stretch for N.C. State: Miami and North Carolina on the road followed by a strong Virginia team at home. They could really use a win to build on what they have done against Wake and Boston College before heading to face rival North Carolina, but they can’t look past this game. Miami has things a little easier in its next three games after N.C. State: at Georgia Tech and BC, then hosting Maryland – but if the Hurricanes are going to be in the upper echelon of the league, they need to win their home games, even against good teams like N.C. State.
Stat to watch: Points in the paint/two-point buckets. It’s an area both teams have struggled in at times, and although both Miami’s three-point offense and N.C. State’s three-point defense get more attention, both have been crucial for each team on both ends of the court. The Wolfpack has actually shot better from inside the arc in league play (52.2%) than they did out of conference (50.5%). They’ve defended it better as well, allowing 44.1% compared to 44.7%. Miami has made 50% of its two-point attempts or better against every opponent but Virginia since the return of Reggie Johnson. The Hurricanes even made 51% of their two-point attempts at North Carolina and 56% against a solid Clemson defense. But Miami’s opponents have begun to shoot better from inside the arc as well – an offensively-challenged Clemson team managed 57% from two and North Carolina shot 55 percent. So if they don’t control the paint against the Wolfpack (ACC opponents have averaged 33.3 points in the paint and the Hurricanes have averaged 26) they will be in for a long afternoon. N.C. State is allowing 25 points in the paint in league play but the Wolfpack averages 33.5. The Wolfpack need to remember to keep attacking the paint, whether it be off the dribble or via their big guys.
Most important players: Malcolm Grant, Miami and C.J. Leslie, N.C. State. Malcolm Grant has been struggling a bit since his older brother died unexpectedly, and this article in the Miami Sun-Sentinel talks about how he feels like he might have been trying to do too much. He settled in nicely against Clemson after an eight-day break, scoring 16 points (his most since December 10th) on 5-of-12 shooting and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. He added four assists, two steals and just two turnovers in 34 minutes. Miami doesn’t have enough elite playmakers right now to beat good teams when he struggles. He torched the Wolfpack’s defense last year, shooting 9-of-14 from the floor (5-of-5 from three) and scoring 23 points in a close loss in Raleigh, and N.C. State has shown it is vulnerable to good guard play.
C.J. Leslie has been all in lately for the Wolfpack, particularly since he was taken out of the starting lineup against Wake Forest. It’s not just the numbers he’s putting up: he’s been incredibly active on both ends and was perhaps the highest-energy player for the Wolfpack against Boston College. He had 14 points in 17 minutes and though he was credited for just three rebounds and two steals, he tipped out a number of offensive rebounds or loose balls to his teammates. He did go to the locker room with cramps in the second half, and that’s a concern. With heady guard C.J. Williams listed as “doubtful but hopeful” for the Miami game (per head coach Mark Gottfried), the Wolfpack needs Leslie to continue to play as intelligently as he has lately as well.
Random stat: N.C. State is 7-4 against Miami, despite struggling in ACC play over the last few years, and hasn’t lost to the Hurricanes since 2009. But of the ten meetings since Miami joined the ACC, just three have been decided by double digits. The most either team won by is 15 (Miami in 2007). Miami has won just twice six games since 2008 but their four losses have come by a total of 12 points. Two of the last six meetings have come down to overtime.
Prediction: Miami 79, N.C. State 77
Last week: 6-5
Season: 78-29 (16-10 ACC)