Johnson: Offense a Concern

A staple of Sidney Lowe's tenure at NC State has been his ability to exploit opposing defenses and put his players in position to take good shots. But the last few weeks have seen the Wolfpack offense fall into its worst slump since Lowe arrived on campus.

Sidney Lowe's teams have never had this problem.

While the Wolfpack under Lowe has yet to make an NCAA Tournament or finish in the top half the ACC standings, they've always been able to get good shots.

Many of his signature wins have come in large part because of his ability to run a highly efficient offense... one that excels at putting players in position to take and make open shots. Suddenly and inexplicably his team has become unable to do either, sending them spiraling out of control on what is now a five-game conference losing streak.

Just to warn you, for purposes of this article we'll be talking in terms of effective field goal percentage. All this means is that we account for the extra value of 3-point baskets (since hitting 33 percent on 3-pointers gives the same amount of points as 50 percent on two-point shots), giving us one number that better indicates how a team shot from the floor.

Of the 20 worst shooting performances in the Sidney Lowe era, eight of them have come this season. Six of those have been in ACC play, all of them losses – on the road against Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech as well as at home against Clemson and Virginia Tech. Home games against Virginia and North Carolina also crack the top-25 on the list, which you can view in its entirety here.

The Virginia Tech game was, from a pure shooting perspective, the worst offensive performance in the four-year reign of Sidney Lowe. A huge part of the putridity was the 0-for-11 performance from behind the arc, which was the first time in nearly 21 years the Pack went without a 3-point basket.

There are plenty of factors that have led to State's disappointing shooting performances over the season. One is simply the lack of great shooters on the team, a hole that Scott Wood was supposed to patch up this season. But he's also been asked to guard the other team's best perimeter player and has logged more minutes than anyone outside of Tracy Smith. As a result, he's started to show signs of wearing down, shooting just 22 percent over the last six games after a red-hot streak to start ACC play.

Other players haven't picked up the slack, either. The Pack's best 3-point shooter has been Javi Gonzalez, but no one on the roster is shooting north of 40 percent from beyond the arc. Julius Mays, who is third on the team with 57 attempts, is shooting just 28 percent.

But it can't be laid entirely at the feet of the players. Ultimately they decide what shots to take, but the coaches' job is to put them in position to make the correct shot choice. Lowe's offensive system just isn't getting the same number of open shots it has in the past.

The glaring stat, so glaring that Seth Greenberg quoted it from memory in his postgame press conference, is that the Pack is 14-0 when it shoots better than 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. That's how the Pack beats teams, and opposing league coaches have done a good job of recognizing the fact and game-planning accordingly.

Smith is still getting double-teamed, but most teams are bringing help from the weak side instead of dropping a defender down from the perimeter. As a result the Pack has gotten fewer open looks, putting even more pressure on the team to make the few open shots they are getting from the perimeter.

There is no easy fix to the Pack offense, but Lowe has to go back to the drawing board and come up with new ways to get guys open. Whether that's through different offensive sets or simply getting better execution on what they've already drawn up, something has to change now for the Pack's downward spiral to stop.

The alternative is to change nothing and hope that games like Duke and Marquette become the norm instead of the exception. That could happen, but we have nearly a season's worth of evidence to suggest that it won't change.

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