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Putting a finer point on NC State’s lack of fine points

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With NC State’s shooting, er, difficulties well established, I spent some time trying to put a finer point on it, beyond what my eyeballs were already telling me.

NC State ranks 203rd in effective field goal percentage with a 49.8% mark, which is a bit below the 50.3% national average. In league games, the picture is much bleaker, as that shooting percentage is 45.8%, good for dead last. State is shooting 46.2% (13th) inside the arc and 29.9% (14th) from three. Accuracy is down substantially in both categories from last season.

With that in mind, here’s a look at State’s shot distribution and accuracy by zone this season and last, with national ranks in each category. (The below is for all games, not just league games, to be clear.)

The 2023 team didn’t exactly pile up shots at the rim, but unsurprisingly got them more frequently with Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith to initiate. That’s a big difference, obviously. This year State is playing with a shooting guard at the point, with some predictable consequences. The team’s shooting in close has improved to well above average—functional production from Mo Diarra and Ben Middlebrooks is making a difference there—but it just does not generate those opportunities nearly often enough.

The Pack is taking a lot more paint and mid-range twos in 2024, and those are the two least-efficient shooting areas on the court, while corner three-point attempts have dried up. That’s not going to be a good development for any team.

A contributing issue to the general struggle has been State’s surprising crapitude on above-the-break (ATB) threes—all non-corner threes, that is. Opponents already aren’t frightened by Horne’s pick-and-roll abilities, and with the Pack unable to penalize them by knocking down threes from the wings on up, it’s creating a very easy decision for them: drop defenders off the pick and roll, entice those twos.

Casey Morsell’s slump season is really hurting: he made 39% of his ATB attempts last season, but has connected on only 28% in 2024. But he’s also clearly been hurt the most for the lack of a point guard who can draw help and break down defenses: over 60% of his attempts last season were threes, and nearly 30% came from the corner, where he was money (43.8%). This year, only about 38% of his shots have been threes, and a meager 11% have come from the corner (where he’s still shooting a solid 38.1%, by the way).

He was able to play to his strengths as a spot-up shooter last season, built a lot of confidence early on, and took off from there. It hasn’t worked out that way in 2024, and as the rough performances mounted, it became more difficult for him to turn it around. He still could, of course, but it’s not surprising to see his season to this point weighing on him.

If NC State could turn this whole situation around, we’d have seen evidence of it by now; instead, league play has just brought its offensive shortcomings into starker relief. It’s extremely not helpful that the Pack’s one true strength—taking care of the ball—has up and evaporated in ACC games. Shame, too, considering the team ranks third in defensive efficiency in ACC play. Such is the NC State men’s basketball experience, though, huh.