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Defense helping NC State back to respectability in the ACC

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This State team compares well to most of Gottfried’s teams, surprisingly enough.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Through 10 league games, NC State already has two more wins than it had in all of 2017, and not only does this put Kevin Keatts’ rebuilding efforts ahead of schedule, it also has the Wolfpack contending for an NCAA tournament bid.

When conference play started, the Wolfpack was in full-on struggle mode, and the idea of being in our current position felt nearly impossible. But since then, NC State has picked up big upsets both at home and on the road and also started to look the part of an NCAA-caliber team. So what changed?

There’s no single answer, but the most obvious thing is that the Pack started to play something resembling decent defense. Overall, NC State’s results (i.e., wins) have nonetheless outpaced its underlying performance—hey, we’ll take it—but there’s no question that this team is much better than it was a month or a year ago.

For some perspective on that, here is a look at how NC State has fared in ACC play since the beginning of the Mark Gottfried era:

NC State In ACC Play

Season OFF_EFF (ACC rk) DEF_EFF MARGIN
Season OFF_EFF (ACC rk) DEF_EFF MARGIN
2012*** 103.9 (4) 100.6 (6) 3.3
2013*** 109.3 (2) 103.5 (9) 5.8
2014*** 104.2 (9) 109.7 (12) -5.5
2015*** 106.5 (7) 101.8 (4) 4.7
2016 108.1 (6) 113.6 (15) -5.5
2017 102.8 (12) 118.4 (15) -15.6
2018 104.5 (9) 107.4 (10) -2.9

(*** — made NCAAs)

NC State really, really bottomed out in the Gott man’s final season (not that anyone needs statistics to confirm this), and the bounce-back has been impressive, especially on defense, where the team has improved by 11 points per 100 possessions. That is huge improvement. Enormous.

Also still not good enough to rank the current defense in the top half of the league, but so it goes. Moving up from dead last to a more respectable place in the middle has made a considerable difference in State’s fortunes. Even the offense has gotten better despite the absence of a lottery pick at point guard. It’s an impressive turnaround.

And only three of Gottfried’s teams finished with a better efficiency margin than Keatts’ group. Relative to recent history, this NC State team is pretty healthy. The NCAAs may remain an iffy proposition, as they were most years under Gottfried, but this is a good place to be all things considered.

State’s playing its best basketball right now, so perhaps its -2.9 efficiency margin is underselling just how good the team is. That would be the optimistic take, but it doesn’t feel far-fetched these days, either. A whole lot changed over the last few weeks.