N.C. State has an identity problem on defense.
The Wolfpack has tried a matchup zone defense this season, along with man-to-man, but hasn’t quite figured out either scheme.
After Sunday’s 85-60 loss at Louisville, N.C. State (14-8, 3-6 ACC) ranks last in the ACC and No. 293 (out of 351 teams) in the country in scoring defense.
For the season, the Wolfpack has allowed 77.7 points per game, the most in coach Mark Gottfried’s tenure and is on pace to be the highest average since the 1991-92 season (81.2).
Even if you adjust for tempo, N.C. State ranks No. 170 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjust defensive efficiency. The Wolfpack gives up 103.9 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 14th out of 15 ACC teams. That’s also a six-year high for Gottfried’s N.C. State teams.
Defense has not been a calling card of Gottfried’s tenure but even by recent standards this team has struggled to contest shots and get stops.
With 6:05 left in the first half of Sunday’s loss, Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell was open alone in front of N.C. State’s bench. Dan Bonner, calling the game for the ACC Network, was struck by how open Mitchell was.
“I mean that’s like shooting in an empty gym,” Bonner said during the broadcast.
Mitchell made the 3-pointer, his fifth of the first half, and finished with a game-high 28 points.
Louisville forward Deng Adel made a 3-pointer at 17:01 that Bonner noticed, too.
“Once again, just wide, wide open,” the long-time analyst said.
Of Louisville’s 60 shots, 31 were uncontested, or without an N.C. State defense in arm’s length. There will be open looks during the course of any game, most in transition, but that’s even a higher percentage (51.7) than when Gottfried called out his team’s defensive woes after an 86-78 home loss to Georgia Tech on Jan. 15.
Gottfried said after the Louisville loss tthat the problem wasn’t the scheme, rather with effort and energy. After re-watching the game, he didn’t change his assessment on Tuesday.
“We didn’t play with the kind of energy that we had to (at Louisville),” Gottfried said. “That probably was more disappointing than anything else.”
Given the problems N.C. State had earlier in the season cutting off dribble penetration, Gottfried has experimented more with a 2-3 zone.
There have been times where the zone has helped the Wolfpack but it has also left its 3-point defense vulnerable. Louisville, for example, was able to get penetration at the top of the key and then kick the ball out to the wing for 3s.
N.C. State, perhaps over-reacting to problems earlier this season, is clogging off the middle and over-committing to the dribble and leaving the wings open for uncontested looks.
Some of that, as Gottfried points out, can be corrected with more energy and awareness.
At the halfway mark of conference play, N.C. State is running out of time to make more adjustments.
Save for the outburst after the Georgia Tech loss, Gottfried has tried to stay positive with the team’s defensive issues. He looked for the bright side after the Louisville loss. He said split with Duke and Louisville, a pair of top 25 teams, on the road, isn’t bad.
“There’s always a different way to look at things,” Gottfried said.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Syracuse at NC State
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh
TV/Radio: ESPN2, 101.5-WRAL
N.C. State is on track to give up the most points per game since the 1991-92 season. How the Wolfpack’s defensive stats compare to coach Mark Gottfried’s first five teams:
*Points per 100 possessions (source: kenpom.com)