JOHNSON: Keys to the Game

Here is a look at what NC State needs to do in order to advance past San Diego State today in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Guard Play
Oddly enough, this isn't about Lorenzo Brown at all. He's been consistently good for the Pack for some time and should be expected to do the same against the Aztecs. But the Pack needs the rest of its guards to play well – Scott Wood, CJ Williams and Alex Johnson. If one or two of them can step up and have a good game it would go a long way towards advancing.

The link between Scott Wood's success and winning has been well documented, but Williams could be the key to the game for the Pack. He's struggled mightily as of late, hitting just one 3-pointer since February 21st and shooting under 30 percent from the floor during the ACC tournament. The Aztecs will likely double CJ Leslie in the game and Williams seems to be the most likely target to be left open given his recent struggles. If he can knock down a few of his patented mid-range jumpers or even a 3 early in the game it could help give Leslie more room to work in the paint.

Containing Jamaal Franklin
Franklin is the key to the San Diego State offense. He takes over 30 percent of the team's shots while he's on the court (for the sake of comparison, this is less than Terrell Stoglin takes for Maryland but about the same as what Mike Scott takes for Virginia). If Franklin gets into the paint he's a very efficient player, getting to the line where he shoots nearly 80 percent or scoring inside.

But he's also prone to take the bad shot and for the season he's shooting around 32 percent from 3-point range. In all likelihood the Pack will start the game with CJ Williams on Franklin, and he needs to try to force the sophomore into taking bad perimeter shots instead of putting it on the floor and going to the basket.

Creating Transition Opportunities
Despite a reputation as a team that likes to run, San Diego State doesn't actually run very often. They prefer to play a half-court game and limit their own mistakes on offense. The Pack, however, thrives in transition – during its last five game the Pack has put up double-digit fast break points in every contest including its win over glacially slow Virginia. In conference play the Aztecs only allowed double-digit fast break points twice – both times to UNLV (they split the series and both games were decided by just two points).

The Pack needs to try and get out on the break – preferably by creating live-ball turnovers. The team seems to feed off the energy from those transition baskets on the defensive end, so a few of those could spark some runs for the Pack.

Attacking the Glass
As you've probably read, the Aztecs essentially deploy a four-guard line-up for the most of the game. That means the Pack will have a height advantage at nearly every position on the court in this game, but don't be fooled into thinking that will make rebounding an easy win for the Pack.

San Diego State is a poor offensive rebounding team, so the Pack should be able to limit their second-chance opportunities on that end of the floor. But they are actually a fantastic defensive rebounding team - they rank right next to UNC in terms of defensive rebounding percentage - and the Pack will have to work to get any second opportunities on its end. This is where having Howell on the court (not in foul trouble) is so helpful, as the big man ranks 16th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage.

Making Free Throws
Don't expect the Pack to blow out the Aztecs. The Vegas line on this game opened with State as a one-point favorite for a reason – the teams are nearly equally matched on paper. This is not an easy game, and the Pack only won two games against at-large NCAA tournament teams all season.

That's why free throws are going to be so important. The Pack has been playing with fire lately, surviving against Virginia despite some poor free throw shooting down the stretch and unable to build a bigger lead in the closing minutes against North Carolina at the line. The Pack, particularly late in the game, needs to somehow overcome whatever mental barrier exists right now and start sinking its these shots.


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