Tag Archive | C.J. Leslie

NC State: Slow Starts, Tough Stretches and Clutch Scott Wood

It had been a back-and-forth game, and it was tied for the 11th time at the under-eight timeout. Not much had been going right for NC State – Leslie was called for a charge just before (his third) and Georgia Tech was seemingly getting to every loose ball.

And of course, the fans weren’t the only ones upset about the officiating. The players were visibly frustrated with calls they felt should have gone their way. “We’ve just got to play through those calls,” freshman Rodney Purvis said. “I don’t know what we do wrong to the referees. It’s been like this three games where they’ve just been on us hard. Either way, we’re going to fight through it regardless and do whatever we’ve got to do to win the game.”

Last year’s NC State team had plenty of stretches like that, when a series of questionable bad calls, bad breaks and general bad vibes dragged the team down and made it play unfocused. In just two ACC games, this year’s NC State team is developing the opposite reputation.

And after the 12th tie of the game, NC State went on a 17-5 run over the next 4:46 to essentially clinch the game. Scott Wood, a senior who – like his team – had a reputation of letting frustrating stretches dictate how he played, had 11 of his 20 points during that run.

Earlier in the game, Wood was miffed that referee Jamie Luckie didn’t call a foul on a three-point attempt, and even more annoyed when Luckie called him for an offensive foul on a subsequent possession. So he stared Luckie down when he hit a three-pointer a few minutes later, and that sequence seemed to ignite him.

“I think that one call kind of frustrated him after he got the charge. He just shook it off and found better ways to get open,” point guard Lorenzo Brown, who had four points and three assists during the 17-5 run, said of Wood. “It’s actually the screens. We run a play called ‘corner’ and the big guys set screens for Scott.”

Wood hit some big shots late against Boston College when his team really needed some points. He’s become somewhat of a go-to guy down the clutch, but he doesn’t necessarily see it that way. “I think it’s just taking what the defense is giving us,” Wood said. “They’re really trying to take away C.J. (Leslie) and Richard (Howell), so they’re trying to call some plays to get the guards kind of moving a little bit and get them coming off screens.”

Wood has also developed a bit of a reputation for dunking. Well, it’s debatable whether you could call some of his dunks real dunks. And he had another “semi-dunk” against Georgia Tech – but not if you ask him. This semi-dunk, according to Wood, was only because a Georgia Tech player hit him as he was going up.

“I was just going to rip the goal down and (a Georgia Tech player) hit the back of my leg,” Wood said. “Go watch on film.”

All right, Scott. We get it. You got hit, and it affected your explosiveness. But final verdict: dunk or no dunk?

“I would count it as a dunk. That’s a white man’s dunk,” Wood said. “Any white person in this room would count that as a dunk.”

NC State: Three-Guard Lineups, Richard Howell Doesn’t Foul, T.J. Warren’s Efficiency, A Lucky Bounce

Because who doesn’t need to see the giant cardboard cutout of C.J. Leslie again?

SIX STARTERS AND INTERESTING LINEUPS

NC State head coach Mark Gottfried has said all year long that he essentially has six starters (Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis, Scott Wood, T.J. Warren, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell). With some rare exceptions – a matchup he might want to exploit, or maybe a violation of team rules – there’s no real rhyme or reason to who that sixth starter will be.

The freshmen, Purvis and Warren, are the only two of the six that have missed starts, though. Purvis started the first five games, and after a loss to Oklahoma State and a close shave against UNC-Asheville, Warren started the next two (at Michigan and UConn). Warren struggled against the Huskies, and Purvis has been the starter the last two games.

But Gottfried said that both will get their minutes regardless, and that’s appeared to be the case. “It’s just not one of those things for me that I’m going to get all that worried up about,” Gottfried said. “I know players do. Everybody wants to start, I know that.”

Junior reserve Jordan Vandenberg missed the game with a knee injury, leaving NC State with seven healthy scholarship players on Saturday. Both Wood (a wing) and Leslie (a forward) were in foul trouble throughout the game, which resulted in some new lineups. At one point, three players who could in theory play point guard – Brown, Purvis and freshman reserve Tyler Lewis – were in at the same time.

After the game, Purvis was asked if that three-guard lineup had ever been used before. “Yeah, several times,” Purvis said. He paused, thinking it over.  “Well…not really. Not a lot.” NC State goes with a lot of different lineups in practice, but Purvis said that he can’t remember ever being out there in practice with Brown and Lewis.

When asked if we’d see that lineup again, he seemed much more confident. “Every game, it seems to be a new guy in foul trouble with this team,” Purvis said with a grin. “So you’re going to see many different lineups. I can promise you that.”

RICHARD HOWELL DOESN’T FOUL (LATELY)

One guy that hasn’t been in foul trouble lately? Richard Howell. The senior has seemingly decided he doesn’t much care for losing, and since the loss at Michigan (when he fouled out) he has a total of four fouls in the last three games. NC State has arguably two of its toughest wins this year – UNC-Asheville and UConn – directly because of Howell not being in foul trouble. He played 68 minutes combined in those games, and only missed time during the UConn game because of taking an elbow to the head/neck region.

“Richard has been in foul trouble a number of nights and just can’t get in a flow. … Last year, there were very few games where he could get 34 minutes like he did (Saturday), very few, because of the foul situation,” Gottfried said. “He’s developing some discipline defensively. He’s not reaching as much. He’s not putting himself in positions where he’s trying to recover and make silly fouls. We’re a lot better as a team when all of them are out of foul trouble, quite honestly.”

Howell pulled down nearly half of NC State’s rebounds (19, a career-high, out of 42) by himself on Saturday, including 16 of their 32 defensive rebounds. He’s listed at 6-8, but he’s more like 6-7. His freakishly long arms and fantastic hands are part of the reason he had a tendency to reach in on the perimeter and try to get a steal, but they also make him the great rebounder that he’s become.

Sometimes, even his teammates have a tendency to assume he’ll get every rebound. “What happens to our team at times too is because he’s such a good rebounder, we’ve got other guys leaking our every now and then because we feel like he’s going to get it. If he doesn’t get it, balls are around the floor and bouncing and (the opponents) pick up some loose balls because we’re leaking out (in transition),” Gottfried said.

“But we’re leaking out because there’s so much confidence that Richard’s going to get it. What we’ve got to do is make sure that we still rebound as a team better. But he finds a way usually to help us start the break. He’ll get rid of it quick on an outlet pass so we can start the break. He made some nice passes, I thought, too tonight. He had a heck of a game.”

T.J. WARREN’S CRAZY EFFICIENCY

Warren continues to look like an ACC Rookie of the Year candidate. His game is reminiscent of former North Carolina star Antawn Jamison with his quick release and overall smoothness. Nothing looks difficult for Warren, and every shot looks like it’s going in (and most have – he’s hit 69% of his field goals this season).

As quietly as someone can have 21 points, Warren did that Saturday. He was 9-of-11 from the floor and 2-of-2 from three-point range. He has shot 7-of-11 from three this year (64%).

Even at 6-foot-8, he’s got the green light from three. Well, maybe. “Sort of, kind of, yeah,” Warren said. “I just want to have confidence when I’m shooting that. Coach told me to shoot that, so that’s what I’m going to do.”

When asked to elaborate on “sort of”, he said, “Shoot it when I’m open.” The follow-up question was: “When you’re feeling it?” Warren shrugged. “I mean, I can shoot it whenever.”

If there’s a negative with Warren, it’s that he hasn’t done much else besides score. He is averaging just 3.4 rebounds a game (he had five on Saturday, his most since November 15) and he has just two blocks all season. But considering he’s scored 131 points in 237 minutes, it’s very difficult to find fault.

LUCKY BOUNCE

It sounds insane to say this on a night when the Wolfpack put up 84 points and shot 57%, but they did leave plenty of points on the floor, as the saying goes. The Wolfpack shot just 64% from the foul line (which is their season average), blew a few transition opportunities trying to get “too cute” as their head coach put it and turned it over 17 times.

But there was one basket that even Purvis admits was probably a gift from the basketball gods. Brown attempted to throw Purvis an alley-oop in transition on the other side of the basket, but Purvis only got his fingertips on it, almost like he was setting the ball in volleyball. It popped up in the air and somehow fell in the basket.

They were fortunate on that play, but Purvis said that he and Brown are really starting to get a good feel for each other when they’re on the court together. “Honestly, I don’t know how that went in. It hurt my fingernail, so I don’t really know how that went in,” Purvis said. “The mental connection, we play a lot in practice, getting a feel for each other, knowing what each other can do, what spots and what’s good for each other. So we just try our best to capitalize on everything.”

Dec. 4-5 ACC Previews

Georgia (2-5) at Georgia Tech (4-2), 7:00 PM, ESPNU

Uga IV might have gone to the Heisman ceremony with Herschel Walker, but Uga V was in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, and did this.

What to watch: The three-point line. Georgia Tech has some players that can, in theory, make three-pointers. It’s not happening yet this year though, as the Yellow Jackets are shooting just 24.3 percent from beyond the arc. But they’re improving lately: in the last two games (a win over St. Mary’s and a loss at Illinois), they have shot 15-of-40 from three (37.5%) compared to 11-of-67 (16.4%) in the first four games.

Random Georgia facts: Georgia’s first mascot was not a bulldog, but a billy goat. It was adopted in 1892 and wore a hat with ribbons on his horns. Auburn fans chanted “shoot the billy goat” throughout the football game.

Prediction: Georgia Tech, 61-54. Georgia hung with Indiana for awhile earlier this year, but Georgia Tech is much improved this year and still looks like the better team.

Harvard (3-3) at Boston College (3-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Freakiest mascot of all time. Has to be.

What to watch: The foul line. The only games Boston College has won this season, it has averaged 30 free-throw attempts per game. But Harvard leads the nation in free throw attempts/field goal attempts. The Crimson also score 30.3% of their points from the foul line.

Random Harvard facts: John the Orangeman was actually Harvard’s first mascot. He sold fruit to the students at football games on a cart pulled by a donkey named Radcliffe in the late 1800′s.

Prediction: Harvard, 59-51. So…is Harvard good? Their resume reads a lot like a BC resume: wins over MIT, Manhattan and Fordham but losses to Massachusetts, St. Joseph’s and Vermont. The real problem, though, is that Boston College finds a way to lose to Harvard even when the Eagles are good.

No. 25 NC State (4-2) vs. Connecticut (6-1), 9:00 PM, ESPN, Madison Square Garden (Jimmy V Classic)

Sad dog.

What to watch: NC State’s defense. The Wolfpack has had to face a lot of talented offenses so far this year, but even against some of the less-talented offenses (like UNC-Asheville), they’ve played subpar defense. UConn’s offense has struggled all year, but the Huskies don’t turn it over much and get to the foul line quite a bit. NC State can’t let UConn get going. The Huskies have three very good guards in Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun, all of whom are averaging double figures.

Calvin Leslie. When he shows up, NC State is very difficult to beat. In last year’s NCAA Tournament run, he was dynamic, engaged and a difference-maker. In some games this year, he’s been easily distracted for whatever reason and a virtual non-factor in some other games. NC State absolutely needs him in a game like this. He had arguably his best game of the year at Michigan – 16 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes – and even though he picked up four fouls, he helped the Wolfpack keep that game close.

Random UConn facts: Way too many live husky mascots met an early death after being hit by a car, and other UConn mascot facts.

Prediction: NC State, 77-68. Connecticut is puzzling. The Huskies barely beat Quinnipiac, Wake Forest, Stony Brook and New Hampshire. But then they beat Michigan State. And they did win all those games, to be fair. But NC State pretty much has to have this one, and it’s a very winnable game for them.

DECEMBER 5

Florida (6-0) at Florida State (4-3), 7:00 PM, ESPN2

Go…Benevolent Dragons?

What to watch: The three-point line. Really, the only way for Florida State to have a chance to beat Florida is hit three-pointers and keep Florida from hitting theirs. The Gators have averaged 9.5 three-pointers made in the last two games and though they don’t always hit a high percentage, they will hit enough. Florida State, meanwhile, is making 39.1% of its three’s but has made just 11-of-33 in the last two games (both losses) and 16-of-54 (29.6%) in three losses compared to 29-of-61 (47.5%) in wins.

Random Florida facts: It’s a pretty simple mascot, but Florida could never quite seem to settle on the best look for its Gator. Including the above attempt, which is perhaps the most 70′s thing ever.

Prediction: Florida, 75-59. Um, so, Florida is good. Really good. The two best teams they’ve played this year, Wisconsin and Marquette, they’ve beaten mercilessly: 74-56 and 82-49, respectively. Florida State might not even be as good as either of those teams, and this is a rivalry game.

High Point (4-3) at Wake Forest (3-4), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

What to watch: C.J. Harris and Travis McKie. Wake’s leading scorers have been struggling. In Wake’s last two games – both losses – Harris is 2-of-11 from the floor, 0-of-3 from three and just 4-of-4 from the foul line. Prior to the last two games, he had shot 22-of-43 and attempted 7.4 free throws per game. He has missed his last 11 three-pointers. Travis McKie is 5-of-19 from the floor in the last two games and has averaged 8.5 points. He had averaged 15.6 points on 45% shooting before that. Wake isn’t going to win many games without even one of them playing badly, much less both.

Random High Point facts: High Point’s panther mascot is one of the very few mascots where little to no history exists (at least in the immediately searchable internet). So, here’s a video?

Prediction: Wake Forest, 79-67. To be fair to Wake, they covered the spread against Richmond! In all seriousness, the Deacons fought in that game, which shows that they might still have it in them to win a game like this, against a team they should beat. High Point’s best loss this season was by 14 at Indiana State.

Tennessee (4-2) at Virginia (6-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

What to watch: Can Virginia’s big men keep it up? Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins have had great seasons so far, averaging 12.6 points and 7.8 points, respectively. In UVa’s biggest win this year against Wisconsin, the two combined for 68 minutes, 25 points and 17 rebounds. They’ve been a big reason UVa is on a five-game winning streak, but the Tennessee defense will provide a stiff test.

Random Tennessee facts: Tennessee’s bluetick coonhound dog mascot has always been a bit frisky, but not many dogs are brave (or stupid) enough to mix it up with a live bear. In 1957, that’s what happened and though Smokey II lived through it, he was supposedly never the same.

He still goes after players, though.

Prediction: Virginia, 58-49. The only team Tennessee has managed to pull away from for a convincing win this year was Oakland (they beat them 77-50). Everyone else – even Kennesaw State and UNC-Asheville – has hung with the Volunteers. In their two losses, Tennessee has a grand total of 81 points, including a 37-36 loss to Georgetown on Friday night that offended the basketball gods to their very core.

UMES (0-7) at Maryland (6-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN3

Quick: guess which mascot was supposed to be a "new and improved" version.

Quick: guess which mascot was supposed to be a “new and improved” version.

What to watch: Maryland’s freshmen. Shaquille Cleare has played a combined 14 minutes and in Maryland’s two closest games this year (Kentucky and George Mason), mostly because he picked up a combined five fouls in that span. Jake Layman hasn’t hit a three-pointer since November 12 (0-6 since) or any shot at all since November 20 (four games, 0-of-5). Charles Mitchell’s minutes have been fairly steady, and he has been rebounding well. Seth Allen has played well, but he had no assists and two turnovers in the George Mason win. And so if Maryland’s can’t build up a big enough lead for all of these freshmen to continue to develop, the Terrapins have bigger problems.

Random UMES facts: In the late 1940s, UMES still didn’t have a nickname and the newspapers were starting to call the team “The Fishermen”. That wouldn’t do, so they found some sort of convoluted way to come up with another mascot – the Hawk.

Prediction: Maryland 87-59. UMES is winless this season, but it has been close twice: 10-point losses to Arkansas Pine Bluff and Delaware State. Ouch.

 

Last week: 18-12

Overall: 64-20

ACC Basketball 2012-13 Season Previews, Part 3

NC STATE

Lindsay Funke: You’ll never be able to pull this off, Michael. You’re the good guy. This isn’t you.

Michael: It’s me now, Lindsay. It’s the me that can recline.

[he leans back and hits his head on the railing]

_____

Lindsay Funke: I’m saying every time something starts to go well for you, you blow it.

Tobias Fünke: Nothing has ever gone well for me, and you know that.

NC State has not been the favorite in quite some time, and whenever it had a semblance of preseason hype, the team has fallen flat on its face (see 2008). In the fan base, a phenomenon of NC State….stuff has arisen: the concept that what can go wrong, will go wrong, in all sports. And sometimes, things no one would even think could go wrong, go wrong. Sheer terror has gripped NC State fans as they see that their team is the prohibitive favorite to win the league.

2012 record/results: 24-13 overall, 9-7 ACC, No. 11 seed in NCAA Tournament, Sweet 16 (L to No. 2 seed Kansas). Yes, NC State lost 13 games last year. But they lost to just two teams all season that finished outside Pomeroy’s top 50, and 11 of their 13 losses were to top-33 teams (eight to the top 20).

Reason for optimism: As the Wolfpack bought into what then first-year head coach Mark Gottfried was selling, they became a better defensive team by the end of the year and won six of their final eight games. Their only two losses were to top-10 teams North Carolina and Kansas, by a combined five points. Oh, and they return pretty much their entire core from last year: four of five starters, including point guard Lorenzo Brown, who should complete the transition he began last year from very good to elite.

Reason for pessimism: There’s little depth on this team, and the depth they do have they’re not likely to use. Big men Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie are still going to pick up questionable fouls, and when those one or both have to sit down, freshman T.J. Warren could come in along with…Thomas de Thaey? Jordan Vandenberg? Both are unproven, and not as good as last year’s go-to big man sub DeShawn Painter, who transferred. Senior small forward Scott Wood is the only reliable three-point shooter on the team, and he has struggled to get off his shot against more athletic defenders. Who else can make outside shots if he’s not hitting?

VIRGINIA

Michael: Maybe we were better off with me being businesslike and you being the good time useless party guy.

Gob: It got us this far. And I must say I miss the laughter. Oh God, how they used to laugh with me.

Michael: AT you. We have to figure out a way to hire everybody back. A meeting.

Gob: A party.

Michael: No, we just had a party.

Gob: Yeah but I didn’t get to have any fun.

_____

Gob: [arms crossed] Then there’s me. The joker. The goofball. The magician.

[quickly makes a magician's gesture with his hands]

Michael: I thought you were gonna do a little fireball there.

Gob: I was. It didn’t go off.

I have no idea why those quotes work for Virginia. They just do.

2012 record/results: 22-10 overall, 9-7 ACC, No. 10 seed in NCAA Tournament, First Round (L to No. 7 seed Florida). Virginia began the season 15-2 with one of their losses being a close one at Duke that convinced everyone the Cavaliers were for real. But they finished the season 7-8.

Reason for optimism: Head coach Tony Bennett will have Virginia playing pesky defense, as usual. UVa lost Mike Scott, who was one of the best players in the ACC last year, but they still have two starters left (wing Joe Harris and point guard Jontel Evans). Harris was always steady, but Evans had some very encouraging offensive performances last year. Bennett has brought in six freshmen, at least three of which should make a contribution.

Reason for pessimism: Scott was Virginia’s go-to guy last year. The only even semi-proven player on this roster is Harris, and even he averaged just 9.8 points in ACC play. Evans was far from consistent: somehow, he averaged 10.8 points in four games against FSU and UNC, but 7.6 against other ACC opponents. Akil Mitchell will have to replace Scott, and he found himself frequently in foul trouble last year. Through a combination of graduation and transfers, Virginia is dangerously thin.

VIRGINIA TECH

Michael: You want to be in charge?

Gob: Yeah.

Michael: You want to deal with what I deal with? A sister who takes your money and throws it away. A mother who you can’t trust. A company whose founder may be on trial for treason. Is that what you want?

Gob: What kind of vacation time does it offer?

_____

Lucille: The company is in danger.

Michael: What tipped you off? The falling profit margins or the fact that we’re a regular feature on Bill O’Reilly’s most ridiculous item of the day?

_____

[repeated line]

Gob: I’ve made a huge mistake.

Former Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg was on the hot seat, and his assistant coaches were jumping ship. On their way out, they gave exit interviews to Virginia Tech. James Johnson, who left to take the top assistant job at Clemson last year, was no different. Two months later, he was hired as the head coach at Virginia Tech to replace Greenberg, who supposedly (according to the aforementioned exit interviews) didn’t create a “family atmosphere” for his staff. Interesting. You wanted to be the boss, James Johnson? Well, good luck. I wonder if either he or the Virginia Tech administration thinks they’ve made a huge mistake yet.

2012 record/results: 16-17 overall, 4-12 ACC. The Hokies were 11-3 entering ACC season before the wheels fell off. They lost 12 games by fewer than ten points. Even their four ACC wins were decided by a total of six points.

Reason for optimism: Point guard Erick Green is a special player, and there is some experience around him. In fact, Virginia Tech will only have one scholarship freshman. Forward Cadarian Raines got a lot better last year, and neither Robert Brown nor Jarrell Eddie have been shy about trying to carry some of the scoring load. Their starting five is as good as any, but…

Reason for pessimism: …if any of them have to come out of the game for any reason – injury, foul trouble, anything – the Hokies will be in big trouble. There are only eight scholarship players on the roster. And the ones behind the starting five either aren’t very good, are unproven, or both.

WAKE FOREST

Tobias Fünke: Come on, Lindsay. We’ve had some great times.

[a white screen appears with text reading: "Footage not found."]

_____

Michael: I burned it. Down to the ground.

George Sr.: There was money in that banana stand.

Michael: Well, it’s all gone now.

George Sr.: There was $250,000 lining the inside walls of the banana stand.

Michael: What?

George Sr.: Cash, Michael. What the hell did you think I meant when I said…

[strangles Michael]

George Sr.: [yells] There is money… in… the banana stand.

Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik could make Ron Wellman look smart after all. It didn’t seem like a good hire three years ago, and the timing was strange considering former head coach Dino Gaudio had just made the NCAA Tournament. It seemed like an even worse hire when Bzdelik won just one ACC game in 2011 and showed just slight improvement last year with a 13-18 record. Wake Forest fans have had to cope with some pretty bad basketball along the way, and they’re still trying to rekindle fan interest. If Bzdelik’s freshman class is as advertised, though, it shouldn’t take long.

2011 record/results: 13-18 overall, 4-12 ACC. About the only good thing you can say about last year’s Wake Forest team is that it finished the non-conference schedule 9-5 with just two embarrassing losses (Arizona State and Wofford). Half of their ACC wins were against BC.

Reason for optimism: C.J. Harris and Travis McKie are one of the best returning duos in the country. And they might just finally have some help this year, particularly McKie, from a very highly-touted freshman class.  Also, it can’t get worse for the Deacons than it’s been the last few years. Even if Wake struggles, the freshmen are good enough to start winning back the hearts and minds of Wake fans as they finally have a reason for hope.

Reason for pessimism: It’s essentially Harris, McKie, sophomore sharp-shooter Chase Fischer and a gang of freshmen at this point. McKie and Harris are great players, but it’s impossible to know how the freshmen will play on a given night. So, maybe it can get worse – at least before it gets better. They’re going to start a freshman at point guard (Codi Miller-McIntyre). Ken Pomeroy only has the Deacs projected for nine wins this year.

NCAA Tournament: ACC Sweet 16 Previews

No. 1 North Carolina (31-5) vs. No. 13 Ohio (29-7), 7:47 PM, TBS (St. Louis, MO)

Early male and female versions of the Ohio bobcat.

Kendall Marshall is likely out for this game, so Carolina is going to have to make do without its point guard. The Tar Heels are capable of doing that, but they’re playing an Ohio team that can force a ton of turnovers and will pressure the Carolina backup point guards.

Key to the game: Carolina using its size advantage. The tallest Ohio player is 6-8, and their two NCAA tournament opponents have hit 53.2% of their two-point attempts (Ohio made 46.2% from two). But the Bobcats have won in the tournament by getting to the foul line and hitting three’s (15-of-34, or 44.1%) while their opponents have hit just 9-of-38 three’s (23.7%). Maybe the Bobcats, who shoot 33.8% from three on the year, will go cold. But even if they don’t, Carolina has to make sure it dominates the paint on both ends, which it doesn’t need Marshall to do.

Opponent to watch: D.J. Cooper. The 5-11 junior point guard has been among the national leaders in both assist rate and steal rate since his freshman year, and he has basically been the Ohio offense. Lately, he’s been a tricky matchup for opponents since he’s hitting three-pointers (41.7% in the NCAA tournament) and slashing to the basket. He’s averaging 19.8 points and 6.4 assists over the last five games.

While Kendall Marshall was hardly a defensive dynamo, he still called the defenses for Carolina and helped his teammates get where they needed to be since he knew opponents’ sets. Michigan and South Florida are pretty good defensive teams, and even they couldn’t find a way to contain him. It seems like a tall order for a freshman point guard or even a very solid defensive player in Justin Watts, who is not used to guarding point guards.

Prediction: North Carolina 74, Ohio 65

Random Mascot Facts: Ohio was just known as the “Green and White” until 1925 when they picked the Bobcat “for its reputation as a sly, wily, scrappy animal”. They renamed their mascot “Rufus” in 2006 (because the bobcat species name is Lynx rufus). In 1940, Bing Crosby gave Ohio a live bobcathe had received from an fan of his swing band (called The Bobcats). It went to the Cleveland Zoo and eventually died after it was allegedly poisoned.

And today’s Bobcat mascot is perhaps best known for doing this to the Buckeye:

No. 11 NC State (24-12) vs. No. 2 Kansas (29-6), 10:17 PM, TBS (St. Louis, MO)

The Jayhawk in 1917. No, seriously. It's not a duck.

NC State believes it can win this game, even facing a very good Kansas team in St. Louis (which is just under a five-hour drive from Lawrence). If State can play smart basketball and maintain its self-belief throughout any adversity during the game, the Wolfpack will at least have a chance down the stretch.

Key to the game: NC State’s inside game vs. Kansas. The Jayhawks present all kinds of matchup problems for NC State on both ends with a front line of potential National Player of the Year in Thomas Robinson (6-9) and 7-foot shot-blocking machine Jeff Withey. But C.J. Leslie presents matchup problems for Kansas as well with his athleticism, and Richard Howell can be just as tenacious as Robinson on the glass. And like NC State, Kansas doesn’t have much of a bench. State needs to find a way to get Kansas’ bigs in trouble as they did Georgetown’s. If State is the team in foul trouble, it could be a long evening.

Opponent to watch: Tyshawn Taylor. After a very shaky start to the season, Taylor has been fantastic, leading his team in scoring during the Big 12 season. His strength has been as a scorer (of his 13 games with 20 or more points, 11 have come in the last 19 games). He shoots nearly 50% from the floor and 42% from three, and he takes plenty of shots. Taylor also bounced back from some horrifying turnover numbers (including 11 in a loss to Duke). He committed three or fewer turnovers in 14 of Kansas’s final 21 games.

If he has a weakness, it’s at the foul line where he shoots just 69.4 percent, and he doesn’t rebound very well. That’s a good matchup for State’s Lorenzo Brown, who averages 4.5 rebounds. With as well as Brown has been defending lately, this matchup could help turn the game in the Wolfpack’s favor. Brown seems more than ready to take on the challenge, but it will be a stiff test as Taylor hardly lacks for confidence.

Prediction: Kansas 78, NC State 71

Random Mascot Facts: A Jayhawk is a mythical bird (combination of a blue jay and a sparrow hark) and its usage dates back to 1848, referencing the settlers in the Kansas Territory. A blue jay is known to rob other nests and a sparrow hawk is a stealthy hunter, so as this website says: “Don’t turn your back on this bird.” But the best recent story about the Jayhawk involved a little girl (a Kansas State fan) who refused to color in a picture of a Jayhawk and instead colored in a picture of a Wildcat:

Last week: 5-4

Season: 146-54 (14-7 Postseason)

NC State’s Sweet 16 Journey

Richard Howell's improvement this season is one of many reasons NC State will face No. 2-seed Kansas on Friday night in its first Sweet 16 game since 2005.

RALEIGH, NC — Mark Gottfried’s successful approach with C.J. Leslie has been well-documented. But it didn’t begin and end with the 6-foot-9 budding star.

Hired last April to replace Sidney Lowe, Gottfried inherited a group that had done more than its fair share of losing and seen plenty of disappointment. But Gottfried had a ready-made group of veterans – a senior and two juniors – that could help him win right away as he rebuilt NC State.

Senior C.J. Williams and juniors Scott Wood and Richard Howell had been through plenty of bad times, and they didn’t want to spend the rest of their time in school rebuilding a program only to see the fruits pay off after graduation.

And so the question became how quickly would they buy in, if at all?

“First thing that had to happen with all these guys is they needed to get to know me and I needed to get to know them,” Gottfried said. “Until there’s a level of trust, players sometimes, they build a wall and it’s hard to break that wall. Who is this guy? Why do I need to listen to you?”

The toughest of the three was Howell. The 6-foot-8 (on a good day, per his head coach) forward is an imposing physical presence despite his lack of size relative to his competition. Post-practice sweat dripped steadily off of the end of his beard and he stared straight ahead as he talked about learning to trust Gottfried.

“It’s very hard for a coach to come in here and just click instantly with a player, especially a player who had been here two years and had been through the worst possible times,” Howell said. “The main thing is just trusting him. He tells us every day, nobody wants us to do better than he does and that’s something that we’ve bought into. That’s something that we’ve trusted and it’s got us this far, so we’re going to keep continuing to trust him.”

Getting through to Howell was a unique obstacle for Gottfried, particularly on a personal level. “There was a hard wall there that was hard to penetrate – not just on the floor, but away from the game,” Gottfried said of Howell. “If we sat down and just talked about his family or life, there weren’t a lot of times he wanted to let us in, let me in. Over time, that began to break down a little bit more.”

Even with Williams, a well-respected team leader, acceptance didn’t happen overnight. Williams had seen his playing time fluctuate wildly in his previous three years while capable Wolfpack teams never came close to reaching their potential.

When Gottfried was announced as the new head coach, the first thing Williams did is look up the new coach’s records his first year at Murray State and Alabama. He liked what he saw, but neither of Gottfried’s first-year teams made the NCAA tournament. His future teams did, and often: in 1997 and 1998, Murray State made the tournament and from 2002-06, Alabama did as well.

Williams, though, had just one more shot to make the NCAA tournament. So he went to Gottfried days after his hiring and let his feelings be known. “I said, ‘Coach, if you’re for this rebuilding stuff, I can’t do that. I’m a senior. I need to win right now. I’ve always had a dream of at least playing in the NCAA tournament’,” Williams said.

“‘I need to know that that’s what you want to do.’ He straight up told me, ‘C.J., I’m trying to win right now. I’m not trying to do the rebuilding. I don’t want to waste time.’”

While no other player could pinpoint a specific “aha” moment, Scott Wood did. It was less than two weeks after Gottfried had been hired. Wood went up to what he called the war room above the Dail Center to meet with Gottfried and assistant coach Bobby Lutz.

“He showed me the offense and what he likes to see, and then he put it into the picture that this is where everybody’s going to be,” Wood said. “It let me see into the future of how it was going to work, and it really made me realize that this could be a good thing for us.”

Williams said Gottfried watched tape of each player from the previous year to evaluate what they could do. He let each player know what he expected of them individually, and each player had to buy into that before they could win as a team.

“He watched tape of us from last year and what we can do,” Williams said. As a coach, he just kind of coached us from that point, seeing what we did as a group and then taking it like, ‘Okay, now I see what you do. This is what I expect out of you.’

“The accountability that we have as individual players has helped us build this team environment.”

Williams recalled Gottfried showing the team tapes of his Alabama teams to give them an idea of what the offense would look like. “Each of us was like, ‘Oh, okay, so this is where my shot is going to come from and this is where his shot is going to be.’ We all saw that everybody is going to have an equal opportunity to score their points,” Williams said.

And they have. All five NC State starters averaged between 10 and 14 points in the regular season, which has held up in the postseason as well. Even after coming up short in a crucial three-game stretch in late February, which included a blown 20-point lead at Duke and home losses to Florida State and North Carolina, the Wolfpack managed to inch forward.

Their offense has been among the most efficient in the league all year, even as players like Wood and Williams went through slumps. They’ve returned to form, and both have hit huge shots in big moments in the NCAA tournament. Among the more recent improvements is a defense that has been downright dominant at times. That’s a far cry from where it was in November, or even December.

“(Gottfried’s) confidence is unbelievable in us. He tells us if we go out there and play hard, the sky is the limit to what we can do,” Howell said. “It definitely shows, not only on the offensive end but especially on the defensive end as well. I felt like that was something we were lacking last year.”

Howell’s progression has been part of the journey as well. He has a propensity to pick up silly fouls, and NC State isn’t the same team when he’s not on the floor, throwing his body around to fight for every available rebound. But he has stayed out of foul trouble for most of the last two games. He was dominant in the first round with 22 points against San Diego State and against Georgetown, he struggled to score but drew two fouls in the first 5:40 on the Hoyas’ star center Henry Sims.

State has always had Sweet 16 talent. It just had to believe that. The Wolfpack’s collapse at Duke and a disappointing close loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament called into question their ability to finish against good teams. Gottfried kept telling his team they were improving and they just lost to some good teams. But NC State ended the regular season without any great wins.

Now, the Wolfpack has two NCAA tournament wins over teams that spent most of the year in the top 25. Gottfried told his team all year that they were good enough to play with anyone in the country. Finally, the Pack and the nation have proof.

“It’s my job to convince our team that we are good enough, and we have to become good enough. It’s not smoke and mirrors. It’s not something you can just talk about,” Gottfried said. “You have to get better, and we did get better. But at the same time, I think this particular team needed – and still does – to believe that they’re good enough. And I do think that they believe that, so that’s exciting.”

ACC Tournament Previews: Semifinal Saturday

No. 1 North Carolina (28-4) vs. No. 5 NC State (22-11), 1:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network/ESPN 3

When Calvin Leslie is as dialed in as he was against Virginia on Friday, there's no chance of stopping him.

Whether John Henson plays or not for North Carolina (he injured his left wrist yesterday), NC State will be a very tough out for the Tar Heels. The Wolfpack has as much momentum as they have had all year long. Their cautious optimism that preceded the first two Carolina games has been replaced by a steady confidence. Guys like senior C.J. Williams have never beaten North Carolina, and this is his last chance. “I haven’t had an opportunity to beat them yet. We need to get this one tomorrow,” Williams said. “I really feel like we’re coming in with a lot of momentum. I think we’re ready to play them toe-to-toe.”

Key to the game: C.J./Calvin Leslie. If Calvin shows up for 40 minutes – heck, even 25 minutes – like he did against Virginia, State might win by double digits. He was dominant on both ends against Virginia, but he could seemingly score at will against a very good Cavalier defense. He made 9-of-11 shots and pulled down 14 rebounds in just 31 minutes, and after picking up two quick fouls in the first half, he didn’t pick up any more. Leslie likely won’t have to face his old nemesis John Henson, but even when Henson did play in the last meeting Leslie had 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting and added 12 rebounds. The only difference was he fouled out in just 29 minutes. He’ll have to stay out of foul trouble, but he certainly proved he could do that yesterday.

Random stat: North Carolina held Maryland to 38.7% shooting on Friday, marking the ninth time in the last 14 games the Tar Heels have held an opponent under 40% shooting. Carolina is 19-0 when doing that this season. NC State has shot 50% or better in four of its last five games.

Prediction: NC State 79, North Carolina 74

 

No. 2 Duke (27-5) vs. No. 3 Florida State (22-9), 3:00 PM, ESPN/ACC Network/ESPN3

Ian Miller has been much more consistent lately for Florida State.

For a team that supposedly loves this event more than any other, Duke didn’t play very well against Virginia Tech last night. A performance like that against a Florida State team that seems to be playing very well will get the Blue Devils sent home. But it’s hard to imagine Duke playing that badly two games in a row. Still, a win over Duke in this event would be huge for the Florida State program.

Key to the game: Each team’s x factor: Ian Miller and Andre Dawkins. Florida State’s Ian Miller has had some great games this season followed by some no-shows, but head coach Leonard Hamilton clearly trusts him more than ever now as his minutes keep going up. He was the difference against Miami, getting to the basket at will and scoring 18 points in 28 minutes. He hasn’t been much of a factor against Duke in either game this year, but the Blue Devils struggle to defend quick guards.

For Duke’s Andre Dawkins, it’s been literally feast or famine for him in seemingly every game this year. And lately, it’s been a lot of famine. He had 13 points at Boston College on February 19 and then 22 at FSU on February 23, but since, he has three points in four games and has shot 1-of-12 from the floor (1-10 from three). Duke can win without him playing well, but it would be much, much easier if Dawkins could give them consistent production off the bench.

Random stat: The season fittingly ends for Virginia Tech: the Hokies went 12:42 of game time in the second half against Duke with just one field goal.

Prediction: Duke 77, Florida State 71

 

Last week: 9-3

Season: 139-48 (68-28 ACC) (7-1 ACC Tournament) 

ACC Midweek Previews: February 28-March 1

FEBRUARY 28

No. 4/3 Duke (25-4, 12-2) at Wake Forest (13-15, 4-10), 9:00 PM, ESPNU

Wake Forest's C.J. Harris (right) had 23 points against Boston College Saturday.

For Duke, this game is all that’s standing in between Saturday’s Carolina game being for the regular-season ACC title. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, not only have they been playing well on the road, but Wake Forest is not good.

Keys to the game: The foul line. It’s not often opponents make more free throws than Duke attempts in Cameron, but Wake did just that in the first meeting, shooting 24-of-35 to Duke’s 16-of-23 from the charity stripe. Wake has a knack for getting to the foul line (and little else), and while Duke has depth to withstand foul trouble, they don’t want to send a team struggling offensively like Wake to the line repeatedly.

Random stat: Prior to the Carolina game, Duke averaged 53.4% shooting from two-point range on 34.9 attempts per game in league play. Since/including the Carolina game, Duke has shot 43.3% from two on 32.3 attempts.

Prediction: Duke 84, Wake Forest 61

 

FEBRUARY 29

Georgia Tech (10-18, 3-11) at Boston College (8-20, 3-11), 7:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3

Mfon Udofia (left) and Danny Rubin (right) played hard in the first meeting between these two teams, but it was not a pretty game.

Any notion of Steve Donahue getting a few Coach of the Year votes despite Boston College’s record went out the window after his Eagles were swept by Wake Forest this weekend. And those were two of BC’s worst losses this season, to a team that has more talent but has been awful. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, managed to win an ACC home game on Saturday. So there’s that.

Key to the game: Not being awful. The ACC has been bad, but the games have mostly been entertaining (even when slower-paced). There have been exceptions, though, and many have involved one of these two teams. These are two young teams with relatively new head coaches, and each team could use a good deal of positive momentum going forward. It would be nice to see this game be somewhat watchable.

Random stat(s): This was Georgia Tech’s first win without Glen Rice, Jr. in the lineup since the second game of the year (Delaware State). Rice has now missed six games due to suspension: the first three this year (Georgia Tech was 2-1) and the last three (1-2).

Prediction: Georgia Tech 66, Boston College 61

Maryland (16-12, 6-8) at No. 6 North Carolina (25-4, 12-2), 7:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3

Maryland Alex Len (right) had a big game against North Carolina earlier this year, but has struggled since.

With Maryland coming off of a loss to Georgia Tech and Carolina needing only to win to face Duke for the regular-season title on Saturday, this has “trap game” written all over it. Maryland has just one road win this year,and Carolina’s only home loss in the last two years was to Duke a few weeks ago. But Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon has his Terrapins playing hard, and Carolina can’t afford to overlook this one.

Key to the game: Maryland’s bigs. James Padgett, Ashton Pankey and Alex Len combined for 23 points and 15 rebounds. Their defense doesn’t show up in the box score (Tyler Zeller and John Henson combined to shoot 15-of-29) but Maryland bothered their shots with their length. And most importantly, both Henson and Zeller were in foul trouble. If they can find the magic they had against North Carolina – and get Carolina’s bigs in foul trouble – they’ll make things interesting in Chapel Hill.

Random stat: Maryland shot 7-of-14 (50%) from three against Georgia Tech, but just 12-of-41 (29.3%) from two-point range. In their last two road games, Maryland has shot just 19-of-74 from inside the arc (25.7%) but 14-of-33 (42.4%) from three.

Prediction: North Carolina 88, Maryland 69

Miami (17-10, 8-6) at NC State (18-11, 7-7), 9:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3

C.J. Leslie missed a three-pointer that would have tied it at the end of overtime at Clemson.

Miami, now without Reggie Johnson, rode a mix of adrenaline and desperation to a win over Florida State and their fans rushed the court afterwards. They’ve been told they’re “in” the NCAA tournament now. That sets up well for NC State – Miami is prime for a letdown, but can the Wolfpack take advantage?

Keys to the game: NC State’s psyche. The little things seem to be going wrong for NC State right now, from shooting 38.5% from the foul line at Clemson (a season-low) to committing silly turnovers and ill-advised fouls. It’s not as if the Wolfpack isn’t playing hard, but they need to be smarter and just a bit more focused. They can win this game, but they have to believe that.

Random stat: Miami scored 11 points on its first 25 possessions against Florida State (0.44 points per possession). In the last 4:34 of the first half and all of the second half, Miami scored 67 points on 52 possessions (1.29 per possession).

Prediction: NC State 75, Miami 69

 

MARCH 1

Virginia Tech (15-14, 4-10) at Clemson (15-13, 7-7), 9:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3

Milton Jennings (right) has played well for Clemson since returning from suspension.

Clemson has won four of its last five games and is playing its best basketball. Virginia Tech has lost three of its last four games, but to three of the best teams. Clearly, both teams have navigated well through adversity and disappointment, and both have something to play for in terms of seeding.

Keys to the game: Who can win a close game? Virginia Tech beat Clemson at home earlier this year, 67-65. Since, Virginia Tech is 2-4 and excluding a 16-point loss at Miami, five games have been decided by a total of 11 points. Clemson had six of its first eight games decided by seven or fewer points but since the loss in Blacksburg, the Tigers are 4-2, winning two by double digits and losing once by 22. They won by three in overtime against NC State on Saturday though. While both teams have struggled executing late in close games, Clemson seems like the more confident team. Tech Hoops took a look at Virginia Tech’s Erick Green and his struggles in “clutch” situations this year. Hint: it’s not good, and Virginia Tech needs more from him late.

Random stat: Duke attempted 46.2% of their shots from three-point range against Virginia Tech last Saturday. Only one Hokie opponent this season has attempted a higher percentage of their shots from beyond the arc (half of Boston College’s attempts were from three).

Prediction: Clemson 65, Virginia Tech 61

 

Last week: 7-4

Season: 123-44 (59-25 ACC)

ACC February 21 Previews

Clemson (13-13, 5-7) at Georgia Tech (9-17, 2-10), 7:00 PM, RSN/ESPN3

Andre Young (left) had his best game in ACC play so far in the first meeting with Georgia Tech.

Most important players: Andre Young, Clemson and Mfon Udofia, Georgia Tech. Andre Young went off the last time Clemson faced Georgia Tech, scoring 29 points on 9-of-12 shooting (7-of-9 from three). He’s made just 35.5% of his three’s since, but his 3-of-7 performance at Carolina on Saturday was his best in a road venue all season.

Without Glen Rice, Mfon Udofia has to do more scoring for Georgia Tech to win. His 15 points at Virginia Tech on Saturday were his most in nearly a month and nearly enough for the Yellow Jackets to win. Udofia has averaged 13.8 points in games without Rice and just 9.3 in games with Rice this year.

Random stat: Georgia Tech has lost ten ACC games, including six on the road. They have lost by an average of 8.2 points in six ACC road games compared to 15.8 points at home. Georgia Tech has averaged 52.8 points in home ACC games compared to 64.6 points in road games.

Prediction: Clemson 66, Georgia Tech 53

Miami (16-9, 7-5) at Maryland (15-11, 5-7), 8:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3

Durand Scott (right) has been carrying the Miami backcourt while Shane Larkin and Malcolm Grant have struggled.

Maryland is a tough place to play, but if Miami wants to keep its NCAA tournament at-large hopes alive, the Hurricanes have to win.

Most important players: Durand Scott, Miami and Alex Len, Maryland. Durand Scott had his ACC high of 24 points (on 11-of-14 shooting) in the overtime win over Maryland in the first meeting, and he’s found his groove lately, averaging 16.5 points on 61% shooting in the last two. Maryland’s backcourt is that much thinner without Pe’Shon Howard, and Scott could have his way with the Terrapins.

Alex Len’s last good stretch for Maryland came against Miami and North Carolina, when he averaged 12.5 points on 64% shooting. In the four games since, he has eight total points on 36.4% shooting. Maryland needs more from the talented big man, and maybe he can find a spark against Miami.

Random stat: Maryland lost 71-44 at Virginia on Saturday, but the game was tied at 31 at halftime. Maryland scored just 13 second-half points and just 11 in the final 19:52. Maryland averaged 0.34 points per possession from the 19:52 mark until the 3:45 mark when head coach Mark Turgeon took out the starters in the second half and made just three field goals.

Prediction: Miami 74, Maryland 67

North Carolina (23-4, 10-2) at N.C. State (18-9, 7-5), 8:00 PM, ACC Network split/ESPN3

John Henson (left) has been firmly implanted inside the head of one Calvin "C.J." Leslie (middle) for the better part of two years now.

With all the hoopla surrounding the ejection of former NC State superstars Chris Corchiani and Tom Gugliotta last Saturday (and their 1988-89 team being honored before the game), this will be the most hostile environment North Carolina has faced this year. But if the Wolfpack can’t persevere through in-game adversity, the atmosphere won’t matter.

Most important players: Lorenzo Brown, NC State and John Henson, North Carolina. Lorenzo Brown’s two games last week were a mixed bag, but the NC State point guard did the right things against Florida State and Duke: he attacked the basket and averaged 7.0 free throw attempts. Carolina has struggled at times to stop the dribble, and Brown must remember to attack the basket.

John Henson has held NC State’s C.J. Leslie to a combined 9-of-27 shooting in the last two State-Carolina games. And Leslie’s numbers have gotten worse, not better, every time he faces Carolina. Leslie’s propensity to try to take Henson one-on-one in the last meeting really hurt the Wolfpack, and if Henson continues to shut him down as he has, Carolina should win easily.

Random stat: Two out of NC State’s last three head coaches have won their first game against North Carolina at home: Les Robinson and Sidney Lowe. Robinson (1990-96) won three of his first four vs. UNC and four out of six home games against the Tar Heels. Sidney Lowe (2006-11) won his first game against Carolina at home but lost 11 straight after that. Since Robinson left prior to the 1996-97 season, State is 3-13 at home against Carolina.

Prediction: North Carolina 81, NC State 71

Virginia (20-6, 7-5) at Virginia Tech (15-12, 4-8), 9:00 PM, ESPNU

Virginia's Mike Scott had his worst game in ACC play in a shocking loss to Virginia Tech earlier this season.

How Virginia Tech won the first meeting between these two teams earlier this year remains a mystery, but the exhausted Hokies likely won’t have enough magic to repeat that, and Virginia knows how much it needs this game.

Most important players: Mike Scott, Virginia and Dorian Finney-Smith, Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech big man Victor Davila will miss this game with an injury, meaning whatever formula the Hokies concocted for slowing Virginia star Mike Scott last time could be adversely affected. Scott is averaging 20.6 points in UVA’s ACC wins and 16 in losses, so the Hokies will have to find a way to slow him.

Virginia Tech freshman Dorian Finney-Smith wasn’t a factor in the first meeting with Virginia this year, but he is averaging 10.8 points in the last five games. His length and athleticism could be a factor on both ends for Virginia Tech, particularly against Virginia’s thin front line.

Random stat: Virginia’s slow style of play has been a big part of the reason for their excellent scoring defense, but the Cavaliers are one of many slow-tempo teams that have played in the ACC since the shot clock was instituted. And yet they have held 11 opponents under 50 points this year, the most by an ACC team in the shot clock era.

Prediction: Virginia 54, Virginia Tech 51

Last week: 7-4

Season: 115-40 (51-21 ACC)

N.C. State at Miami

NC State (14-5, 3-1) at Miami (10-6, 1-2), 12:00 PM, ESPNU

Understandably, Malcolm Grant struggled after the recent death of his brother.

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)

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