January 15, 2008
RALEIGH There are many, many questions being asked about N.C. State basketball these days, but this one has been nagging for a while.
Does the Wolfpack really want to run?
In the preseason, coach Sidney Lowe said his team would look to push the pace more. The reasoning was simple: State had more players than the previous season, so it could afford to play at a faster tempo.
Then the regular season started, and the Wolfpack played just as slow as last year. Slower, actually. According to the tempo numbers kept by college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy, State is averaging 65.1 possessions per 40 minutes, which is 287th out of 341 Division I teams. It's also down by 2.3 possessions from last year's rate, when the Wolfpack often played just six players and relied on a point guard with a very tender hamstring.
The initial reason Lowe gave for the plodding pace was that State wasn't doing a good enough job with its defensive rebounding. The thinking was that the Wolfpack couldn't be expected to push the ball up the floor if it was having a hard enough time just making sure it got the ball in the first place.
As State steadily shored up its rebounding and the Wolfpack continued to keep a slow tempo new reasons surfaced. Now Lowe says that State plays slow because its opponents are keeping the tempo down and because of the loss of Farnold Degand, its only point guard with the urge to push the ball.
"I think certainly personnel, though, is a factor now," Lowe said. "But we're going to look to push the ball ahead and see if we can get some easy baskets."
Maybe, but the evidence appears to be pointing to Lowe's preference for the halfcourt game over transition. Yes, rebounding was a problem, and yes, Degand is now out. But in the games when the Wolfpack did hold its own on the boards and when Degand was healthy, it still refused to run. This is, after all, a team that has broken 80 points in a game only once this season.
It's been well-documented that Lowe brings an NBA sensibility to State's offense. The Wolfpack has a myriad of sets it runs, almost all of which are called by Lowe.
Now it's looking more and more as if Lowe is falling into a pattern adopted by NBA coaches: Talk big about running early in the season, before eventually opting for more control by walking the ball up the floor and calling plays from the sideline.
RECRUITS CAN'T LIKE SLOW PLAY
The slow-down style State is using makes you wonder how attractive Lowe's program will be to future point guards.
That's not an issue for the current recruiting class, as combo guard Julius Mays is the only backcourt player coming in for the Wolfpack. But the Class of 2009 has a huge potential prize for State in hometown point guard John Wall, from Word of God High in Raleigh.
Expect Lowe to tell Wall, rated as the top point guard in the junior class by Rivals (No. 2 by Scout), that he'll be happy to loosen things up if Wall elects to become a member of the Pack. And expect Lowe to tell that to Wall directly.
The head coach has taken an early, direct role in the recruitment of Wall, perhaps because (a) it's clear State is desperate for a point guard, (b) Wall lives so close to campus it's convenient for Lowe to be involved and (c) as mentioned in previous reports, State's top recruiter, Larry Harris, does not have a very good relationship with Wall's AAU coach, Brian Clifton. It's believed that Clifton may have played a role in getting Wall over to Duke for an unofficial visit last month. Wall expressed interest in the up-tempo style the Blue Devils have gone back to playing.
Still, State appears to be in good shape with Wall. His mother and his coach at Word of God, Levi Beckwith, are believed to be fans of Lowe. And the Wolfpack already has a commitment from one of Wall's prep teammates, Class of 2010 forward C.J. Leslie.
If the Wolfpack does eventually land Wall, it could lead to a monster 2009 recruiting class for State. The Pack appears to be in very good shape with Lorenzo Brown (Scout's No. 4 shooting guard) from Roswell, Ga. Brown plays on the same AAU team, Worldwide Renegades, that current State freshman J.J. Hickson played on. Brown is high on the Wolfpack, and the feeling is mutual. The biggest obstacle right now appears to be grades.
State also is a serious player for 6-9 power forward Derrick Favors, the No. 2 overall prospect in the nation, according to Rivals. That's in large part because of the sterling reputation Harris enjoys among AAU coaches in the Atlanta area, where Favors is from. But it's also believed that Favors and those helping him make his eventual college decision have watched how Lowe handled Hickson.
They like that Lowe immediately made Hickson the central part of the Wolfpack offense. Assuming Hickson has since moved on the NBA, Favors could slide right into that Alpha Dog role, with Wall and Brown feeding him the ball, if all goes according to plan.
FOOTBALL STANDS FIRM ON FORD
Until recently, he was a relatively unknown safety prospect from Georgia, but the recruitment of Elton Ford could be a key moment for N.C. State.
Ford has been a Wolfpack commitment for some time now. But in late December, the new Arkansas staff contacted Ford, who showed interest in the Razorbacks and talked openly of taking an official visit to Fayetteville.
That apparently got Ford a call from State recruiting coordinator Jerry Petercuskie, who told Ford the coaching staff didn't want him to take the trip.
If Ford does check out Arkansas, don't be surprised if State pulls his scholarship offer. For a staff that prides itself on unearthing talent before other schools, it's important that it holds on to the sleepers and late-bloomers it lands. Pulling an offer to a commitment who gets a wandering eye would send a strong message to other recruits: "Don't commit to us unless you're committed."