The funny thing about this weekend is if NC State had beaten Arizona State on Monday and then lost in the Legends Classic title game on Tuesday, we'd have all probably been like, " yeah, okay, I get it; good job, everybody." But of course it didn't work like that; NC State lost to ASU and Marquette beat LSU, setting up a consolation game that was supposed to be a championship game.
Turns out that was great fortune for the Wolfpack, which capitalized on the opportunity to beat a team that will likely end up in the NCAA tournament. And Ben Simmons. My goodness.
I spent the last couple days in Brooklyn to watch the Wolfpack, and while I saw the usual mistakes cost this team on Monday against Arizona State, I also saw reason for encouragement on Tuesday.
(That's me and my gracious NYC host, @Civilian_Wolf. Also Dereck Whittenburg.)
NC State shot a decent percentage on Monday and ended up +4 in the turnover category but lost thanks to poor defensive rebounding and poor free throw shooting. You never can be sure which margins will matter most in a close game, but Arizona State's advantage on the offensive glass sure felt like the difference. Of course, if State hits a last-second shot in regulation, I might not be talking about that at all.
Tuesday had a much different vibe, and I was curious as well how NC State would handle Ben Simmons, who might be the top pick in the next NBA Draft. In person, Simmons is absolutely ridiculous. He looks eight feet tall. He's fast, and he's intuitive. He has court vision that plenty of point guards would kill for. It's a testament to his skills that while he wasn't really scoring on Tuesday, he rather easily managed a double-double with 10 assists and 14 rebounds.
Simmons attempted only six shots, while his team threw up 33 three-pointers. It's early, and it's clear that the Tigers are still trying to find the right balance. I thought Simmons played faster than some of his teammates, hitting them with quick passes when they weren't ready. Simmons was probably too deferential. He was also fantastic at drawing in defenders and kicking the ball out, hence all those dimes and all those three-point attempts.
Simmons could have put LSU in control with a free throw off an and-one in the final minute, but he missed, and to overtime we went. I don't know how to describe that overtime other than really daggone delightful.
One thing I don't tend to expect with neutral site games is random, super-yelly bros rooting for any team in particular. The LSU game happened to include a handful of yelly guys about six feet to might right, one of whom was wearing a UNC sweatshirt. They were loudly proclaiming their appreciation/disdain for Ben Simmons all night. (He wasn't nearly aggressive enough, as far as they were concerned. They might have been right, but good lord they rather swiftly turned on him.)
NC State's drum corps performed during a media break in the first half. These guys booed them back to their seats. One gentleman took the time to yell out, "Ben Simmons is better than everyone on your team!" while LSU was down a couple scores. In between shouting "c'mon, kid, shoot the ball, kid!" at Simmons, he also managed to quip, "your mom is on Tinder!" while pathetically heckling NC State's bench.
Y'know, I'm trying to remember, but I can't recall much out of them during overtime. Real dang good times.
NC State did a tremendous job on the glass and also hit 79% of its free throw attempts--Cat was 12-for-12--making this the reverse of Monday's outing, in a couple ways. I should note here that Cat was a total of 24-26 from the line in two games. If the new rules hold through the entire season, it's going to be pretty good for him. And create some unpleasant times for UNC Sweatshirt, assuming he ever pays attention again.
Setting that nonsense aside, I think what we saw Tuesday was the ideal for this NC State team. Both Martins were effective. Cat Barber paced the attack. When the Martins are both hitting shots, State's offense becomes a lot more diverse.
The Wolfpack won't always hit more than three-quarters of their free throws, but they absolutely can rebound as well as they did against LSU, and for that matter, they're going to have to. The offensive punch is not there, at least not yet. Not without Terry Henderson, and not without Cat hitting jumpers.
They can win some games with rebounding, and Barber will come around. State responded well in a back-to-back when it could just as easily have folded, and nobody in particular had a strong game shooting the ball. Those are the happy thoughts from Brooklyn. May they carry on for another few months.