The Wolfpack has played 14 games and has 17 left on the schedule, so we aren't quite at the midway point of the season just yet. But with the calendar turning and the ACC season starting up this weekend, it seems like a good time to take stock of how the Pack has played so far this season.
The Pack has won one big game that it wasn't expected to win – on a neutral court against Texas. Other than that it's played pretty much to expectations. It took a trio of NCAA Tournament teams down to the wire in Indiana, Vanderbilt and Stanford. They were competitive in stretches against a championship caliber Syracuse team but their lack of depth was exposed at times as well. They haven't had any hiccups against inferior opponents, one of the few teams in the ACC that can make that claim this year.
The results so far have been promising, even a little surprising. For all the talk of the complexities of the High-Post offense that Gottfried is implementing, the offense has far exceeded the defense so far. The offense has been sitting in the top 20 in terms of efficiency for a large part of the season, while the defense has lagged in lower 100s as it struggles to guard the perimeter or create turnovers.
Gottfried has already made his mark on the team, demonstrating his ability to implement his style and so far eliminating those long stretches of poor effort that seemed to plague the team in past seasons. But the real test will be the conference schedule – even in an awful year for the ACC the travel and hostile environments will be a test for the Pack.
Here's a look at the offensive and defensive performances so far this season, as well as a little speculation about the ACC schedule.
Greatest Strength - The Pack has taken a huge leap on offense under Gottfried and one of the biggest reasons why is offensive rebounding. The Pack is collecting almost 40 percent of its own missed shots, the second best mark in the conference behind North Carolina. Part of this is offensive philosophy and part of it is Richard Howell – the big man is getting big minutes this year and is now the second in the conference in rebounding and by percentage one of the 20 best offensive rebounders in the nation.
Most Pleasant Surprise - That has to be the efficiency of C.J. Williams. Coming into this year, Williams had struggled to be more than a role player. But Gottfried's offense seems like the perfect fit, as Williams is rewarded for his ability to move without the ball and has seen a huge increase in his shots and his shooting percentage as a result. Williams is shooting a ridiculous 63 percent inside the arc, a respectable 34 percent from behind it and an impressive 90 percent from the free-throw line.
Biggest Weakness - While turnovers haven't been a huge problem for the Pack, they are one of the areas where the Pack could use some improvement. In some ways it's not so much the number but the nature of the mistakes – they often seem unforced or a result of lazy ball-handling and passing as opposed to a result of the other team's defense.
Greatest Strength - The Pack has done a pretty good job or protecting the rim all season, both in terms of opponent shooting percentage, blocks and rebounding. The Pack is forcing teams to shoot under 45 percent from inside the arc in addition to grabbing almost 70 percent of opponents misses and blocking 12 percent of attempted field goals. The combination makes the Pack a pretty decent defense against anyone who wants to pound the ball inside or get to the rim.
Most Pleasant Surprise - Let's go with Lorenzo Brown's pick-pocketing ability. No player for NC State has been able to grab steals at this rate since 2003 (when Clifford Crawford had 66 steals for the Pack in 31 games). Brown is currently averaging just over two steals per game, a figure that ranks first in the conference.
Biggest Weakness - The biggest weakness defensively just happens to be the Pack's biggest overall problem as well, its perimeter defense. Opposing teams are shooting over 38 percent from behind the arc against the Pack, which ranks 303rd out of about 350 schools in that category. As a result, the Pack struggles a lot more against good shooting opponents - its 7-0 against teams that shoot worse than 35 percent from behind the arc and 3-4 against teams shooting better than 35 percent.
What Lies Ahead (Way too Ahead of Ourselves Speculation)
If you're an optimist you can call this last section the ‘road to an at-large bid'. Assuming the Pack takes care of Delaware State, all that remains is the ACC schedule. That's 16 games, of which the Pack probably needs at least 10 and potentially more to secure an at-large bid. Unfortunately for the Pack the ACC is so weak this season, and its schedule so favorable, that there are not enough quality wins out there for an 8-8 or 9-7 finish to give them much of a chance.
First let's take out the likely losses - according to Pomeroy the Pack has less than a 30% chance to win four games on the schedule. Those are UNC twice, at Duke and at Virginia Tech. For simplicity sake, we'll call them all L's for the Pack. Next let's do the likely wins – games where the Pack has a 70% chance or better to win according to Pomeroy. They are Wake and Boston College twice along with Maryland, Georgia Tech and Miami at home.
That puts the Pack at 7-4 with five toss-up games on the schedule. Those games – at Miami, Virginia, at Georgia Tech, Florida State and at Clemson. These are the games that will likely decide the Pack's chances of getting an NCAA bid. The good news is that the two best teams on that list will be at the RBC Center – Florida State and Virginia. If the rest of the schedule works out as we outlined above (which isn't going to happen), then the Pack needs to go at least 3-2 in these five games to have a chance at dancing.