Ryan Craig

Final preseason tuneup a mixed bag for State

Posted November 12, 2008

Preseason college basketball isn’t about scores or stats, it’s about finding rhythm, tweaking rotations, and getting a feel for who will contribute for your team and who cannot. Sometimes the numbers tell the real story, while other times they mask the truth.

N.C. State didn’t exactly blow the doors off the “Old Barn” last night in its 85-61 win against Catawba College, so as you might suspect, my impressions about State were mixed.

First off, and most importantly, Farnold Degand looked as though he’s playing at close to 100% after returning from last year’s ACL tear. The Pack’s starting point guard only missed one out of eight shots last night and tallied four steals in just 22 minutes.

Again, it’s not about the numbers, but what those numbers meant. The 6-foot-3 playmaker showed range from three, the ability to get into the lane, and the lateral movement to keep his man in front of him and force turnovers. I was impressed with the way he was able to play the up-tempo style Sidney Lowe is looking for without seeming like he was forcing the issue.

The former Iowa State player’s one missed shot was a testament to his offensive efficiency – the team just looked like it operated better on the offensive end with him running the show. Sometimes you just have to forget about the numbers and give a team the old “eye test.” These eyes likes what they saw more with number 12 at the helm.

As you might expect, if I thought the team looked better with Degand at the one, then I thought they looked worse when Javier Gonzalez was there. At least against the Indians, Javi’s jumper still seems to be more of a liability than a weapon. The sophomore had three wide open looks from beyond the recently-extended three-point line and missed all three.

One of State’s problems last year was its inability to knock down open jumpers. When defenses don’t have to respect your ability to shoot from outside, defenders can sag off your perimeter players, compromising your ability to get into the lane and clogging the paint for low-post playmakers like Ben McCauley and Tracy Smith.

Degand appears to have the shot that can force his man to play tight on him, opening up the opportunity for a dribble-drive – Gonzalez does not.

That, in itself, is one of the reasons why the offense is more effective in the hands of Degand.

The biggest issue the Pack is going to have in the back court, other than the chance the team may faint from holding its breath while Javi is playing point, is the complete lack of a shooting guard.

Trevor Ferguson is not as bad as his Brian Zoubek-like four fouls in ten minutes stat line, but he’s not a legitimate ACC two-guard either. Of course, it doesn’t really matter, because for some reason, C.J. Williams, the true freshman out of Jack Britt, is the starter for now.

I always make it a point to say that I’ve never coached a college basketball game – or a high school game – or a pickup game – and I will reiterate that point right now. But, this is the second time I’ve seen Williams play in person now, and if he’s the best option State has at shooting guard, this is going to be a long season in Raleigh.

Coach Lowe re-stated his affinity for his style of play after Tuesday night’s contest, but I just don’t see it. Sure, his body may be college-ready (Williams is already filled out at 6-5, 205 pounds), but his game isn’t. I understand that as a freshman he has a lot to learn, but for now he is absolutely no threat on the offensive end of the court. State doesn’t have enough talent at the other spots on the floor to play 4-on-5 on offense, and that’s exactly what they are doing right now with a player that didn’t even look for an opportunity to score until there were two minutes left in the game.

State’s depth is in the front court, and because of that, I think you go with Degand at the one, Fells at the two, Costner at the three and then McCauley and Smith at the four and five respectively. Sure, you probably lose some of Fells’ offense because of the energy he’ll have to expend playing the other team’s two, but you make up for it by moving Costner to his best position and having your two best low-post players on the floor together.

Speaking of the front court, State looked good here.

McCauley was solid and Brandon Costner and Tracy Smith were better than that.

Costner only finished 4-12 from the field, but the weight he’s dropped is allowing him to be more of the all-court player he was two years ago when he made a name for himself in the ACC Tournament. The redshirt junior hit from three, showed quickness in the lane, and perhaps most importantly, had enough in the tank to dive on the floor for loose balls.

Costner was admittedly one of the most disappointing players from last year’s team, and it looks like he took it upon himself to get in better shape and get back to the level he was at when he was considered one of the best small forward prospects in the conference.

One of the things that will allow Costner to play more on the perimeter, where I feel he’s more comfortable, is the emergence of Tracy Smith as a legit post presence on the offensive end. Smith is no Hickson (though State fans might argue that’s not a bad thing), but he appears to be building off of the improvement he made last year.

The true sophomore has solid footwork in the paint and the body to bang down low in the ACC – his only issue sometimes can be his willingness to demand the ball. It seemed as though every time he touched the ball in the paint he scored (he shot 7-10, though you have to consider the competition), but after every one of his baskets I found myself asking ‘why doesn’t he ask for the ball more often?’

He suffers from what I have decided to call “Courtney Fells Disease” (CFD). CFD can present in a variety of ways, including deferring too much to other players, not demanding the ball on the offensive end even though you are the most skilled player on the court or might have the greatest advantage with your matchup, and disappearing for long stretches at a time for no reason at all.

The performance against Catawba was hardly dominating, and perhaps only mildly more than reassuring, but at least Wolfpack nation got a look at what they can expect from this year’s team.

As long as the starting five can stay on the floor (I'm counting Fells, and not Williams, as one of those five), State will be competitive in its games. Unfortunately, the bench isn't deep enough to keep the five best players fresh enough to run like Lowe wants to this year, meaning a lot of the Pack's games will feature a quick start to both halves and a likely drop-off from there (similar to what happened against Catawba).

This year's freshman class doesn't look like it will have much of an impact, if any, which won't help assuage the loss of Hickson and Gavin Grant to the NBA and graduation , respectively.

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