After a rough, but successful, road trip to Chestnut Hill this past weekend, the North Carolina State Wolfpack are ready to move on. The Pack pulled out a 78-73 win, but one would be hard-pressed to say it was pretty at any point in the game.
However, a road win in the ACC is not something that should be taken lightly. At the end of the season, this win counts the same as a 20 point blowout. That said, there are some areas where Mark Gottfried’s group needs to work on Wednesday night against Georgia Tech.
The most obvious point is overall team defense. The Eagles scored 5 points more than their season average per game. This may not sound like much, but included in that average are games against the likes of Bryant, Saint Francis (NY), New Hampshire, and Holy Cross. With vastly superior athletes, the Wolfpack should have managed to hold BC below their season average. Luckily for the Pack, Georgia Tech does not have one elite scorer (such as Ryan Anderson for BC), so NCSU’s defensive game plan should not have to be focused on one particular player. Those types of teams have hurt the Pack in the past.
Another key for the Pack is the play of Scott Wood. While some of the NC State faithful are not his biggest fans, he is actually a terribly important piece of the puzzle for Mark Gottfried. As a well-publicized three-point threat, Wood usually draws the opponent’s top wing defender. Wood struggled to get many looks for most of the game on Saturday, and as a result, NC State struggled. During the final stretch, however, Wood got a few looks and managed to knock them down. This made the difference, and probably will continue to be important throughout ACC play.
While shooting 48% against an ACC team on the road is by no means a bad thing, it is below average for an NC State team leading the nation in field goal percentage at 53%. Georgia Tech owns the second best defensive efficiency in the ACC, so this game will match strength against strength. If the Wolfpack can inch closer to that season average of 53%, they should be in fine shape.
If NC State can knock down free throws like they did on Saturday (25-35, 71.4%), I think the Pack can cruise in this one. What Gottfried’s club needs is to put a decent ACC team away early and maintain that lead to show they are worthy of some of their preseason accolades. This game, the ACC home opener, provides that opportunity if the Wolfpack can make the aforementioned improvements.