A bit of advice: enjoy, as much as possible, the rest of Sidney Lowe's reign at N.C. State, because it probably won't last very long. In fact, this might be the last time we see El Sid in a trademark, ridiculous bright-red blazer, and that's a shame. I'm not sure what NCSU's ceiling is, but I'm certain it's higher than wherever they are now; despite being awash in talent, Lowe's coaching seems to remain a fatal Achilles' Heel for this team.
The man can recruit, no doubt about it, and the talent on the Wolfpack shows it. Tracy Smith is good and experienced, and Lowe has three HS All-American type freshmen in C.J. Leslie, Ryan Harrow, and Lorenzo Brown.
Yet they're still among the worst few teams in the ACC. They're 4-7 in the conference, but have already played Wake Forest twice (the lucky bastards). They beat George Mason at a neutral court, which has turned into a surprisingly good win, but they haven't beaten a relevant team since (the best win is probably against Clemson at home by two). N.C. State has become the picture of chronic underachievement, with more talent than anyone in the league not named Duke or UNC, but almost nothing to show for it. Much, if not all, of that blame falls upon Lowe.
So the quadrennial tradition of Wolfpack fans dreaming of Rick Barnes "coming home" or some other superstar coach giving up a good gig to take the worst job in America seems just around the corner. But not before Maryland gets at least one more look at the ol' Sid: a coach Gary Williams has never lost to.
For as easy N.C. State is to dismiss as a poorly-coached team amounting to little more than easy win, their talent is just as obvious. They're just dripping with talent and athleticism, basically at every position, and that makes them exceedingly dangerous. As disorganized as they may be, if they come together for a game, they can be almost unstoppable. That might be a longshot, but it only has to happen one time.
The most notable of the talent is probably Tracy Smith, the 6-8 senior power forward. Smith struggled with an injury in the first half of the year, missing ten of the first twelve games, and it's probably been hindering him since. By all accounts, he seems to have regressed from last year's All-ACC level; after averaging 17 and 7 last year, he's only averaged just 14 and 6 this season. Even if his production has dropped, his talent is still there, which means he still has the potential to be a difficult matchup for Jordan Williams.
The next biggest talent on the team is C.J. Leslie. You may remember 6-9 freshman as someone Maryland recruited pretty hard; he was a five-star coming out of HS and is just extraordinarily athletic. His stats have been pretty good - averaging 11.4ppg and 7.5rpg - but he's also the definition of hit-or-miss: he's had 6 games of 18+ points, and 6 more of 4 or less. His blocking ability is to be revered, too, which might hurt Maryland, which has used quite a bit of penetration in the past few weeks.
Next come two more freshmen, both former four-stars and both in the backcourt. You probably know about Ryan Harrow, the lightning-quick 6-1 PG. He's averaging 10ppg, but most of that has come against weaker opposition; he's had only three double-digit games against high-major teams, and they came consecutively. The real threat he poses isn't scoring, but distributing: the Wolfpack have lacked a great distributor in recent years, and he's played that role well. Outside of one terrible game against Duke, he's held his own here, averaging 3.5apg with an A/TO ratio of 1.7. He's still a freshman, though, so the press may cause a few mistakes.
Lorenzo Brown, a 6-5 SG, is the third freshman starter. Like Harrow and Leslie, he's hovering around 10ppg (9.3, to be exact), and again, he's a little up-and-down. His size and scoring savvy make him a dangerous player offensively, despite possessing neither great athleticism nor shooting ability. He's a natural matchup for Sean Mosley, if you ask me, though then you risk isolating Adrian Bowie on someone much bigger than him.
That someone is Scott Wood, a 6-7 SF. Wood's a sharp-shooter, and pretty much the only one on the team. He takes a lot of threes, and he makes a lot of them, too: he's shooting 42% from deep, already with upwards of 140 attempts. He's very dangerous from deep, which is a little concerning giving Maryland's so-so perimeter defense the past few games. His size also makes sure that Maryland will be faced with a serious matchup problem somewhere down the line.
The starters receive a lot of the playing time, but the Pack go 9-deep pretty solidly. The first man off the bench is Javier Gonzalez - remember him? - and he's just as you remember him: a poor man's Greivis Vasquez. He's Vasquez with all of the swagger and mistakes but half as much production. He might've turned a corner in the mistakes department, getting his A/TO ratio up to 1.8, but he's been shooting much more poorly (down to 30% from 3) so it's a bit of a wash. He's supremely annoying, but not one to worry about.
Richard Howell, a 6-8 sophomore, receives nearly as much PT as Gonzalez. He's been very quietly good as a sixth man-type, averaging 7.8ppg and 6.5rpg, making him one of N.C. State's more effective post players. He's extraordinarily wide-bodied, but his height makes him a bit of a liability against, say, Jordan Williams.
The final two C.J. Williams, a 6-5 junior, and DeShawn Painter, a 6-9 sophomore who's seen his PT drop in the second half of the season. Neither of them are big threats to score, but they do their job well enough - Painter especially has been pretty effective in relatively limited time.
When I mentioned earlier that Scott Wood was a great 3-pt shooter, I probably should've mentioned that he's their only one. N.C. State is not a great shooting team, and they know it. They're last in the conference in the percentage of points they get from 3s, and #1 in the conference in the percentage of points from 2s. They're far more reliant upon penetration (from Harrow and Brown), post play (from Smith and, to a lesser extent, Leslie), and transition play.
Contrary to what you'd expect out of a poorly-coached, unorganized team, the one thing that N.C. State does really well is controlling the ball. They're 57th in the country in TO%, and 1st in the ACC since conference play started. That's the type of stat that makes you think Maryland might want to reconsider any pressing they might do. And hey, in all fairness, the Wolfpack are actually a decent rebounding team, at least offensively; it looks like Lowe doesn't have them push the boards very hard defensively, so they'll give up some offensive boards, but they're not bad at getting second looks.
The good news is that they are bad at pretty much everything else. 10th in the conference in eFG%. 11th in defensive TO%. 8th in the conference in 3pt%. 9th in defensive efficiency. And I guess if you combine all of those things, you get a 4-7 conference record, with two of the wins coming over Wake Forest.
It's tough to get a good read on N.C. State. On the one hand, they have a terrible coach and a middling record, putting them near the bottom of the conference despite having played Wake Forest twice already. Smith's average play means they lack a leader on the floor. They haven't really done much to make you respect them. On the other hand, the amount of talent they have is staggering, and it's not like they're getting blown out of games entirely. The talent and athleticism advantage is definitely in N.C. State's favor.
I'm not expecting N.C. State to make this game interesting, let alone win. But if they left College Park with a W, I truthfully wouldn't be surprised. Their athleticism could give Maryland fits, and if they can pull things together for a game, they have an extremely high ceiling. But if they haven't done it yet, what are the odds that they do it at all? Early gut says Terps by 12.