Johnson: Overcoming the Off Night

Every team has them, but not every team can win when they happen. The bad-shooting day has been lethal to NC State's offense lately - here are some ways the Wolfpack can survive the dreaded off night.

At the beginning of the season, NC State was winning without lighting up the scoreboard. The Wolfpack started 5-0 without ever breaking the 70-point barrier. But the competition got tougher as the season progressed, and the Pack needed more from its offense to keep getting wins.

Look at the Pack's last five games. In three wins Sidney Lowe's team scored at least 87 points; in two losses they couldn't get past 62 on the scoreboard. It's easy to point to the shooting percentages, particularly the 3-point shooting, as the main culprit. The Pack shot 51 percent from the floor and 48 percent from 3-point range in wins, but just 40 percent and 31 percent in losses.

But shooting is by its very nature inconsistent. No team is going to be hot every night. So the great dilemma facing the Pack right now is how to become less reliant on their shooting. On the surface, this makes very little sense - how can a team score without shooting well?

But shooting, while important, isn't the only thing that makes an offense effective. An offense that never turns the ball over doesn't need to shoot as well as an offense that coughs the ball up a lot. An offense that gets a lot of offensive rebounds can make up for some bad shooting as well.

With that principle in mind, here are some ways the Pack offense can keep scoring when the shots are falling.

More Vandenberg and Howell:
The Pack isn't a great offensive rebounding team, and it's not helping itself by leaving two of the team's best rebounders on the bench. While Smith might lead the team in totals, Jordan Vandenberg and Richard Howell have performed as well or better on a per-minute basis when it comes to crashing the boards.

By putting some combination of Smith, Howell and Vandenberg on the court at the same time, the Pack drastically improves its offensive rebounding capabilities. And while Howell and Smith often play on the court together, Lowe hasn't been willing to allow Vandenberg and Smith to share the court. The unwillingness to experiment with the combination has severely limited the Australian's minutes.

The freshman pair is averaging just 21 minutes a game, a figure that needs to go up if the Pack wants to improve its rebounding on either end of the court.

Don't Run:
Let's clarify this point. It's not "don't ever get into fast breaks." By all means, if a team is willing to give up a transition basket the Pack should be happy to take advantage. But, to paraphrase Lowe, the Pack needs to play smarter in transition.

The Pack shouldn't try to push the ball up the court when the transition opportunity isn't there. Possessions in basketball are like outs in baseball. They are precious, and you can't get them back. You want to make the most of every one of them. Playing too fast and throwing a possession away is the worst thing you can do offensively.

Clemson will be a difficult test in this regard for the Pack. They want to try to make the Pack speed up and make mistakes.

Run Plays for Scott Wood:
Pretty simple concept here – if you are going down make sure you gave it your best shot (or in this case, shooter). Wood is the Pack's best shooter. He should be taking more shots outside the lane than any other player.

The problem the Pack is going to run into now, after Wood's 31-point outbreak, is that teams are going to be keenly aware of Wood. He's not going to be standing wide open very often. Lowe is going to have to run plays to get the ball in his hands.

Virginia stopped the freshman sharp-shooter in the second half of the game simply by guarding him. Despite going 2-for-4 from behind the arc in the first half, the Pack seemed uninterested in getting him shots in the second half. That can't happen again, this team needs Wood's offense and needs to find way to get him double-digits shots every game.

Never Again Play the Horner/Mays/Degand/Davis/Vandenberg lineup:
That combination of players just doesn't work when the Pack has the ball. Playing them for five minutes straight is basically a self-imposed offensive drought. The problem isn't the players individually but the roles they are thrust into while on the court together.

This line-up is asking Horner to be its go-to scorer, only the senior forward isn't at his best trying to drive or shot fake his way into good shots. This line-up only works if Horner is hot, or if the combination of Davis and Vandenberg is dominating the offensive boards in a manner we haven't seen yet. While it can be good defensively, this combination of players isn't saving enough points to make up for the offensive problems.


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