On the Beat: Breaking Down the Pack

James Henderson of Pack Pride gave TSD the lowdown on LSU's first-round NCAA Tournament opponent, the NC State Wolfpack. Include are nuggets on the team's rotation, best late-game scoring option and defensive order in Raleigh.

ATLANTA - Below is an in-depth scouting report on the team LSU basketball will face Thursday night in Pittsburgh in the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years -- the NC State Wolfpack.

All answers are provided by James Henderson of Pack Pride, Scout's site in Raleigh.

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Question: LSU doesn’t have a ton of depth. How does NC State compare depth-wise and who coming off the bench is productive on a consistent basis?

Answer: It’s funny because I think NC State is almost the opposite of LSU in that they have plenty of options, but (Mark) Gottfried has just simply chosen to really limit their rotation. Down the stretch they’ve won six out of their last eight games, and really what he’s done is cut the rotation down to about seven guys, maybe eight on a given night.

For instance Kyle Washington started the majority of the early-season games in the post, and now he’s getting 5-6 minutes a night, coach’s decision. I think for State, that’s something they may look to exploit in this game – their depth up front. They have four guys that can play and are willing to play in the post as much as they’re needed and however they’re needed. If they’re playing a talented big man, for instance when they went up against Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, that’s 20 fouls you can use on him. They’ll play those four guys if need, but really in recent games, they’ve not really had to do that.

He’s really been going with Lannard Freeman and BeeJay Anya and Abdul-Malik Abu up front. At the guard spots he’s using (Anthony) Barber, (Ralston) Turner, (Trevor) Lacey and Caleb Martin coming off the bench. It’s been pretty much those seven guys with Washington and Cody Martin getting 5-10 minutes, if that, a night.

Question: You mentioned NC State finished 6-2 down the stretch. Before that the Wolfpack lost five of six. What turned around for this team?

Answer: Really for them it was the emergence of “Cat” Barber and their defense. First with Cat, he was really struggling to start the year. There were games where he wouldn’t take shots, but I think he started his first nine conference games and attempted 2-3 three-pointers. He was just using speed. Teams saw he wasn’t shooting and started playing off of him. They’d give him 4-5 feet to try to keep him out of the lane, and it really prevented him from driving. There really were no positives to it because he wasn’t making teams pay.

He was sort of just kinda out there. So they sat him and didn’t start him for two games. Coach Gottfried spoke with him, told him he needed to be more aggressive and look for his jumper. He came out against Georgia Tech and I think he had 28 in that game. From there Gottfried plugged him back into the starting lineup. I want to say over the last 11 games he’s averaged 17 points, five assists. He’s been their best player down the stretch.

He’s really tough to deal with in transition. By far he’s going to be the quickest player on the court. He was a McDonald’s All-American and this kid is extremely explosive. Now he’s knocking down his threes, too. I think over that same 11-game stretch he’s knocking down over 50% of his threes. He’s now taking about 4-5 a game. It’s been a pretty unreal transformation.

Defensively, they pulled Washington from the lineup. He was their best frontcourt scorer. They made the move to Freeman, who is their worst frontcourt scorer but their best frontcourt defender. It’s really stabilized their defense. Things got a little leaky up front because Washington is not a strong rebounder and isn’t a really good post defender whereas Freeman is a glue guy. He defends the other team’s best player in there. He’s 6-foot-8, 240 pounds and has really good feet, and he can really even guard on the perimeter if he has to.

On offense he’s not out there taking bad shots. He’s a willing screener and really is a good offensive rebounder. When they put him into the lineup, it really has helped all over. Obviously the defense, but on offense, like I said, he knows his role. So he’s out there screening for Lacey or Turner or Barber and then hitting the offensive glass. It’s added some efficiency to the offense.

Question: Is Gottfried more a proponent of man or zone? And how do you think he’ll try to deal with Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey?

Answer: I know he wants to play man. State doesn’t run a lot of zone. They’ll throw it in there most games for a few possessions if man’s struggling just to try and give the other team a look. What I would expect they’re going to do, if they’re looking at LSU and thinking they’re a turnover-prone team, is run a bit of a three-quarters court press to speed them up a little bit. It’s not like a West Virginia full-court trapping deal. It’s more Cat Barber at the top harassing the ball, trying to speed the other team up and not letting them get in their sets early.

I’m sure he [Gottfried] is concerned with Martin and Mickey up front. When he’s come up against teams that have two post players this season is double them a lot. He’s going to double from the other post and make that guy from the other post a passer. If he’s more of a perimeter player, like Martin can be, I think he’s just going to try to pressure him up and force him to the help.

To give you an idea: Mickey’s a great shot-blocker and I think he has 107 blocks. I don’t have his numbers in front of me, but I think he plays about 34 minutes a night. Anya for State has 88 blocks and he plays 19 minutes a night. So he’s a freak in there. I’ve never seen anything like him because he’s 6-foot-9 and 290 pounds. It’s crazy. He has the longest recorded wingspan in the NBA Developmental Camp history. He has a 7-foot-9 wingspan. He just gobbles up shots in the paint. So for his 19 minutes or so a night he should help them inside against LSU.

When he’s on the court it changes the way they defend. Then they pressure up on shooters and drivers and make them go to the rim where he’s at. That’s what I think they’ll try to do with Martin. Freeman or Abu may pressure up on him and force him to the rim, where Anya is.

Question: Obviously Lacey, Turner and Barber are the primary scoring threats. In a late-game or late-shot clock situation, who’s the most likely to take the shot?

Answer: That’s not even close. It’s Lacey. NC State last year had T.J. Warren, who was a lottery pick of the Phoenix Suns. He averaged about 24 points a night and left as a sophomore. A lot of people didn’t have any clue how they were going to try and replace Warren. They knew Lacey was supposed to be pretty good, but when you look at his numbers from Alabama, he didn’t do a ton, only averaging about 11 points a game. The NC State coaches told me ‘That’s Alabama’s style of play. They don’t try to run any. They play slow, so your numbers are going to be impacted by that.’

They’ve been right about that. Lacey has been sort of a revelation. He came in and was second-team All-ACC. He’s outstanding at creating his own shot. He’s really dangerous with the one-dribble pull-up, step-back. He’s a shooter. He take a lot of difficult shots when you watch him play, and he makes them consistently.

At one point, I want to say about five or six games ago, the Media Relations guy put out that he was actually leading the country in isolation points. So basically they give him the ball, and in one-on-one situations he was the best player in the country scoring in those situations up until that point. That’s really been for them offensively a lot of what they’ve done down the stretch.

With him and Barber they’ll maybe run stuff the first 15-20 seconds on the shot clock, trying to get Turner or Lacey a shot, maybe a three, but once it gets inside of 10 seconds they give it to Lacey and let him try to create one-on-one. They’ve been fairly efficient at it. I think that’s a lot of what you’ll see.

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