1. The big story broke yesterday with CJ Leslie returning to school. Obviously, this is huge news for the Wolfpack. He’s a high volume, talented, starter. And he had a good season. But how good? Is he really a big enough difference maker that it propels NC State from a good team to one that will be favored to win the ACC?
CJ Leslie is returning to NC State for his junior year. That makes NC State the ACC favorite. Mark Gottfried will have a very good team.
— The Hoops Report (@TheHoopsReport) April 18, 2012
Leslie led the Wolfpack at 14.7 ppg. He also took 26% of the shots when he was on the floor, which is more than all except eight ACC players. But shots are one thing, and efficient shots are another. Leslie’s offensive rating (102.1) was the lowest of the NC State starters. He made 53% of his 2s, which is solid, but below the 57% of Richard Howell who was the other NC State starter who lived exclusively on 2s.
The real issue though was free throw shooting. Leslie had the highest free throw rate on the team, but failed to convert 60% of his attempts.
Still, he’s a good player, and he should be better next year. How much better is the issue. To really be a difference maker he’ll need to make the type of leap FSU’s Michael Snaer made from his sophomore to junior seasons.
And, even if he does, there’s still four more reasons NC State won’t win* the ACC.
2. It’s hard not to feel for NC State fans after the Lowe years. Those were bad, bad years. It’s also completely understandable – and perhaps even justifiable – that Mark Gottfried has filled them with joy. They instantly became relevant. Their recruiting class is insane. Good days are ahead.
But they have to play defense.
Since advanced stats became available, no Mark Gottfried coached team has finished better than 50th nationally in defensive efficiency. Last year’s NC State team was 65th. The problem is that they don’t pressure the ball. They don’t take away possessions. Basketball is a numbers game – great defenses force turnovers, keep teams off the offensive glass, and keep teams off the line. With Mark Gottfried at the helm, none of his teams have finished better than 200th in forcing turnovers. And only two teams have cracked the top-100 in defensive rebounding.
State’s opponents get too many possessions. But even if they lock down next year, there are still three more reasons NC State won’t win* the ACC.
3. The Wolfpack have brought in some solid recruits of late: Lorenzo Brown, DeShawn Painter, Richard Howell, CJ Leslie and Ryan Harrow were all consensus top-100 recruits. But next year’s class is special. Rodney Purvis, TJ Warren and Tyler Lewis should all end up as consensus top-50 recruits.
And they’re going to play. They have to. NC State essentially ran a 7-man rotation last year, and CJ Williams and Alex Johnson graduated, and Deshawn Painter transferred to Old Dominion. This has got to have Wolfpack fans excited, as no one is more popular than the kid who hasn’t shown up on campus yet.
But freshmen are a fickle bunch. Of the top-40 players in the nation in 2011-12 (in terms of offensive efficiency) only three were freshmen. In the ACC, only two of the top-40 were freshmen. It’s a rare thing when a freshman can carry a team, or even be one of the team’s stars.
Though it happens. And these three have the talent. But if they do, there are still two reasons NC State won’t win* the ACC.
4. This season NC State was undersized, but in a unique way. Their perimeter players were big, while their interior players were not. Richard Howell (6-8, when he’s not fouling out) and CJ Leslie (6-8) had issues matching up with some of the bigger ACC teams. This year they’ll have the same problem.
With Painter’s transfer, the only player on the roster taller than 6-8 is 7-1 Jordan Vandenberg who has averaged 1.4 points over his career and missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. The inside will be manned by the extremely foul-prone Richard Howell, CJ Leslie and freshman TJ Warren. All are 6-8.
And even if they somehow fill that hole in the middle, there’s still one reason that NC State won’t win* the ACC.
5. The ACC plays an unbalanced schedule. Last year NC State played the easiest schedule in the conference. Ken Pomeroy had them 12th of 12. Against the four teams who finished ahead of them in the regular season, NC State only played them a combined five times (and went 0-5). Against the four teams who each won four conference games, NC State played them a combined seven times (and went 6-1).
That won’t happen this year.
So how many wins will it take to win* the ACC? In the last decade the winner* has averaged 13.3 conference wins. Last year NC State won 9. Now they have to get that much better, and they’ll be doing it against a significantly more difficult schedule.
*’Win’ refers to the regular season title. Of course, the ACC is alone in that the conference does not recognize a regular season champion. The fans and the teams do, but that’s another story.