Wolfpack expects defensive improvement

jgiglio@newsobserver.comNovember 7, 2013 

— Mark Gottfried expects N.C. State to be better defensively this season.

He does not expect the Wolfpack to turn into Virginia or Clemson, a pair of grind-it-out ACC teams that like to keep the score below the speed limit.

“We’re going to go and try to get 80 and create more opportunities,” Gottfried said. “So we’re going to give up a few more points.”

N.C. State led the ACC in scoring last season, with 77.4 points per game, and ranked first in field-goal percentage (.496). Both marks also ranked in the top 10 in the NCAA.

The Wolfpack’s defensive numbers lagged considerably behind its sterling offensive numbers. State finished 10th in the ACC, out of 12 teams, in scoring defense (70.2 points per game) and seventh in FG percentage defense (.419). The percentage was a respectable 127th in the NCAA while the scoring defense was 257th.

The numbers don’t necessarily bother Gottfried as much as the inconsistencies. There were too many lapses last season, notably the 50-point halves State surrendered to Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina. The first half in lopsided losses to Oklahoma State and Temple, in the NCAA tournament, also stood out.

“We have to be, collectively as a group, better defensively,” Gottfried said. “The commitment has to be there day in and day out.”

N.C. State will have a completely different lineup than last season. That will likely hurt its chances of duplicating its efficiency on offense (ninth in Ken Pomeroy’s tempo-free numbers), but it might help on defense (112th).

Junior guard Desmond Lee and freshman guard Cat Barber are quick enough and athletic enough to pressure the ball on the perimeter, Gottfried said.

“They are two phenomenal on-the-ball defenders,” Gottfried said. “They’re pretty advanced for guys that haven’t played at our level.”

Freshman bigs Kyle Washington and Lennard Freeman are also defense-first players, who are willing to do the dirty work and provide a hustle element.

The Pack had respectable averages in steals (6.5 per game) and blocks (4.2 per game). One of its biggest problems last season was giving up too many offensive rebounds.

N.C. State allowed an average of 12.3 offensive rebounds per game, which ranked 301st in the NCAA.

The Wolfpack had problems in Wednesday’s 96-85 preseason win keeping UNC-Pembroke off the offensive glass. The Braves finished with 19 offensive boards, which led to 19 second-chance points.

“We gave up too many second-chance points,” Gottfried said.

The third-year coach also said, “We can’t give up 85.”

Junior guard Ralston Turner was a bright spot against Pembroke with a pair of blocks and three steals.

Between Turner, Lee and Barber, Gottfried is hoping to turn up the pressure and create points in transition.

One adjustment will be at forward with the absence of senior Jordan Vandenberg for four to six weeks with an ankle injury.

Gottfried had hoped to use Vandenberg, a career reserve, in an expanded role this season and to use his size (7-1) to make life in the paint more difficult for the opposition.

Vandenberg, and Washington and BeeJay Anya, who are both 6-9, give the Wolfpack more length inside than last year’s combination of C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell.

“We played a smaller lineup with Calvin and Richard,” Gottfried said. “We have a little more size.”

Gottfried feels this team has more versatile and athletic parts to be a better defense. What it doesn’t have is experience. Turner, a transfer from LSU, and sophomore T.J. Warren, are the only two players out of what could be a 9-man rotation with major college experience.

“This group has to learn how hard it is to defend at our level to win,” Gottfried said. “That’s just something they’re going to have to learn on the fly.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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