Scout By Numbers: Basketball Preview

A look back at how the Pack has performed under Sidney Lowe and where it'll need to improve to make its first NCAA appearance under Lowe.

Every possession counts.

Think of how many games get decided by six points or less every year in the ACC. How many more wins could a team eke out every year if it could just get one more stop or convert one more bucket?

Some teams play fast, some play slow – but each team tries to maximize each possession.

Possessions are what matters. It's not how many points a game you average that matters, but how many points you get per possession. The same goes for turnovers. Twenty defensive rebounds aren't impressive if the other team missed 60 shots, but it's amazing if they missed 22.

That's what the stats below provide that the box score doesn't – context. If you give up fewer points per possession than you score, you are going to win games whether your team averages 80 or 60 points a game.

As with football, this column is not about ignoring what you see with your eyes. It's about complimenting what you see with the numbers. So, that said, let's get to the numbers.

On Offense

Category 2010 [Rank] 2009 2008 2007
Points per Possession 1.05 [109] 1.13 [30] 1.08 [90] 1.13 [46]
Effective FG% 48.3 [189] 53.8 [24] 51.2 [115] 54.9 [12]
3-Point FG% 33.3 [211] 37.5 [45] 34.9 [173] 35.7 [134]
2-Point FG% 47.6 [180] 52.5 [33] 50.7 [78] 55.5 [9]
Free-Throw % 67.9 [210] 71.7 [79] 71.9 [85] 72.8 [60]
Turnover % 19.9 [144] 21.5 [234] 23.2 [286] 21.8 [202]
Offensive Rebound % 32.5 [188] 36.3 [57] 31.5 [228] 28.1 [306]
FTA/FGA 36.6 [198] 37.8 [137] 46.6 [10] 40.9 [68]

The Pack took a huge step forward in 2009 only to take an even larger step backward last year. The change can be attributed almost entirely to the team's shooting, as shooting numbers collapsed across the board – inside, outside, even at the charity stripe. Only Tracy Smith and Dennis Horner put up good shooting percentages last year.

Lowe's teams have always had a heavy reliance on shooting because it hasn't been able to do other things well – offensive rebounding and turnovers particularly. The Pack made a huge leap forward in the turnover department last year, but regressed when it came to offensive rebounding. With more ball-handlers at his disposal, Lowe should be able to bring those turnover numbers down even further.

Lowe has always shown an ability to get his players good scoring opportunities, making last year look like something of a fluke. Regardless, the Pack is bound to go cold offensively at certain points in the season, and the only way to absorb those cold streaks is to take care of the ball better and create more second-chance opportunities.

On Defense

Category 2010 [Rank] 2009 2008 2007
Points per Possession 0.92 [48] 1.01 [172] 0.98 [110] 0.97 [97]
Effective FG% 46.3 [57] 48.0 [117] 47.5 [64] 50.0 [163]
3-Point FG% 30.9 [39] 33.4 [121] 36.8 [270] 36.6 [259]
2-Point FG% 46.3 [115] 47.1 [124] 44.6 [37] 47.6 [118]
Free-Throw % 65.7 [34] 73.0 [333] 71.7 [296] 68.3 [116]
Turnover % 19.9 [207] 16.6 [332] 16.5 [337] 17.6 [329]
Offensive Rebound % 33.8 [228] 33.1 [187] 35.6 [282] 33.9 [189]
FTA/FGA 36.6 [153] 28.3 [17] 26.7 [15] 26.7 [11]

For the first three years of his tenure, Lowe's teams were some of the worst in the nation at forcing turnovers. To double the defensive problems, they weren't great rebounding teams either. That meant that not only were teams always getting shots off, they were also getting second and third opportunities at scoring as well. You can also see the lack of defensive aggressiveness in the free throw numbers, as the Pack kept teams off the line as much as possible.

Lowe started to right the ship defensively last year, forcing more turnovers (and fouling more), to wield his most effective defensive unit to date. Even though the opposition shot better than it had in previous years, the gains made in turnovers more than made up the difference.

With a quicker, more athletic roster we have to assume Lowe will try to build on the lessons learned last year. A more aggressive Wolfpack squad, one that jumps the passing lanes and crashes the defensive boards, could become one of the more intimidating defenses in the league.

Final Thoughts

The good news here is that Sidney Lowe has made obvious strides over the past two years. Despite its mediocre win-loss record, the 2009 teams did a lot of things right. The only thing separating that team from Lowe's first NCAA Tournament berth was its inability to make shots. The 2010 squad was markedly better in several areas where Lowe had to improve to win – especially when it came to turnovers.

Now it's just about taking the lessons of last year and applying them to a more athletic talent pool. This team will be better, but Lowe will have to work to make them great. He has to turn them from a team that has to shoot well to win into a team that can shoot 40% and still beat its opponent by dominating the boards and creating turnovers.

Photos courtesy of NC State athletics and Mark McIntyre.

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