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First Look at Maryland-N.C. State: Round Two

The N.C. St. Wolfpack have already had two more shots at Greivis Vasquez. The N.C. State fans, however, haven't. Vasquez, who nailed a meaningless three at the buzzer last year at the RBC Center, cited a desire to shut up taunting fans. If he thought that was bad, I shudder to think what tomorrow will be like.

Fortunately, the fans don't play the game; the team does. We've already seen N.C. State - and Maryland handled them quite easily - and we've already broken down their team a few times, so check those out to learn more on the Pack. I won't go very in-depth in this preview, because there's not really a big need to rewrite the other preview.

It's important to note, though, that this isn't the exact same N.C. State team. Sure the players and their roles are the same, but El Sid and the Wuffies are in a tailspin, having lost 5 of 6 and 4 in a row since falling in College Park. They haven't won an ACC game since toppling Duke back in January.

Worse, they've only really been close once, against Georgia Tech at home (they lost by three). Other than that, they've been getting blown out, even by woebegone UNC.

So what's the problem been? Seeing how many things have gone wrong, maybe this team just isn't ACC level. Their season stats are wholeheartedly average (in ACC play, worse) and average just doesn't cut it in this conference.

Guard play is one of the few things that have really hurt the Pack, thanks to the inconsistency of Javier Gonzalez. Javi can be great at times, but he turns the ball over at an extraordinary rate. Only once in the past 4 games has NC State been able to net more assists than TOs, and that was against UNC (they still had 12, half from Javi). Against Georgia Tech, they gave the ball away 21 times, 7 of them coming from Gonzalez. If there's one thing the conference has learned this year, particularly Clemson, Miami, and State themselves, its that you win with elite guard play.

That lack of elite guard play reflects a team that is relatively, for lack of a better word, boneheaded. When Gonzalez is smart with the ball, someone else - like Dennis Horner, who had 6 TOs against Virginia Tech - steps up and derails the momentum with a bad TO or strange shot.

Which segues into the next major culprit, poor shooting. In the past 4 ACC games, they've shot over 40% from the field just once (41% against UNC) and haven't topped 30% from deep. The second one is extremely problematic when you jack up 18 of them a game. That's partially a combination of poor shot selection and poor shooting; no one except Tracy Smith is knocking down shots at a decent clip, and most of his shots are dunks and layups.

Actually, Smith has been up and down in this little stretch, dominating some games and being quiet in others. Jordan Williams looked good against him in College Park, and Maryland made liberal use of the double team when he was in the post. He dropped 18, but it was a very, very quiet 18, a lot of that coming in garbage time. He's capable of 22 and 15 games, or he can have 12 and 5 performances. If he's kept under control, State's offensive options start to look meek.

One of the lone bright spots - well, relative bright spots - is rebounding. They've still been competitive there despite the rough stretch, and have even won the rebounding battle a few times. That's good for them, too, because cleaning the offensive glass will probably be the only way they stay close.

But it's vital to keep in mind that this team is in a slump; it's doubtful they're really this bad. Sure, they aren't very good, but things have been snowballing lately. They could break out of that slump tomorrow - you just never know. The problem we have then is determining if, even out of a slump, they'd be good enough to topple Maryland. And my honest guess to that question would be "No."

I'm trying to temper my expectations here, but it's tough to do so when you see a team struggling as bad as N.C. State is and you've already beaten them. We've seen the difference between home and away, and that may factor in - especially with the fans as rabid as they could be for Vaz's blood - but N.C. State is the worst team in the ACC right now, bar none. Unless they come out, vacuum the glass, suddenly start hitting shots, and don't turn the ball over and Tracy Smith has an awesome game, I have trouble believing Maryland would lose this one.