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Assessing NC State at the 10-game mark

Let’s put some finer points on this thing.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 12 Hall of Fame Invitational - Purdue v NC State Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re a third of the way through this college basketball season, and I think particularly after what happened Sunday, a temperature check is in order. NC State began the year at No. 56 in the Pomeroy Ratings but in the absence of Manny Bates has been sliding ever since—which probably doesn’t surprise anybody. The Pack sits at 79th after the loss to Purdue.

I don’t feel like that’s anything to raise an alarm about because we all know what Manny Bates is worth, and we knew without him it was going to be tough. Right now NC State isn’t playing like an NCAA tournament team, and while I have my doubts about where this is gonna go, being 79th in mid-December says “hey, don’t give up on me just yet, okay, pal.”

State has been competitive in all three losses and coulda/shoulda won a couple of them, and the wins over Louisiana Tech and Colgate are decent. There have been encouraging results. There is also one plainly limiting factor that this team is going to be fighting all year.

And that’s shooting. Hey, you take out that shooting number and you’re looking at a pretty damn robust offense—one that not only takes good care of the ball, but does a decent job on the offensive glass, and gets to the line at a high rate. If you’re going to compensate for shooting the ball poorly, that’s how you attempt to do it.

Moving forward, keeping that turnover rate among the nation’s best will be essential—a poor-shooting team needs as many cracks at the tin as it can possibly get and leverage an advantage in shot attempts as often as possible. The free throw rate will decline because of conference play and ACC refs and et cetera, but I figure Dereon Seabron alone is enough to maintain that as a strength.

Can NC State at least push its three-point shooting a bit closer to the national average? Jericole Hellems is at 40.7%, Terquavion Smith is at 36.1%, and Casey Morsell is shooting 38.7%, but Cam Hayes’ 9-39 start has been a killer and Thomas Allen’s foot injury is obviously affecting him.

A lot just boils down to whether or not Hayes can revert back to something closer to the 36% three-point shooter he was as a freshman. Cam has been better this year in a lot of different ways, but that jump shot has abandoned him. If he can get that to come back around, then the offense starts to look a bit different.

On the defensive side, I first want to point out that Ebe Dowuona currently ranks 35th nationally in block rate. He’s blocking one out of every 10 opposing two-point shots while he’s on the court. Dude has stepped up to be a plus player and has effectively served as Manny Bates lite, which is the best possible scenario.

The team’s lack of interior, uh, heft is an obvious problem, though, and there’s just nothing anybody can do about it. The collective BMI of this group is Julius Hodge. So defensive rebounding has been and will be an ongoing struggle. As it always is.

They have been solidly disruptive in terms of both block rate and steal rate, which is helpful. It’d be nice if they could force more turnovers than they have, but the thing about setting up a press or extending pressure is you generally need the other team to be taking the ball out from the basket. There the offense is not helping, and so they’re left to work with what they can defensively.

NC State is young—312th in experience by KenPom’s measure—and it has had young guys thrown into bigger roles than maybe they were expecting. It is without question a much different-looking team than anyone expected.

I’ve been as guilty as anybody else of getting down on this team and being unfairly pessimistic. What I’m trying to do—what I’ve been trying to do—is take this for the process that it is, and nothing more. Yeah, there are some deep flaws here. There are also bright signs, and the league is so wide open that there are tons of opportunities from here on. So let’s see where this goes.