Three Points from N.C. State's 79-72 loss at Michigan on Tuesday:
1) Better but not good enough
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried and some of the players were encouraged by the moral value of Tuesday's loss. Compared to the effort in a loss to Oklahoma State and a even win over UNC-Asheville, there's some validity to that interpretation.
"I think they are a legitimate top 3, top 5 team in the country," Gottfried said after the game. "Our team is not that far off."
And senior guard Scott Wood theorized, "If they are the third-best team, I think we'll be all right."
I'm not arguing with either statement but Tuesday was an "Are you for real?" game. Let's put it this way, if either Duke or North Carolina were picked to win the ACC, they would have been expected to win on Tuesday night, even on the road, and no one would have been taking hand-grenade credit for Tuesday's effort.
N.C. State fell behind by 15 points in the second half, and didn't roll over like it did against Oklahoma State. Gottfried can hang his hat on that, for sure.
"We're a better basketball team today than we were one week ago," Gottfried said. "Now, can we maintain and keep getting better and improving? That's going to be the question for us."
The season also doesn't end tomorrow or even next month, so there's still plenty of time but make no mistake, N.C. State missed an opportunity to make a statement on Tuesday night.
2) Double foul trouble
Junior forward C.J. Leslie, who was "March 2012" aggressive, went to the bench with 9:09 left in the first half with his second foul. He didn't check back in until senior forward Richard Howell picked up his second foul, in a 28-second span, with 4:45 left in the first half.
Leslie managed to avoid further foul trouble in the second half but Howell, who kept the team in the game in the first half with his offense, picked up fouls No. 3 and 4 in a 24-second span in the first 5 minutes of the second half. Howell then fouled out with 5:57 left in the game.
"That was on me, I can't be fouling out of games like this," Howell put on his Twitter account after the game.
State's depth behind Leslie and Howell was thin before sophomore Thomas de Thaey left the program this weekend and junior forward Jordan Vandenberg didn't add much in six minutes on Tuesday.
Vandenberg, who's 7-feet tall, has a limited role but he has to do a better job of contesting shots. Vandenberg's primary use should be in taking fouls. He only played six minutes, and all in the first half, but he didn't have any fouls.
The primary preseason concern of "What happens when both Leslie and Howell get into foul trouble?" became a double-barreled problem on Tuesday.
Leslie was able to play with the fouls in the second half but Howell was not. Essentially, that's Gottfried's only choice at this point, hope the veteran players can still play while in foul trouble.
Gottfried's issue after the game wasn't that Howell or Leslie had picked up so many fouls but that they had one free-throw attempt between them, despite 24 field goal attempts.
"I thought (Leslie) got bumped a lot to around there, you know, a lot of physical play and we just didn't seem to find a way to get a foul call in there," Gottfried said. "I'm not knocking the officials, I just thought it was a physical game around the rim for him."
Leslie, who had 12 of his 16 points in the second half, actually didn't pick up his third foul until there was 42.6 seconds left. Down 75-70, Leslie backed Michigan forward Mitch McGary down into the post and was called for an offensive foul by referee Ted Valentine.
Leslie and Gottfried had nearly identical reactions to the call and no one on the bench agreed with the 50-50 decision.
"It came down to a last-minute call," guard Lorenzo Brown said. "We can question the call all we want to but we can never get it back."
3) Three is still greater than two
N.C. State made 62 percent of its 2-point shots and made five more total field goals than Michigan but the Wolverines went 9 of 24 from 3-point range. The Wolfpack only made two 3s, on eight attempts.
Wood was the only Wolfpack player to make a 3, 2 of 5. Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Lorenzo Brown each missed their lone attempt.
N.C. State's not going to turn into Providence, circa 1987, anytime soon, but it needs more than just two 3s from Wood and more than just Wood making outside shots.