Date: Wednesday, January 4
TV: The ACC Network (Click here for channel listing)
#21 Virginia Tech will attempt to get their first ACC road win of the season tonight when they take on the NC State Wolfpack (11-3, 0-1) in Raleigh. The Hokies got off to a hot start by beating #5 Duke 89-75, but the Wolfpack are deeper and healthier than the Blue Devils, plus the game will be played away from Cassell Coliseum. This will be a greater challenge than Saturday’s game.
NC State is a talented team that has underachieved the last two years under head coach Mark Gottfried. Gottfried was the long-time coach at Alabama, where he led the Crimson Tide to five NCAA Tournament appearances from 2002 through 2006. After an NIT appearance in 2007, Alabama quickly fell apart, going 17-16 in 2007-08. Following a 12-7 start in 2008-09, Gottfried resigned.
After taking two years off from coaching, Gottfried resurfaced at NC State for the 2011-12 season. He led the Wolfpack to four consecutive NCAA Tournament berths that were bookended by a pair of Sweet 16 appearances. However, a talented NC State team underachieved in 2015-16 by going 16-17 (5-13 ACC). They are 9-3 this season, with all three losses of the blowout variety…
112-94 vs. Creighton (who is really good)
88-74 vs. Illinois (who has not been so good recently)
81-63 vs. Miami
A few of NC State’s wins were very close against questionable competition as well…
81-79 vs. Georgia Southern
79-77 vs. Loyola (Chicago)
77-73 vs. Boston
67-55 (Overtime) vs. Tennessee State
Those four teams are all projected to finish in the top 170 of the RPI, so they shouldn’t be ignored just because of their names. However, the Wolfpack have superior talent yet struggled to put those squads away.
(Note: As you know, I’m very interested in basketball scheduling. NC State did a great job with their non-conference schedule. They scheduled teams that were going to finish high enough in the RPI that they wouldn’t hurt the Wolfpack’s schedule, but they were also teams who were going to get beat by NC State unless the Pack stunk up the joint. As a result, NC State’s current RPI is #35 and their current SOS is #55. That’s good scheduling if you risk being a bubble team.)
The problem for NC State has been on the defensive side of the ball. They rank #38 in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency ratings, but only #127 in defensive efficiency. As a comparison, Virginia Tech ranks #31 in offense and #49 in defense. So while both teams are similarly capable offensively, Gottfried hasn’t been able to get his team to play defense at a high level, or even an average level.
Take a look at these advanced metrics…
Offensive Efficiency: Virginia Tech #20, NC State #39
Defensive Efficiency: Virginia Tech #47, NC State #118
Effective FG%: Virginia Tech #11, NC State #34
Opponent Effective FG%: Virginia Tech #62, NC State #57
Turnovers per Possession: Virginia Tech #31, NC State #90
Assist/TO Ratio: Virginia Tech #16, NC State #72
The Hokies are one of the most efficient offenses in the country. They are terrific at sharing the ball, they take good shots, and they have a number of players who can knock down open outside jumpers. They also protect the ball well, which leads to more possessions. When you give an efficient offensive team more possessions, they are going to score a lot of points. That’s exactly what the Hokies have been doing. They average 84.2 points per game, which ranks #19 nationally (out of 351 teams). NC State is #193 in scoring defense, allowing 73.6 points per game.
Mark Gottfried has a very talented basketball team. The key to the game will be slowing down point guard Dennis Smith (6-3, 195, Fr.). Smith was a highly-touted recruit who is likely a one-and-done in Raleigh, as many believe he’s a potential lottery pick this summer. He’s the straw that stirs the drink for the Wolfpack, so to speak.
Here’s how TSL basketball analyst Drew Scott described Smith in yesterday’s TSL Pass article How Virginia Tech Hammered Duke (which was an informative, entertaining read):
“One of the best players in the country, averaging 19 points and six assists per game. He can be turnover prone however, and it will be important to throw lots of bodies at him to keep his defender fresh (*ahem, don’t play J-Rob on him 39 min please*). Cut the head off this snake and the Wolfpack will struggle to generate offense.”
Look for the Hokies to go after Smith with a wave of defenders. By giving him different looks, Tech can make him feel uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable can lead to turnovers. He’s already averaging three turnovers per game and he has played just one ACC game. He had five turnovers in that game against Miami over the weekend, and if he gives the Hokies extra possessions to score, it will probably come back to bite the Wolfpack.
A Big Game for Potential RPI Purposes
To refresh your memory, the RPI is broken down into home, road and neutral wins and losses.
Home Wins: 0.6 wins
Road Wins: 1.4 wins
Home Losses: 1.4 losses
Road Losses: 0.6 losses
A defeat at NC State tonight would not cost the Hokies much in the RPI, if anything. RPI Forecast gives Tech a 49% chance of winning the game, and even with a projected loss their projected RPI at the end of the season is still #47.6.
However, a road win would give Tech’s RPI a big boost. What happens when you use RPI Wizard to change the results of tonight’s game to a win for the Hokies? They take a big jump in the RPI…
Current Projected RPI: #47.6
Projected RPI with win tonight: #37
Road wins are huge in the RPI, and in turn the RPI is huge for (1) making the NCAA Tournament and (2) seeding in the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies can greatly help their postseason resume with a victory tonight. However, since they are on the road, a loss would not hurt them very much, and it’s going to be a big challenge.
Tonight’s game is at 9 PM and is televised on the ACC Network. Check your local listings.