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Three Points: Challenges, not-so-subtle differences and a Duke comparison

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Three Points from N.C. State's 76-65 loss at UNC:

1) C.J. Leslie, period.

Mark Gottfried tried benching C.J. Leslie and he tried letting him play through his problems on Saturday at the Smith Center.

Since he was hired 22 months ago, Gottfried has run through just about every option in the coach-player relationship handbook with Leslie. Gottfried calls Leslie "Calvin" instead of C.J., he has made him the primary option of the offense, he has coddled him and he has disciplined him.

For the most part, he has coaxed the best out of Leslie, who has led the team in scoring over the course of Gottfried's 64-game tenure.

Gottfried exhausted one of his final options with Leslie after Saturday's loss by publicly calling out his star forward. Gottfried has challenged Leslie privately but he has never used a public forum, like the post-game press conference, to single out Leslie. And he has had multiple opportunities to do so but the coach never did, not until Saturday.

"He's a great player and great players got to step up and play, period," Gottfried said. "I love him as much as anybody but when you're a good player, then you have to play better."

Gottfried questioned Leslie's turnovers, six in all, four of which came in the first 5 minutes and 21 seconds of the game. Gottfried also questioned Leslie's rebounding effort. The coach pointed out that senior forward Richard Howell finished with 17 rebounds, compared to four for Leslie.

"Are we expecting Richard to get 30 rebounds?" Gottfried said. "I mean, holy mackerel, somebody else has to rebound the ball. Calvin has to step up, period."

Leslie finished the game with six points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and six turnovers in 30 minutes. He was 3 of 8 from the floor and 0 of 4 from the free-throw line.

The most-telling number, however, was his plus-minus.

Leslie was a minus-27 in 30 minutes against the Tar Heels on Saturday, meaning State was out-scored by 27 points when Leslie was on the floor. The Pack only lost the game by 11 points.

To put that number in perspective, arguably the worst performance of Leslie's career was at Virginia as a freshman. He was a minus-26, in 19 minutes, in that 69-58 loss.

By comparison, Leslie's worst outing this season before Saturday was a miserable 20-point loss to Oklahoma State. Leslie was only a minus-12 in 17 minutes in that game.

But here's what really makes it difficult to get a handle on Leslie: In the previous game, Tuesday's win over Florida State, he was a plus-20 in 38 minutes.

Gottfried knows he needs Leslie, that's why he brought him back into the game with 11:37 left on Saturday after letting him watch for almost nine minutes to start the half.

State found a temporary groove, building a 49-45 lead, without Leslie but that's not who they are and Gottfried knows it.

The second-year coach also knows he had to try to send a message to Leslie in the post-game. "He's fine," has always been Gottfried's stock answer to the "What's wrong with C.J. Leslie?" question.

Gottfried changed his response on Saturday. Leslie has a minimum of six games left in his college career to change his.

2) Same teams, different result

When N.C. State beat UNC 91-83 on Jan. 26, the Wolfpack scored 39 points in transition. State had four points on the fastbreak on Saturday. That's a difference of 35 points, that's almost comical.

When N.C. State beat UNC 91-83 on Jan. 26, point guard Lorenzo Brown was the best player on the floor. He had 20 points and 11 assists and was the primary reason for all those fastbreak points.

On Saturday, Brown wasn't even the best point guard on the floor. UNC freshman Marcus Paige, who by his own coach's account played "so poorly" in Raleigh, finished with 14 points, eight assists and no turnovers in 31 minutes on Saturday.

Brown had 12 points and 12 dimes but he was loose with the ball (four turnovers) and too tentative at the start of the game. N.C. State's strategy was to attack P.J. Hairston with C.J. Leslie. Leslie's early turnovers scotched that plan and backfired.

Leslie, by the way, had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting in Raleigh. He finished with six and four on Saturday.

What's interesting about the first game, N.C. State led by 28 with 13 minutes left in that game. UNC cut that lead to five points in the final 30 seconds.

After the game, State's players and coach Mark Gottfried dismissed the meaning of UNC's comeback (as did Roy Williams) but it at least provided the Tar Heels a seed of confidence for the rematch.

That's why, when given the opportunity, you finish teams off when you're up 28, instead of letting them hope against hope for another day.

3) A UNC/Duke comparison

The emergence of P.J. Hairston for UNC is not as startling as Elliot Williams' for Duke in 2008-09, but it does have some parallels.

Before Williams transferred to Memphis and jumped to the NBA, he was a little-used reserve on Mike Krzyzewski's bench for 22 games. Then, after a game against Miami on Feb. 7, Krzyzewski put Williams in the starting lineup to get quicker and more athletic, and to jumpstart the team.

Williams, a freshman guard, started 11 of Duke's final 12 games, the Devils went 10-2 over that stretch, won the ACC title and reached the Sweet 16.

After a game against Miami, on Feb. 9, Roy Williams decided to start Hairston, a sophomore guard, to get quicker and more athletic and, maybe, jumpstart the season. You can't argue with the results, three wins in four games and the loss was by five points at Duke.

Roy Williams, by the way, long criticized by his own fan base despite winning two national titles in five years, pushed every right button on Saturday. It's not just using Hairston more or sticking with Marcus Paige or even shortening his rotation (only six players played at least 10 minutes on Saturday, compared to 10 in the Heels' loss in Raleigh). It's getting his team to believe.

The Tar Heels could have packed it up after any number of bad losses this season, the Texas debacle on Dec. 19 remains notable in that regard. Williams hasn't let his team do that.

This is not Williams' best team, he knows that and the players know that, but they're getting better as the season get longer and that's the mark of a good coach.

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It's not passion, it's

It's not passion, it's focus.

CJ plays poorly when he's not focused and/or presses too much. He actually needs to relax, and let the game come to him. He get's into trouble when he presses, more so than when he seems to 'check out'.

It's a fine line Gott has been walking... he wants more out of CJ, but doesn't want him to press.

As for CJ, it's not a matter of want to, it's a matter of getting things right in his head. Who knows if/when he will be able to consistently do that.

LOL! Tdiddyt...Have to agreee with JPD;

and what is probably the general Pack fan consensus, i.e., "he relaxes too much".

.....and if he wants to get right in his head, as you say, then maybe he needs to see a psychologist; it isn't something that a college basketball coach is really trained to help him with.

.....Maybe he just needs to step back, look within himself and re-evaluate what it is he is trying to accomplish by playing basketball---what his goals are; maybe some professional counseling can help with that. Otherwise he is just going to squander the golden opportunity that he has been given.

Interesting point

Although it seems to me that CJ relaxes too much.

The part about CJ getting right in the head I totally agree with. Even with a wasted freshman year, he has had the better part of two years to work on it. If not by now, when?

demeanor

I know, he sure looked relaxed and comfortable on Saturday.... not a care in the world. Perhaps he is not getting the rest he needs?
Wood can't match his athleticism, but at least he tries.
On one of CJ's "assists" to Dexter, Wood at least tried to run down, But CJ just came loping into the picture long after Dex makes the layup.

last word

I've beat CJ up enough, so I'll make one last point and let it go until after the BC game.

If you laid out a trend line for State's players over the last 5-6 games, you would have everyone mostly trending up except for CJ and Rodney. Rodney still is struggling, but he was better against UNC, especially in the first half. I think he is starting to recover and should be fine for the rest of the year.

CJ has been up and down all year, trending flat on average. If you look at his stats this year compared to the last two, they are very similar. He simply has not improved, despite every opportunity to do so.

Now I am not suggesting that he be consigned to rot on the bench. That would be stupid. I am suggesting that he not be given preferential treatment as a star. He needs to earn every minute that he gets on the court. He deserves nothing more or less.

Time to Look at the Coaching Staff

A collection of talent does not a team make. NCSU fans are painfully aware of this but we're not sure our coaching staff is. Is there a remedial training seminar somewhere on how to teach will power? Because that's the one thing this team is missing, and it's something I've been seeing since mid-season. All this talk about the Pack rising to the occasion is just a bunch of bull. The truth is that no squad is a true team without will power, and our coaching staff seems to know not much about instilling that quality.
CNN
NCSU '73

Seriously?

This staff just got here. But maybe you are right, maybe MG is just a good recruiter. See JPD's list of reasons why State should have been motivated for this game, hard to believe they didn't care about this one. Of course UNC's play did have something to do with the outcome though. Or perhaps State just has trouble on the road? If so, that does not bode well for upcoming tournaments.

Will Power

I agree that will power is the missing ingredient that has caused this team to stumble this year. However, I would not indict the entire team nor would I lay it all on the coaching staff.

Regarding the team, you can't tell me that Howell, Brown, Wood and Lewis don't have will power. Rodney and TJ have had their lapses this year, but they are getting there. As far as CJL goes, I am right there with you. The problem is that when your "best" player lacks will power, it has a profound effect on the team.

Regarding the coaches, I think they have done what they can. You can't teach someone to be motivated. That has to come from within. Coaches can establish an environment that promotes excellence, but it is up to the players to take advantage of it. I see improvement with everyone in the rotation except for CJ.

I will concede one issue I have with Gott. I think he has reached the point with CJ that he has to demand maximum effort from CJ in games and in practice. The cajoling has gotten general improvement in CJ since Gott arrived, but the kid is operating at a 75% level at best. On Saturday, it got to the point that the Pack was better without CJ on the floor.

That may be an anomoly, but CJ seems to be trending down, not up. So I would suggest the only motivational tool that can work with a player, affect his playing time. Gott (like any coach) will be reluctant to pull this trigger with someone as talented as CJ, but I think it is the only way to have a chance to get his attention.

another ingredient

Agree. So I will add will it (power/passion) to my long standing list of what State needs in basketball. So now it's: talented, athletic players who stick around for 3 or 4 years and have a "Tyler Hansbrough" type mentality/toughness/desire.

CJ Leslie, exclamation point!

Nice analysis, JP. My guess is that the message boards are bristling with comments about CJ that are less, let's just say, "measured". Allow me to add my two cents to that discussion.

I don't know CJ personally and have no idea what kind of person he really is. My guess is that he is not a bad kid. His actions when the fans stormed the court after the Duke game were exemplary. So I will focus on his approach to preparing for his chosen profession. My criticism is about CJ as a player, not as a person, except for how his personality affects his play and his future as a pro.

To be successful, passion is everything. Yes, you have to have a certain level of skill and intelligence to achieve certain things, but you can't reach your full potential without the passion to be the best you can be. CJ lacks this passion. This explains his failure to live up to expectations this year and the likelihood that he will have a mediocre pro career at best.

How can I conclude this? Let me answer by posing another question. State goes into the UNC game with 3rd place in the ACC on the line, a chance to sweep the Tar Heels for the first time in years, and an opportunity to improve its seeding in the NCAA tourney. Does anyone think that, if Julius Hodge was on this team, he would have turned in the sorry performance that we saw from CJ? Answer: not in a million years.

I don't care that CJ "blamed himself" at half-time. Talk is cheap and the words are hollow when you go out and are just as pathetic in the second half as you were in the first. Gott made a mistake bringing him back in the game in the second half. You, JP, are correct when you write that Gottfried knows that he needs Leslie to be successful for the rest of the season and into the tournaments. However, on this day at UNC, CJ was a liability that needed to stay on the bench.

It is about time that Gott called CJ out in public. Big time players show up for big time games. CJ shows up when CJ feels like showing up. I believe the Gottfried has managed CJ about as well as any coach could have, using more carrots than sticks. This approach has gone as far as it can go. I think it is time to throw out the carrots and use the stick exclusively.

Gott said after the game that he was happy with the way his team competed. I would agree that there are six guys in the rotation that are giving all they've got. Rodney is still struggling some and Lorenzo had a tough day yesterday (it happens), but there is no denying their effort and their engagement. CJ was a notable exception on Saturday, and, sadly, this was not an isolated incident. He is letting his team and his coach down.

So what in the world in going on with CJ? My guess-he is tired of college and wants to get it over with and move on. He clearly (and understandably) has been frustrated by the inevitable double-teams and he has been hacked relentlessly with no calls. Instead of rising to the occasion, he has slipped back into the one-on-one world on offense that he is comfortable with and has abandoned any effort to even look like he is interested in playing defense.

None of this bodes well for the Pack making a deep run in March. They should do fine with the rest of the regular season schedule and maybe even in the ACC tourney. But to make any noise in the NCAA tourney, they need an energized, bought-in CJ Leslie.

If I am Gott, I make CJ earn every minute of playing time he gets for the rest of the year. I don't start him against BC (Tyler Lewis gets my nod). Bring CJ in when you normally would sub someone in. At the first sign of lack of hustle, pull him. Keep it going for as long as the Pack is playing.

Lorenzo, Richard and Scott are playing with a sense of urgency you would expect from guys who are closing out their college careers. I have no quarrel with the freshmen, who I think are each bringing their best effort. It is up to CJ to decide if he is going to honor his commitment to his teammates or to selfishly play out the string so that he can enter what looks to be a disappointing NBA draft experience for him.

Lastly, a shout out to Doris Burke for a comment I have been waiting to hear all season. When CJ was about to re-enter the game in the second half, Doris said something like "Wolfpack fans are pulling their hair out wondering why Gottfried is putting CJ Leslie back in the game". All season we have been hearing announcers praise CJ Leslie, even during the many lackluster performances he has graced us with. Dick Vitale made one reference to CJ's tendency toward lack of effort that I can recall. Otherwise, nothing but praise. Well, Doris nailed it with that comment and with her willingness to call out CJ's performance for what it was.

Suck it up, CJ. Go Pack!

good points, JPD

Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts.
Hope you are well in Buckeyeland,

Joe

It's all good

But really, really cold.

Had to get that CJ rant off my chest. I work with college kids and recent graduates all the time and nothing frustrates me more than a talented kid that refuses to work to his or her full potential.

Gottfried had to have trouble sleeping last night.

huh?

Kind of a shame that the focus was on; how poorly CJ played, the failure of State to generate points in transition, and a comparison with dook (PJ starting).
How about a few more props to the play of Bullock and Paige, et.al.
Oh, well, maybe that is AC's responsibility?

Bullock and Paige

were really good, I wrote that in the game story in this morning's paper.

Joe

Andrew's Job

I do think that it is Andrew's job to focus on UNC. JP is the beat writer for NCSU, so that's where his focus should be.

Not to take away from the Tar Heels performance (they earned the win), but State was up 5 with 7 to go, despite a bad game from Brown and nothing from Leslie. If either of those guys plays like they should, this game goes in the win column for State.

Again, that doesn't diminish UNC's win. Teams lose when their best players don't play well. But noting that fact is relevant, especially in an article focused on the Pack.

level of play

Agree, as I noted that it is AC's job to focus on UNC.

IIRC, State's 4-5 point lead was generated when Coach Williams pulled all of his starters, except Paige. Sure, if Brown and CJ would have played better, it would have been a closer game. But to put it in the win column?, I think that you would also have to see some poor play by a few of the UNC players, at the same time.

Good read;

.....and very telling about the "enigma" (aka Calvin, aka CJ) that State has on its team. He's a head case; I don't think he is ever going to change (grow up) and I don't think he is anywhere near ready for the NBA. He can't even focus for a full 40 minutes of college basketball---how's he ever going to get thru an 82 game schedule and the grueling travel that's required in the Pros.

I agree that Roy has done a very good job of turning the Heels around; he has made the necessary adjustments that have turned out to be the right ones---they are playing well at just the right time.

Having been a State fan since '83 I have endured a lot of disappointments through the years. This team has some talented players who should be playing much better; they can talk a good game but they can't get it done on the court with any consistency---very perplexing and disappointing to say the least.

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About the blogger

Joe Giglio covers the ACC for the News & Observer, where he has worked since 1997.
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