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So You Want To Go Up Tempo

"In the fall I always say we're going to play faster. I even drive my car faster and eat faster," says coach Jim Valvano. "Then by the end of the year we're playing half court."

Sidney Lowe is ready to speed things up, and he has Wolfpack fans excited at the prospect. Without question, we're in an environment that encourages speed; the ACC was the fastest conference in the country last season by a wide margin. Half the league averaged more than 72 possessions per 40 minutes in conference play, and most of them will be more than happy to run with us in 2009. But this also means that pushing tempo offers us no inherent advantage in that we aren't surprising anybody or giving anyone a change of pace (pardon the pun); we're just deciding that we want to play everyone else's game. But let's assume that pushing the ball puts us in a better position for offensive success (i.e., greater efficiency). Besides, it ain't like the other way was working for us. Can we actually do it?

Speeding up the game has to start at the defensive end--if we can't force turnovers or rebound, our transition opportunities are limited, which makes it difficult to dictate tempo. It's going to take a complete philosophical overhaul, and, obviously, better execution. The philosophical change appears to have been made:

He’s certainly excited about Lowe’s desire to go with a more up-tempo offense and a pressure defense, both of which should be improved with Degand’s speed.

"I take a lot of pride in my defense and not letting my opponent score," Degand said. "Improving our defense is definitely one of the main focuses as a team and one of my main focuses as a player. I think we can definitely be disruptive on defense."

Playing defense more aggressively--assuming we do so consistently and don't revert to old habits--will pay dividends for us; the question is how much the weaknesses of our component parts limit our ceiling. Here's how Lowe's first two squads have performed at the defensive end in conference play:

 eFG% TO% OR% FTR 2FG% 3FG%
2007 51.2 (6) 17.1 (12) 39.3 (12) 30.1 (2) 49.4 (6) 37.5 (11)
2008 52.5 (11) 16.5 (11) 36.4 (10) 32.1 (2) 48.7 (6) 42.2 (12)

How much can renewed aggression compensate for an inherent lack of certain skills, and just how successfully will the defense fuel the running game?

A healthy Degand coupled with a greater emphasis on defense should translate into more turnovers; plus we've got regression working in our favor. Back in March I expressed reservations about the ability of the Sendek players to reinvent themselves defensively, but I'm hopeful.

As far as rebounding goes, the onus is on McCauley and Smith to get better; without improvement from them, we don't compensate for Hickson's absense, regardless of the improved performance we get from Costner. And then we're liable to cancel out whatever gains we make in the turnover department.

Ultimately I expect this team to follow the path of so many Jimmy V teams before it. We'll run when we can and pick up a few additional possessions per game, but I doubt we're at a point where we're able to really get up and down like Sidney Lowe wants us to.