Improved Wolfpack readies for Syracuse zone; game delayed until 7 p.m.

jgiglio@newsobserver.comFebruary 14, 2014 

  • N.C. State at No. 1 Syracuse

    When/where: 3 p.m., Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

    TV/Radio: WRAL (Raleigh), WBTV (Charlotte), 101.5-WRAL

    Projected starting lineups

    N.C. State (16-8, 6-5 ACC)

    G Tyler Lewis 4.1 ppg, 3.1 apg

    G Ralston Turner 10.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg

    F T.J. Warren 23.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg

    F Kyle Washington 4.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg

    F Jordan Vandenberg 5.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg

    Syracuse (24-0, 11-0)

    G Tyler Ennis 11.9 ppg, 5.6 apg

    G Trevor Cooney 13.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg

    F C.J. Fair 16.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg

    F Jerami Grant 12.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg

    F Rakeem Christmas 5.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg

    Player to watch

    T.J. Warren, forward, N.C. State

    Warren had his fifth 30-point game of the season on Tuesday, with a career-high 34 against Wake Forest. The sophomore forward will have his work cut out for him against Syracuse’s zone. The Orange ranks seventh in the country in scoring defense.


    N.C. State, tied for sixth in the ACC, is 6-1 against teams below it in the conference standings and 0-4 against the teams above it. ... Four of Syracuse’s 11 ACC wins have been by single digits, including defensive struggles at home against Miami (49-44) and Notre Dame (61-55). The Orange’s average margin of victory in league play is 8.8. No ACC team has made the Final Four with an average MoV of less than 10.3.

    Joe Giglio

There is zone defense, then there is Syracuse’s zone.

N.C. State has seen plenty of the former this season, and the Wolfpack has improved against a variety of zones as the season has progressed, but the Wolfpack hasn’t seen anything like the Orange’s 2-3 zone.

Once the team gets there, N.C. State (16-8, 6-5 ACC) will get a first-hand look at No. 1 Syracuse (24-0, 11-0) Saturday at the Carrier Dome. The Wolfpack's flight to New York on Friday didn't happen. The team will fly north on Saturday afternoon, which has delayed the game until 7 p.m.

The Wolfpack’s past two wins, at Miami last Saturday and at home against Wake Forest on Tuesday, came in successful games against zone defense.

“We’re seeing a lot of zone,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said after the win against Wake Forest. “There was a point earlier in the year where we really struggled against it. We’re getting more confident against a zone.”

That confidence is evident in the Wolfpack’s outside shooting. N.C. State made eight 3-pointers in the 82-67 win against Wake and seven in the 56-55 win at Miami.

The Wolfpack still ranks 338th nationally in 3-pointers made and 332nd in 3-point percentage, but the improvement is noticeable. Gottfried said the 3s are only part of the equation for his team’s improvement.

“The ball is moving better. We’re getting it inside the zone and moving it out,” Gottfried said.

N.C. State has come a long way since an 82-72 overtime loss to N.C. Central. The Wolfpack settled for too many 3s (20) against the Eagles and took too many contested shots.

Against Wake Forest, point guard Cat Barber, who has struggled at times with shot selection, made two of his four 3-pointers and all were open shots.

Sophomore forward T.J. Warren has made the biggest jump from beyond the arc. Warren, who made three 3s Tuesday, made 10 of his last 18 attempts from the 3-point line.

“We did a better job executing against the zone,” Warren said. “Everybody was sharing the ball, playing with emotion and having fun.”

But most teams, like Wake Forest, use zone as a change of pace and to make a team like N.C. State, which does not rely on the 3-pointer, beat them from the outside.

For Syracuse and hall-of-fame coach Jim Boeheim, zone defense is a way of life. Boeheim recruits length to play the back end of his zone and bother perimeter shooters.

Syracuse doubles and traps the ball within its zone principles, which makes it different for teams who go to zone to force outside shots.

Hakim Warrick, who was built like Plastic Man and famously blocked the last shot by Kansas in the 2003 national title game, was the modern prototype for Boeheim’s big men. The coach has rolled out one long-armed forward after another in the decade since, with Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita the latest models.

The twist to this Orange team, which is coming off a dramatic last-second win at Pittsburgh on Wednesday, has been the defensive ability of its guards.

Freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, the hero Wednesday after beating Pitt with a last-second 3, leads the ACC in steals (52 in 24 games) and shooting guard Trevor Cooney ranks second with 51.

N.C. State junior Ralston Turner, who leads the team with 47 3-pointers, realizes Syracuse represents a unique challenge.

“We’ve gotten a little better,” Turner said. “At the same, we have to keep getting better.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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