I think it goes without saying that tomorrow’s game against North Carolina State is going to be one of the more important ones that these young Terrapins will play this year. Three game losing streaks do a lot to a team’s “swagger,” if you will. That kind of losing streak just isn’t what a young squad like the Terrapins can afford. It’s like the old adage, “What you don’t know, won’t hurt you.” I’m of the belief that if this young team never experiences one of those three game slumps, that we’ll be a better, stronger team for it. With that being said, let’s break down N.C. State.
The Bread and Butter
Perhaps what N.C. State does better than any other team, arguably, in the country, is get at you down low and in transition. These two traits were on full display last week when the Wolfpack upset #1 Duke by destroying them with transition points and scoring the vast majority of their points in the paint. C.J. Leslie had 25 points and 6 rebounds in that game, thanks to his versatile skill set. When I say versatile, I mean he really can beat you in any number of ways. At least three times during that game he scored on a pretty step back jumper move that clanged around the rim before going in. Another few times, he just rolled right off Plumlee and tossed in an Antawn Jamison-esque scoop shot. The shots are ugly to look at, but because of where they are, they have a very high percentage of going in and are very tough to stop.
They also have Richard Howell, whose offensive rebounding ability garners comparison’s to Moses Malone. At 6’8, 260 lbs., he is a hulk down low who is athletic enough to quickly get boards before other forwards even get the chance to jump for them. Because N.C. State isn’t too good at shooting outside jumpers, Howell is a great complementary piece to their offense. He is the janitor of their team, and is more than willing to sacrifice the body and take contact to protect the paint. Even though Plumlee is one of the best rebounders in the country, Howell still gave him fits by grabbing 18 rebounds (6 of which were offensive).
Of course, their transition game is revved up by the leading assist man in the ACC, point guard Lorenzo Brown. Brown is averaging 13 PPG and 7.1 AST, and gets the majority of his dimes on the fast break. He possesses fantastic ball control, and he makes teams pay who try to overplay him on defense because of his speed. Brown does turn the ball over a bit at 3.4 times a game, but that has a lot to do with him trying risky passes that work a lot of the time.
X-Factors: T.J. Warren and Scott Wood
When these two players are heating up, N.C. State becomes a top 5-10 team in the country. Scott Wood has hit more three pointers than any active player in the ACC, and at 45% on the year from deep, he’s not a guy you want to leave open ever. Wood has scored in double figures his last seven games, and this hot streak is one of the main reasons why N.C. State has been so good as of late. Without him on fire, they have no serious three point threat. With him, they have the best one in the country. Worst part is, he doesn’t need a ton of space to get that shot off, either. He just needs a second, and it’ll be interesting to see who the Terps stick on him.
As for T.J. Warren, the highly touted freshman out of high school, he is an extremely efficient player who is hitting 67% of his shots. Think about that for a second. He’s a freshman small forward, under 7 feet tall, and hitting 67% of his shots from the floor. That kind of efficiency is unheard of for players at his position at any level. How does he do it? High percentage looks in transition! Layups and dunks on the fast break are really how he scores all his points, and it works extremely well when the Wolfpack is off and running. Warren can occasionally hit the three pointer, but it’s not his best look. On the year he’s 8-of-15 from deep, so while he does command attention, he’s not the guy you want to hone in on.
The Bad Stuff
If N.C. State has one major flaw, it’s that they are pretty one dimensional on the offensive end of things. Four of their five starters score off lay-ins, put backs, and dunks. So what happens when a team like that goes against a very talented front court that forces them to try outside shots? They falter a bit. The Terrapins have a pretty solid front court who rebounds well and will likely take away a lot of chances to convert offensive boards into points. Alex Len is difficult to go up against (even though in their last matchup, Len got destroyed by Leslie) given his size and length, and Charles Mitchell and James Padgett can hold their own defensively.
C.J. Leslie, for as good as he is, also has some issues with playing under control. Because of his versatility, he often thinks he can dribble a little better than he can, shoot a little better than he can, and generally dominate a little better than he actually can. This results in turnovers and occasional bad shots. If the Terrapins take away the paint by establishing position, Leslie is likely to dip into his well of moves, for better or worse. Those miraculous shots that bounce around before going in can turn into misses very quickly.
Because of the breakneck pace the Wolfpack play at, there is always going to be a propensity for turnovers if the game turns into a track meet. That may offset some of the Terrapins own faults in that department, making this a game a very close one about who takes better care of the ball.
And lastly, one thing that can be said about N.C. State is the hangover effect may apply to them. After downing the best team in the country, most every team will suffer from a bit of hubris that comes with wins like that. Despite having more talent than the Terrapins, N.C. State could very well come into this game with inferior product, which will play directly into a desperate-for-a-win Terrapin team. If that’s the case, Maryland coming out strong in the first half (not exactly their strong suit) could secure a comfortable enough lead to help them last the game.
So there you have it folk, N.C. State in a nutshell.