If N.C. State’s basketball season is over, which is entirely possible, Sidney Lowe and his players can place much of the blame on their inability to attack zone defenses.
Thursday’s 74-69 loss to Maryland in the first round of the ACC Tournament feel directly in step with the Wolfpack’s offensive profile during most of the past month: Careless ball-handling and a willingness to settle for too many 3-point attempts in the face of an opponent’s zone.
With some luck, State (16-14) will get an opportunity to work on those problems in the NIT, but a bid could be a close call. Although the NIT generates little national interest, its selection committee has enough options to invite schools certain to draw reasonably big home crowds. Luring an impressive turnout to the RBC Center likely would be a challenge considering the way State played down the stretch. Bids will be announced Sunday and Monday.
Whether the Pack gets included in the field or not, the off-season agenda for Lowe and his staff is clear-cut:
• With or without primary recruiting target John Wall, the point guard situation has to stabilize and improve.
• A strategy to attack zones has to be developed and perfected. Otherwise, next season will amount to a bitter extension of ‘08-’09.
• It’s crucial that the team learns how to deal with prosperity. There were too many games this season when comfortable leads _ it was 21-8 Thursday at one point - evaporated in a matter of a few possessions. That’s the classic mark of a team lacking in self-confidence.
• Finally, an on-court leader needs to emerge. It could be the playmaker or anyone else, but State hasn’t found anyone to fill that role since Engin Atsur graduated in 2007.