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Three Points: Virginia 61, N.C. State 60

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Three Points from State's 61-60 loss to the Cavaliers on Saturday.

1) Effort vs. execution

Effort was a problem for N.C. State before coach Mark Gottfried was hired. "Was" as in past tense, and Saturday's loss to Virginia is the latest proof of how far a State team, made up of essentially the same players as a year ago, has come on the effort front.

Any of Rich Howell's nine offensive rebounds, or the three jump-ball tie-ups on Virginia's end of the floor he caused, qualify as proof, but there's also the matter of State's defensive effort as a team in the second half.

Virginia's a low-scoring team, 243rd in the country, by coach Tony Bennett's design, but the Cavaliers scored 38 points in the first half, on some incredible shooting (15 of 25). But State responded in the second half by holding the Cavaliers to 4 of 18 and 23 points.

"If they play that hard every night, we're going to win a lot of games this year," Gottfried said. "We have won a lot of games; we're going to win a lot more. The effort, that's your takeaway from tonight's game, there's no question."

It was the kind of "phenomenal" effort, as Gottfried put it, you would expect from a team fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament (see Point 2) and it was the kind of desperate effort most of Sidney Lowe's five teams either severely lacked or did not have the wherewithal to summon at the appropriate moment.

But effort didn't lose the game on Saturday; poor shooting did. And, yes, Virginia is one of the most disciplined defenses in the country, but the Cavaliers are not particularly talented, nor do they have one especially dominant defender, as UNC does in John Henson.

Virginia just makes you earn every shot, like the one on State's last possession, which was a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer that didn't hit the rim.

State finished 2 of 15 from the 3-point line, its worst performance in seven ACC games, and second-worst of the season. The Pack was 1 of 8 in a 60-58 win over Princeton, a game in which it didn't have its best 3-point shooter, Scott Wood, for 36 minutes because of an ankle injury.

Wood was 2-for-8 on Saturday, which means the rest of the team was 0-for-7. It wasn't a matchup problem for Wood, either; he was mostly being defended by Sammy Zeglinski, a shorter player. UVa, with its team principles, gets some credit for Wood's poor shooting, but not all of it.

"I just didn't make shots," Wood said. "Personally, a lot of it's on me. That's why I'm there. I'm not there to be Ben Wallace in the paint and block every shot. I'm there to knock down shots, and I didn't do that tonight."

State's real shooting woes were where UVa couldn't defend — the foul line. In a one-point loss, that can't happen. In the first six ACC games, State hit 72.1 percent (80 of 111) of its free throws. Against UVa, it made 57.1 percent (12 of 21), compared with 69.6 percent (16 of 23) by the Hoos.

"We had a night where we had some great looks and we couldn't make a shot," Gottfried said. "We're a terrific foul-shooting team, and we couldn't make a foul shot."

2) On the outside looking in

The loss to UNC on Thursday was a two-by-four to the skull, but the Virginia loss was a straight shot to the solar plexus.

No one should have expected State to beat the best team in the ACC on the road on Thursday, but Saturday's game — against a team in both its conference and RPI peer group (both teams started the week in the 50s in the RPI) — was a must-win.

Now, State needs to put on its work boots to end a five-year NCAA tournament drought, a position that could have been avoided by winning some/any/all of the winnable games (Indiana, Stanford, Virginia, Vanderbilt), nevermind the pie-in-the-sky wouldas and couldas against UNC or Syracuse.

Despite UVa's national ranking (No. 19 in the AP top 25), it was in the same bubble as State. The Hoos started the week at No. 53 in the RPI, compared with No. 55 for State. Bennett's team picked up a nice nonconference win over Michigan (28 in the RPI) and a decent win at Oregon (62), but it needs more meaningful ACC wins. And now it has one over State, and the two teams won't play again in the regular season.

Bennett's third team is in better position to make the NCAA tournament after last night's win than it has been at any point during the season. The opposite is true for State.

Realistically, State could be 18-4, with wins over Indiana, Stanford and Virginia. Instead, the Pack is 15-7 with its best wins out of the league over Texas (70), St. Bonaventure (85) and Princeton (108) and wins inside the league over Miami (67) and Maryland (96). That's not going to get it done on Selection Sunday.

At 4-3 in the ACC, State has nine league games left but really only three that will matter to the selection committee — at Duke, No. 2 in the RPI, on Feb. 16, and at home against No. 23 Florida State (Feb. 18) and No. 13 UNC (Feb. 21).

State also has a pair of land-mine games on the road at Clemson (Feb. 25) and at Virginia Tech (March 4), but neither of those would qualify as quality wins. Clemson and Virginia Tech are hard-working but extremely limited offensive teams. Their seasons will end in the NIT. State has to find one or two wins against Duke-FSU-UNC to avoid the same fate.

3) Big players play big ...

UNC is the only other ACC team with two players as talented as State's Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie. Brown and Leslie are All-ACC caliber players with NBA potential. They've each had shining moments in the first 21 games and have played well with State's complementary parts (Scott Wood, C.J. Williams and Rich Howell), but in order for State to beat good teams — and Virginia qualifies as one — those two guys have to be on.

Leslie, with Henson nowhere in a 20-mile radius, was on his game against UVa. He produced a team-best 17 points, with three really good assists, in 33 minutes. It was a nice bounceback effort from Leslie, after he predictably struggled with the bigger Henson and UNC on Thursday, and the latest sign of his progress and maturity as a sophomore.

But Brown, who has been fantastic for most of the season, finished with eight points, four assists and four turnovers in 37 minutes. State needs more from him, and not just on the last possession. (You have to tip your hat to UVa on that play; they just defended Brown well).

Brown was being defended by Jontel Evans for most of the game. Evans is a strong point guard, a football player really moonlighting in basketball, but he's only 5-11. Brown, who's a legit 6-4, needed to be more aggressive in shooting over Evans and/or posting him up on the low block. I counted only one possession where Brown posted him up, and he immediately passed it back out to the 3-point line, to Leslie of all people.

Brown finished Saturday's game without a trip to the free-throw line. Gottfried questioned the contact on the last play by Akil Mitchell, but officiating is not the reason Brown didn't attempt a free throw in the entire game. His unwillingness to take the ball to the basket with a purpose is why.

Bottom line, Brown and Leslie have to be great for State to be great, and only half of the equation was there on Saturday.

Comments

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Painter

One last thing before moving on to BC.

DeShawn Painter should get some credit for battling for the rebound and getting the ball to Scott in the corner for the 3 that got the Pack within one. DeShawn has quietly had a very productive year, moving in and out of the starting line-up with no complaint or drama. The kid does not get the credit he deserves.

Now, on to Boston tonight. After those two painful losses, I would hope the Pack goes in ready to play and takes nothing for granted. We need to get this one, and decisively.

Go Pack!

Very nice article by JPG;

Agree on each point.  I thought the Va. game was a key game that we had to win; we didn't and now, as suggested,  it is really going to be tough the rest of the way; I believe the writer is correct on what we have to do to get into the tournament.  Up to this game, I thought we could finish 10-6; now I'm thinking  9-7 might be a stretch; I hope I'm wrong.

Brown and Leslie

Two that could see the NBA for more than a cup of coffee. I do believe that both need to complete their college eligibility to enhance their chances of sticking in the NBA as rookies.

Leslie in particular needs a lot of work on fundamentals before he makes the jump. It is clear that, before this year, he has relied solely on his natural ability. That won't work against NBA-level talent. He is just now learning how to operate in a team environment and he still has a long way to go. If he leaves after this year, he better make sure his passport is up-to-date, because he will be toiling in one of two places- the NBA Development League or overseas.

Howell may have a shot as a role player in the NBA. He is undersized, but he is strong, athletic and can rebound. He won't be a star or even a regular, but he could provide quality minutes off the bench in the right circumstances.

One more point... I agree

One more point...

I agree that Brown has to be more aggressive offensively for this team. he has the ability to drive and finish, he just needs to use it ! He will open looks for his teammates even more if he presents himself as a threat to go to the hoop.

Prediction

Expect to see a more aggressive Lorenzo Brown starting Wednesday. What is obvious to us will show up loud and clear as the Pack reviews the film from the UVa game.

Overall, I thought State

Overall, I thought State outplayed the Hoos. Pack got the looks - they just couldn't get 'em to drop. Wasn't that impressed with UVa's defense; I thought they were vastly overrated. You want to see defense ? Look at State's second half effort !

State should've taken advantage of the physical mismatches against Zeglinski and Evans. Posting them down low or taking them to the rim, or at least shooting over them from mid-range...

FT shooting. What happened ? State was shooting 72-75% from the line and they miss 9 on Saturday night ? C'mon, guys...

Richard Howell was just a beast Saturday, until Ayers neutered him in the second half. That man (Ayers) should be banned from NCSU games for life.

Dead-on with all three

Dead-on with all three points.  This team will only go as far as Brown and Leslie will take it -- NIT?

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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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