Time to get back to the out-of-town Q&A series.
And who better to bring in than the man behind much of ACC Now, Joe Giglio of the Raleigh News & Observer.
Joe has a rather snarky take on nearly everything, including the questions I sent him about N.C. State.
So here’s three quick takes on the Wolfpack to digest either late at night or (if you’re sane) early tomorrow morning as Maryland prepares to visit Raleigh:
1. Is N.C. State’s point guard situation more stable than earlier in the season?
JG: Both Javier Gonzalez and Farnold Degand have been better this season and since the start of the ACC season. Degand was hurt and Gonzalez was in way over his head last season.
They still turn the ball over too much but they’re also making plays in Sidney Lowe‘s halfcourt sets, which don’t work without a functional point guard.
Gonzalez has actually developed into a productive outside shooter while Degand is better in the pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop sets they run for Brandon Costner or Courtney Fells.
One problem they are still having (other than the turnovers) is they don’t seem to both be in “good game” mode on the same day. If Degand’s on, then Gonzo’s off and vice versa. Overall, it can’t be underestimated how much just above-average progress at the point has helped this team.
2. N.C. State looked like it was headed toward another bottom-of-the-league performance, but have turned it around some of late. Why are these guys playing better in the last month?
JG: Couple of things, besides the point guards:
1) Lowe finally decided to put his five best players on the floor at the same time. Since the loss at BC on Jan. 24, sophomore forward Tracy Smith has started with Ben McCauley and Costner. Previously Smith had been used off the bench to relieve the veteran forwards. That puts Smith on the low block, moves McCauley to the high post, Costner to the 3 and Fells to the 2. It’s a bigger lineup, and predictably, a better rebounding group.
State’s not a good defensive team (12th in the ACC steals, 10th in blocks) so it’s important that it can rebound. Last year, the team could neither - turn you over or rebound. See why they lost the last nine games of the season for the first time in the program’s history?
2) Lowe’s finally stopped experimenting with every scholarship on the roster and gone with an eight-man rotation. Dennis Horner is the one forward off the bench, although he’s essentially a 3-point shooter, with guards Degand and freshman C.J. Williams, also a shooter.
By shortening the bench, he has learned to keep his better players in the game longer. Earlier in the season, he was taking Costner and McCauley out for 5 to 6 minutes at a time. Those reserves weren’t good enough to keep those scorers on the bench for that long.
3. Is a fan base that didn’t appreciate the Sendekian 20-win seasons getting cranky after three seasons of Sidney Lowe that appear likely to not yield even one NCAA tournament berth
JG: Patrick, Patrick, Patrick, you’re better than that. I will just say this, N.C. State fans appreciated Sendek’s 20-win seasons (5 of his 10 seasons, BTW), just not his 3-27 record vs. Ol’ Roy and Coach K.
As for Lowe, there’s no doubt there are still questions about his ability to get the job done. The fans are less cranky since the BC game (4-4 in the ACC) although there is a portion —- as there is with any fan base —- that’s not completely enamored with the coach.
A commitment from super recruit John Wall, a Raleigh kid, would help Lowe but a 7-9 ACC finish might be more realistic. State went 4-12 last year and 7-9 would be tangible proof of progress. In Year 3, given some of the obstacles he inherited and created by his own inexperience, that’s a positive sign for the program.
Much appreciation to Joe Giglio for both his insight and putting me in my place regarding N.C. State.
—- Patrick Stevens