Count ‘em up, five heartbreaking losses by a total of 18 points. Five losses in winnable games that would have gone a long ways in bolstering their resume. Three losses to three of the best teams in the country by a total of 9 points. Plenty of missed opportunities.
The Wolfpack desperately need to cash in on an opportunity, and they get two more chances at top-15 teams before the regular season comes to a close. One of them is in 10 days when they visit rival North Carolina, and one is today, when the have the chance to play number 9 Louisville on the road. Can NC State finally cash in on an opportunity today, or will they yet again let an opportunity slip by and fail to help themselves?
That question will be answered by the end of the day. NC State is capable of winning this game, but they need to play up to their potential, something they’ve done for an entire game only a couple times this season. They will have to consistently score against one of the best defenses in the country. This comes first of all from NC State’s guards. Trevor Lacey is this team’s best player, and he needs to get the ball a lot. Lacey’s ability to create his own shot is one big reason why he is averaging 16.6 points per game and leading the team in many offensive categories. Meanwhile, Anthony Barber has looked fantastic as of late. Starting in the win over Georgia Tech, Cat Barber became more assertive offensively, not only shooting at a much better rate and increasing his range, but also driving to the hoop on a regular basis. Over the last 3 games, Barber has averaged 20.7 points per game, while throwing in 13 assists, 7 steals, and only one turnover. While his emergence has greatly helped the Pack, the performance of senior shooter Ralston Turner has plummeted recently. Turner had been shooting extremely well through the whole season, up until the last three or four games. He has shot just over 20% in the last three games, and has made only 4 of his 22 three point attempts. His confidence seems to have faltered, and it is killing NC State. Turner will need to step up at some point, and become the guy that scored 33 against Tennessee just before conference play began. If he can do that, then State will improve mightily, as he, Lacey, and Barber would all be playing at a high level.
Defensively, it will be the post players who need to step up for NC State. Montrezl Harrell is a beast on the interior, and will somehow need to be contained if NC State wants to win. This assignment will probably fall on Kyle Washington and Abdul-Malik Abu. Those two have been starting every game for a while now, and will be called upon to stop Louisville on the boards. While it will certainly help State to play solid defense against Louisville’s guards, specifically their leading scorer Terry Rozier, the game will be decided inside. Perhaps the best men capable of bolstering the Wolfpack’s post play are those who come off the bench. Beejay Anya currently leads the ACC in blocks, and will need to continue his solid defense down low. Lennard Freeman is another guy who can help out his team inside. Surprisingly, he did not see the court in the loss to Virginia, despite being possibly NC State’s best rebounder. His solid and strong interior presence is important, and when he grabs rebounds, State tends to play well. In fact, they are undefeated when he hauls in over 10 rebounds in one game. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all plays out this evening.
Prediction: Again, this game will be decided on the inside. Even if Lacey and Barber, and maybe even Turner have big games for NC State, it is likely Rozier and Chris Jones will have good games for Louisville. The fact that the inside game will be key to whoever wins helps Louisville. Montrezl Harrell is tough to stop, and the Wolfpack have shown they have trouble stopping guys like him. That is why Louisville wins this one, 62-54.