December 13, 2004 RALEIGH It was all fine and dandy that senior center Jordan Collins started the season with 17 points against New Orleans and came back later with 11 against Campbell and 13 against Manhattan.
Collins could help this team significantly if he's able to contribute 15-18 solid minutes a game. He has size and weight to throw around inside, he's a smart player who has the offense down pat, he can go outside and hit an open jumper, and he has the senior experience that would make any team better.
Collins needed to establish himself and get his confidence early, and more importantly, he needed to get the confidence of his teammates and coach Herb Sendek.
But the fact is, Collins isn't going to outplay Shelden Williams and Sean May and Luke Schenscher and Eric Williams and the like once the ACC season revs up, especially on a consistent basis. Collins isn't going to be the X-factor who pushes the Wolfpack past Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Wake, Duke and others in what is guaranteed to be a tight ACC regular-season race.
So look for Sendek to spend the next month doing everything possible to speed up the progress of his two freshman big men, Andrew Brackman and Cedric Simmons. They're the ones who could be State's real X-factors on the inside, for they're both far more athletic and explosive than Collins.
Brackman, 6-10, and Simmons, 6-9, played sparingly in the early season routs, and in State's only real competition so far Purdue and Manhattan Brackman played just 15 minutes total and Simmons played just one. Sendek stepped their minutes up in a blowout win over Liberty, though, and both produced. Brackman had 13 points, six rebounds and one block in 20 minutes, and Simmons had nine points, three rebounds and two blocks in 13 minutes.
More than that, they fit the puzzle that Sendek is trying to put together before a mid-January stretch that includes games with Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Maryland in an 11-day stretch.
Brackman is far more active than Collins, and he runs the cuts in Sendek's motion offense much better. The Pack has shown a tendency to stop and shoot threes when Collins finds himself on the perimeter. And Simmons is a long-armed, wiry defensive presence who gives Sendek far more shotblocking and rebounding ability than Collins. He's limited offensively at this point, but he seems to understand his limitations and is playing within them.
Sendek may have to tighten the rotation for a Dec. 19 trip to 16th-ranked Washington, because that'll be the telling game of the non-conference season. But outside of that, look for more Brackman and Simmons, and perhaps less Collins, in the next month.
Hodge Continues Personal Mission
There's little question that senior guard Julius Hodge is playing with a different offensive mentality this season.
Hodge has had at least one stretch in every game so far where he has taken matters into his own hands and looked to score on five or six straight possessions. In the past, he's usually been content to stay in the flow of the game, taking over only when it seemed absolutely necessary. This year, though, it's as if he wants to make a statement, whether it's necessary or not.
Maybe it's because he wants to show something to NBA scouts. Maybe losing out to Chris Paul of Wake Forest in the preseason ACC player of the year voting is in the back of his mind. Or maybe that's part of being this team's senior leader.
Sendek openly admits that he has urged Hodge to be more selfish offensively, at least at times. The feeling is that Hodge got to be too unselfish in the past, was going too much out of his way to pass up shots and get others involved.
Hodge's 27-point, nine-rebound, nine-assist performance against Liberty was what Sendek and Hodge both considered the perfect mesh between selfishness and selflessness. He won't do that every night, obviously, but there's plenty of reason to expect big numbers in the big games the rest of the way because he's more geared to putting up big numbers.
Meanwhile, Sendek's biggest concern through seven games was State's free throw shooting. State led the nation in free throw shooting last season, setting an ACC record at 79.9 percent collectively. So far this year, State is shooting 67.9 percent as a team.
Sendek also is hoping to get junior Ilian Evtimov going in the coming month. Evtimov underwent two knee surgeries in the offseason and has taken things very slowly so far, averaging just 20 minutes a game in the first seven games. He's clearly not moving with the ease he had late last year, when he closed the season with a 28-point outburst against Vanderbilt in the NCAA Tournament.
Evtimov has been emphatic that he feels good and that his recovery is going according to schedule. He has gone through knee rehab before, so maybe he deserves the benefit of the doubt. But he's such a key to this team, such a perfect complement to Hodge, that it would be good to see him have a big game soon. So far, Evtimov's best outing was 13 points and five rebounds in 30 minutes against Manhattan.
Another Year, Another Coordinator
N.C. State officials, likely sensitive to coach Chuck Amato's growing reputation for being unable to build a stable staff, are trying to put the happy face on defensive coordinator Reggie Herring's decision to leave after just one season.
Herring was named to the same position at Arkansas, and the reported terms of his contract (three years, $300,000 per) gave him of one of the best deals for an assistant coach in all of college football. In the end, Herring said he couldn't resist an opportunity to work for long-time friend Houston Nutt.
But considering that NCSU officials told Herring they were willing to be competitive financially, one has to wonder why he would leave with the mainstays of the nation's top-ranked defense in 2004 including the entire front line all coming back. Especially since the coach has spent the bulk of his coaching career in the ACC. And especially since Nutt could be on the hotseat at Arkansas in 2005.
For State, it will continue a six-year streak in which Amato has had to work in a new coordinator, either offensively or defensively, each season.