An early look at RPI, wondering where Abdul-Malik Abu's hands have gone, and a glance at Appalachian State basketball futility shall comprise this adventure in hoops hodgepodge. To the scattered thoughts...
If you've watched NC State play basketball this season, then it probably comes as no surprise that the Pack would not be on Easy Street when it comes to their tournament prospects if the season ended today. But, you might be surprised at how close State is to Easy Street (previously defined by this clownblogger as hailing from a power five conference and checking in with an RPI inside the top 40). The Pack moved to 2-2 vs. the top 100 and 7-2 overall with the overtime win over Tennessee State, and that was enough for 42nd Sunday morning in ESPN's daily RPI rankings. P5 teams in the top 40 just don't get left out, so we're close!
Even though there are no more chances for a marquee out-of-conference win—and Creighton was arguably the only chance for one given this season's more timid scheduling—sweeping the remaining four non-con foes could put the Pack in an entry-level studio on 39th street, or thereabouts, when league play begins. Given the league's strength—five teams in the RPI top 20 and eight in the top 50—it won't take an atypical Mark Gottfried run through league play to stay inside the real estate bubble. Gott is 44-44 in ACC regular season play; something in the 10-8 neighborhood should be fine if the Pack finish out pre-ACC play at 11-2.
Fairfield, by the way, likely poses the biggest threat to putting an ugly mark on the ledger before league play. The Stags are 169th in RPI and 174th in KenPom. App State and McNeese are brutal. Rider is somewhere in between. More on the Mountaineers in a moment, but first...
Abu tested the NBA waters after playing a solid second fiddle to Cat Barber a year ago. Abu was second on the team in PER at 21.9, grabbed a bearded godlike 20% of opponents' misses, and turned the ball over less than anyone on the team not named Cat or Maverick Rowan (the latter of whom chucked it rim-ward so fast on each touch that it made it nearly impossible to turn it over). Okay, so bearded god Richard Howell grabbed over 20% of ALL misses, not just ones on the defensive end, but nonetheless Bu was pretty good on the boards a year ago (7th in the ACC in fact).
Despite greatly improving his TS% (52.1 to 59.1) and eFG% (49.0 to 53.5) thanks to better two-point and free-throw shooting, Abu's PER has slipped to 18.9 in his junior season thanks to an alarming turnover rate. That PER is just fifth best on the club. Despite a slight downtick in usage, Abu is ending more than one in five of his possessions in a turnover. His rate has skyrocketed from a very respectable 12.2% to an atrocious 21.6%. On top of that, he's just the fourth best defensive rebounder on the team behind Torin Dorn (18%), Ted Kapita (17.6%), and even BeeJay Anya (17.5%), a man that has never been much of a rebounder despite all of that much ballyhooed wingspan (drink). Abu's 15.9% defensive rebound rate is the lowest of his career. Dorn's rebounding prowess for a guard is impressive, but a dude with Bu's hops and overall athleticism simply should not be getting outrebounded by anyone, much less a guard.
Abu has reached double figures in points just once in his last four games. He hasn't grabbed more than six rebounds in any of the last four. He had just three and three in 20 minutes against Tennessee State. I offer no explanation for the above; I'm not even going to conjecture. But last year's Abu needs to show himself for ACC play or the only bubble we'll be watching will be for the NIT.
And then "my" Mountaineers. If I'm an ASU grad who roots for NC State, does that make me a Walmart State fan? Even when I broadcast football and basketball games on campus radio and later actually got paid (small amounts of) cash money to cover ASU for the local rag, I was never really a fan. It's NC State for me; there's no room for a second favorite. When it comes to basketball, that's probably for the best.
Recent message board snark mused on the subject of ASU's top 25 worthiness, as in are the Mountaineers one of the top 25 teams in North Carolina. Fortunately for them, there are some truly atrocious programs in the state. Here are all the NC teams that rank lower in KenPom than 284th ASU: High Point (292nd), Western Carolina (311th), Campbell (314th), and North Carolina A&T (350th out of 351).
Here's how ASU finished the previous five years: 258th, 284th, 331st, 264th, and 258th. Basketball is not just an afterthought in Boone; it's barely a thought. And this is by no means a mid-major with some cagey veterans, like Tennessee State, hoping to use that experience to spring an upset. ASU has one senior and he plays less than 10 minutes per game. State is a young team that could develop. ASU is just young. (But I'm going to just go ahead and be SSUPO to be safe.)