The only way to get rid of it, of course, is to just drive it off. The sound a car makes when you hit those brakes for the first time is unmistakable – a hideous blend of crunching, grinding and squealing. But after a few rotations, the rust is rubbed clean and the brakes go back to their normal noiseless selves.
If the Wolfpack basketball team could be embodied by one "noise" right now, it would be that sound – the sound of a rusty brake rotor being rubbed clean. The Pack has been grinding and squealing its way through the conclusion of an unusually spaced out non-conference schedule, trying to avoid the rust that seems to work its way into any machine – be it human or sheet metal – that sits for the extended periods of time that have defined this early basketball season.
It's being generous to say the schedule to this point has been merely uneven. The Pack had to wait nine days between its exhibition games and the first regular season contest of the year. Then came a flurry of six games in 13 days, followed by a 10-day layoff between the Michigan State and ECU games. Another six-day gap led up to the Davidson game, which kicked off another flurry of four games in eight days, only to be followed by another week-long break leading into the 50-point effort against Presbyterian.
Contrast that with the first part of the previous year's schedule, where the team had only two breaks of at least a week in length (both were exactly seven days) and one other break of six days. The Pack played the same number of early season games heading into the meat of the conference schedule last season (16) as they will this year, but the spacing last year was much more advantageous for preparing for conference play. The repeated long-term breaks wedged between tight clusters of games this year are throwing this team's rhythm off.
After struggling against Michigan State on the road, what the team desperately needed was to get back out on the court to exorcise some demons and put that game behind them. The schedule was against them, however, and the 10-day layoff leading into the ECU game with the after effects of the MSU loss still lingering was a recipe for an upset. Sure enough, a rusty and stagnant State squad shot only 42-percent from the field and left Minges Coliseum in Greenville with its second bad loss of the season.
Saturday's game was the most recent example of rust creeping in after a break. Sitting for a week leading up to Presbyterian game seemed to kill any kind of momentum that might've been had from the come-from-behind win the week prior against Western Carolina. State shot a paltry 33% from the field in the first half, and would only hit one three-point attempt out of 11 in the first 20 minutes. Down three at the break, State would once again have to find itself offensively in the second half to pull out the win. It's tough to complain much about a team when it wins. It's also tough to imagine, however, that they would've won against stiffer competition had they played liked they did in the first half of the Presbyterian game. Only against a 1-18 team can you get away with a 17-point first half.
The good news right around the corner, though, is the advent of conference play. With it comes a more balanced, evenly spaced out docket of opponents. No more sitting for a week or more following a four-game bender. Now the team should have an opportunity to establish more flow from one game leading into the next.
The teams the Pack will face will be stronger than the schedule filler they've been facing as of late. A 17-point opening half against the Tar Heels on the road on January 12th won't result in a come-from-behind win for the visiting team. But by being able to move from one game to the next in regular succession, this team should begin to find itself. If the Pack is still grinding and squealing its way through its schedule from here on out, it won't be on account of rust.