Sidney Lowe retraced the missed steps in the second half of N.C. State's loss to North Carolina on Saturday, its sixth straight in the ACC. The Wolfpack coach lamented missed shots and mental mistakes, not just in that one game but throughout the entire ACC season.
Still, Lowe concluded, "We're really not that far off."
At 2-9 in the ACC, the Wolfpack (14-12) has the fewest conference wins and the most losses heading into tonight's home game against Maryland, the only ACC team Lowe (0-6) has yet to beat in his coaching tenure at State.
As Lowe suggested, State has been close in some conference games, losing to Clemson by three points and Georgia Tech by two, but its other seven ACC losses have been by an average of 14.1 points per game, including a 24-point pounding at Maryland on Jan. 23.
"Hopefully we can play a little bit better than we did up there," Lowe said, then quickly corrected himself. "Play a lot better, actually."
N.C. State hasn't won an ACC game in almost a month since knocking off first-place Duke 88-74 at the RBC Center. State was 2-3 after that surprising, court-rushing win over the Blue Devils, who haven't lost an ACC game since.
What's wrong with the Wolfpack? Here are several reasons for the recent slide:
The Wolfpack hasn't shot better than 41 percent in an individual game in the six-game losing streak and has hit less than 40 percent five times. Overall in the stretch, State has made only 132 of 367 field-goal attempts (36.0 percent).
The losing streak coincides with a shooting slump for freshman guard Scott Wood, State's best outside option. Wood is just 8-of-34 (23.5 percent) from 3-point range in the past six ACC games, after going 14-of-28 in the first five ACC games.
Senior guard Farnold Degand is 3-of-12 and senior forward Dennis Horner is 2-of-16 from 3-point range.
Junior guard Javier Gonzalez, who has been the team's best 3-point shooter since Wood cooled off, said the shots are still there with so much of the opposition's attention focused on forward Tracy Smith in the post.
"Tracy gets double-teamed every single time," Gonzalez said after the UNC game. "All we have to do is knock down the shots."
No help from defense
N.C. State's defense showed signs of improvement, as well as increased intensity, in the nonconference schedule, creating more steals, blocks and points in transition.
Those "free" points in transition, where players don't have to labor through a half-court set, have dried up during the losing streak, with the exception of the final five minutes of the Georgia Tech game when State's fullcourt press whittled a 14-point deficit down to one.
In 15 games outside the ACC, N.C. State averages 6.9 steals per game, but that number drops to 5.4 in ACC play. The Pack averages a block less per game in ACC games.
State's low scoring average (69 points per game, 11th in the ACC), is a direct result of the defensive deficiencies.
The losses of Ben McCauley, Courtney Fells and Brandon Costner, the core of Lowe's first three teams, left the program with three players (Smith and freshmen forwards Richard Howell and DeShawn Painter) who were ranked in the top 100 of their recruiting class.
Recruiting rankings are fallible -- Maryland's All-ACC guard Greivis Vasquez was left out of the top 100 in his class -- but in general, they provide a measure of a program's talent. State's collection of three top-100 recruits -- although none of them ranked among the top 50 -- ranks among the fewest in the ACC. Only Boston College, with two top-100 recruits, has less.
By comparison, Florida State and Clemson have twice as many. UNC (10) and Duke (nine) lead the league.
And all three of Lowe's top ranked recruits play the same position. The only top-100 guard Lowe has recruited, Lorenzo Brown, failed to qualify academically and is in prep school preparing to enroll this fall.
Both guards signed in the class of 2010, Brown and guard Ryan Harrow, are ranked among the top 30 prospects in their class.
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