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DBR Previews NC State Hoops

Duke Basketball Report posted a a positive preview of NC State's 2005-2006 basketball team.

A few points from the piece:

Coach Sendek has assembled a team for the 2005-2006 season that has extremely experienced leadership in four returning starters and outstanding young talent that should more than fill the Pack’s need to get better in the frontcourt. Two fifth-year seniors, a senior and a junior with international playing experience gained while representing his country will handle the ball for the Wolfpack and create a significant edge in experience and ball-handling over most ACC opponents, with the possible exception of Boston College.

The Pack should also have as much balance in scoring as any team in the ACC, with five returning players having averaged between 7.4 ppg and 9.8 ppg last season. Depending upon the development and contributions of its young frontcourt talent, State could be a much better team on the national level than might be expected of a team without any returning double-digit scorers that just lost the multi-talented Julius Hodge.

The effect of losing Julius Hodge on NC State’s fortunes in 2005-2006 is uncertain, though "The Jules of Harlem" was undoubtedly a great and versatile college player. Without Hodge, the Pack still should be an exceptional ball-handling team with established strength or solid potential at every position combined with experienced leadership.

Julius Hodge's departure has left a gaping hole in the starting lineup, and I have expressed concern about what will happen when the guys used to lighter workloads are forced to pick up the slack. I don't think anyone realizes just how large of a factor Hodge was last season. After I crunched the numbers last season, I was surprised to find that Hodge carried his team like no other player in the conference.

There's no question that the Wolfpack returns a good bit of talent and experience--as DBR noted in the preview, State has a bunch of upperclassmen who will handle the ball this year. But also noteworthy is that NC State doesn't return anyone who averaged double-digits in '04-'05, and while DBR is kind to compliment NC State for its "balance" in this area, the lack of secondary scorers present another problem for the post-Hodge era.

Just how much did Hodge factor into NC State's offense? See the chart below, which lists every player in the ACC who used at least 25% of his team's possessions. If you need an explanation for %Poss or O Rtg, see here.
Highest Workloads, 2004-2005
(minimum 500 minutes played)PlayerTeam%PossO RtgMin/GJulius HodgeNCSU2811734.6Sean MayUNC27.512326.8Alexander JohnsonFSU26.88517.5
Sharrod FordClem26.610529.1Anthony HarrisMia26.310129.6Al ThorntonFSU26.110718Guillermo DiazMia25.811634.3

As you can see, no one played a larger role for his team than Hodge. An average player is expected to use about 20% of his team's possessions when he is on the court (100%/5 players), but Hodge and the other guys on this list are well above that mark. Some of them--Hodge, May, Ford, Thornton, Diaz--should be using that many possesions, but Harris and Johnson probably shouldn't.

Hodge's offensive rating is second only to May's, and both numbers are impressive considering the high %Poss. The more possessions a player uses, the less efficient he tends to be, and the more his O Rtg tends to suffer. Not so for the cream of the crop, however, and that is what makes those players special.

Hodge's possessions represent a large chunk of production that will be redistributed. Only one other player on NC State's roster used more than 20% of the team's possessions when on the court (Cedric Simmons), meaning everyone else on the team used a below-average amount of possessions. Engin Atsur, for instance, used a meager 15% of State's possessions when he was on the court (which was often). Ilian Evtimov--the "quarterback"--only used about 17%.

It's going to be massively (massively!) important for the young guys to pick up the scoring, because I don't think the experienced upperclassmen who are lauded by DBR--Evtimov, Atsur, Bethel--are up to the challenge. Bottom line: the older guys rock the intangibles and play like role players. Because, you know, they are role players. That may sound like a criticism of those guys, but I don't mean it in that way. They may be unspectacular, but they're reliable, and that is important.

Likely it will be the team's freshmen and sophomores who make or break the season. I think there is a good chance that the offense regresses this season...I just hope it isn't a significant regression.

DBR is right--the 'Pack has potential at every position on the floor. The question is, will Hodge's absense spur the players to realize that potential, or will they buckle under the larger demand for production?