The Weather Moose:
Would you say the team got the message that Gottfried was trying to deliver? Significant defensive effort even if the offense took a while to get moving in the first half. Another new face starting in the front court as Abu got his first start.
For the first 4 minutes, I was legitimately concerned and had the whole "here we go again" vibe washing over me. They were turning the ball over against pretty awful defense and what shots they got weren't good ones. I was sitting behind Gottfried while this was happening and he was almost nuclear before that TV timeout.
But they turned it around. Played some really solid defense against a fairly efficient offense. I was surprised, actually, with how well they played on the defensive end, forcing Pitt into some really difficult shots.
Do you have any additional thoughts on the Pitt game before we address the, um, increased difficulty level that's upcoming?
Yeah safe to say message received. I liked watching them not only because they won but because thy won the way they kind of have to win - grinding out defensive stops, getting in transition off misses as well as turnovers and getting solid guard play.
The other take away is that clearly the best front court combination is Freeman and Abu with the other two coming off the bench as offensive and defensive needs dictate. Freeman is just too valuable from a rebounding standpoint to sit and Abu is starting to show some flashes of why he was a highly rated recruit. Also more Cody Martin on the court in some capacity.
But overall, great game and absolutely needed for confidence/momentum. Because as you alluded to, here comes the pain. Let's go ahead an hit UVA and Duke only two of the last three unbeaten teams in the country. No big deal right?
No big deal whatsoever. Let's just take a crack at the #3 and #2 teams in the country, respectively (via AP). Like taking the video game difficulty from amateur to all-pro because you were beating folks by double digits.
And I really think UVA is going to be the tougher of the two. Frustratingly efficient on offense and stifling on defense. Duke is the most efficient offensive team in the country, but they can be beaten on defense, and it's at home. Both are an incredibly tough test for this squad, so getting some confidence out of the Pitt game is huge.
So I guess what I want to know is there any chance of State hanging with either the Cavs or Devils? Or should I just build my bunker now and lock myself away?
Start constructing that bunker. I do think that the Pack will manage to stay in one of these two games, but both games could just as easily be blowouts.
Virginia has been sucking the life out of everyone but they also blew a big lead to Miami and let Davidson hang around for a long time the earlier last week (Davidson is comparable to NCSU so far this year in overall strength - it ranks 46th in Pomeroy while State checks in at 57 after the Pitt game). Their pace, 348th of 351 teams, gives the Pack a chance. You probably aren't getting transition baskets against Virginia, so its all about solid half court execution - conversely the Cavs aren't super interested in creating turnovers either so its really about not taking the sort of terrible shots that they are really good at forcing.
As for Duke, you mention the shaky defense but it seems like this year's freshmen have really elevated that side of the ball - they are playing the best defense they have since winning the 2010 national championship. Will that continue through league play - maybe not. The defense definitely collapsed as the season went on last season which helped lead them to their early NCAA tournament bounce. This is going to be counter-intuitive to say considering how good he's been, but the formula is probably to let Okafor get his in the middle and not let their guards get a lot of open 3s (the team as a whole is shooting 38% from 3). Holding their offense to two instead of three is one of those minor victories that might keep the Pack in the game till the end.
If I'm betting, I guess I'm betting on the Duke game being closer because its at home. But I guess its important for everyone to remember that this is as good as it gets, not just in conference but in all of college basketball, so if things look really bad its not the death knell for this team. It's just two Final Four contenders laying it to a team that's not at their level.
So we agree, then? And I guess I should scale back the 'shaky Duke defense' narrative. Their defense is outstanding this year, but relative to UVA, not quite as stout. And as you said, it's UVA on the road and playing Duke at home that I think will be the biggest help for State. In addition to the more insightful things you mentioned.
I think Virginia will be painful. Easily a 15 to 20 point loss. Duke, however, I think State will be up enough for to be competitive for a while before Duke eventually pulls away.
Either way, it'll be kinda scary.