JOHNSON: Offensive Anomaly

NC State's offense has fallen from one of the nation's elite to simply ordinary, a rare problem for a Mark Gottfried coached team.

The sign of a good coach is his ability to take a team and get it to play his brand of basketball, regardless of personnel.

Say what you want about Tony Bennett, but the moment he got to Virginia they started playing his way.

The same is true of NC State's Mark Gottfried – two years ago he arrived on campus and immediately the Pack began playing Gottfried basketball. His brand involves a great offense, hopefully enough defense and an up-tempo pace. It led the Pack to two straight NCAA appearances and a Sweet 16th run two seasons ago.

But Gottfried hasn't been able to implement his brand this season. The Pack's defense isn't the issue – it's actually better than last season (this isn't to say it's not an issue, but this is what you sign up for with Gottfried). But the offense has come way down for the Pack this year, and while that was somewhat expected its on pace to be the worst offense Gottfried has put together in a long time.

Gottfried's Offenses
Year KenPom Offensive
Efficiency Ranking
'03 Alabama 51st
'04 Alabama 18th
'05 Alabama
'06 Alabama 20th
'07 Alabama 31st
'08 Alabama 64th
'12 NCSU 33rd
'13 NCSU 9th
'14 NCSU 108th
Last year, the Pack averaged under a point per possession in just four total games all season, three of those coming in conference play (the Pack finished 0-4 in such games). This year it's already happened seven times, four in conference play (the Pack is 3-4 so far).

In addition to its efficiency coming down, the Pack's pace is also way down this season.

In the previous two seasons the offense was averaging less than 17 seconds per offensive possession – the Pack was the 33rd fastest offense in the nation last year. But this season it's taking a full two seconds longer – nearly 19 seconds per possession – an offensive pace that ranks them lower than teams like Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech and just a few spots higher than Virginia.

These numbers look saner if you look at just conference play – the Pack is the third fastest offense so far in the ACC, which is currently the slowest conference in the country.

One major reason for this is certainly the increased amount of zone defense the Pack is seeing this year – it simply takes longer to find good shots against zone defenses especially considering the Pack's lack of shooters.

But it's also getting fewer points out of its transition game – having to rely more on halfcourt sets that are extending possessions and bringing down the Pack's scoring. The Pack was 13th in the country in scoring average last year, it currently sits at 193rd.

So, obviously, Mark Gottfried's offense isn't operating on the same level as it has in previous years. The obvious answer is the shooting, and that's certainly a major portion of it. The Pack's 3-point shooting ranks 329th in the nation, but it's not heavily reliant on 3s either, so it's not the whole story. Shooting inside the arc remains a positive – over 50 percent for the second straight year.

The biggest problem lies at the free-throw line, as the Pack is both not getting to the line enough and not shooting well enough when it does get freebies. The Pack has been to the line less than its opponents this season – a rare feat for a power conference team that has to date played a majority of games against non-BCS schools. The 67 percent shooting from the line is also a problem – Lennard Freeman has the 4th most attempts on the team and is shooting 36 percent from the line.

The Pack has been able to counter its shooting by taking care of the ball and crashing the offensive boards, which have both been major positives for the Pack in a year where the shooting has been problematic at best. In conference play the turnover situation has been feast or famine – its three worst games in turnover percentage were against Duke, Virginia and Pitt – while two of its best four games were against Maryland and Notre Dame.

This team will get blown out in games where it can't take care of the ball, period.

There's room for optimism in a couple of these areas though. The Pack has actually shot more free throws in conference play than its opposition and has upped its percentage to 71 percent, so the right people are getting the line and they are getting there more often.

It seems clear that the game against Maryland was a big confidence boost for guys like Ralston Turner and Desmond Lee, and it seems difficult to believe that from behind the arc Lee (33 percent in JUCO) and Warren (52 percent last year) will continue to be sub-30 percent 3-point shooters all season long.

The pieces, and coaching, are there to turn the Pack into a good offensive team again. The question becomes whether there is enough time or individual growth left for it to happen this season.

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