NCAA Tournament Pregame Party: N.C. State v. Georgetown

The Georgetown faithful are still riding high off of Friday's convincing 15-point win over the preordained Cinderella Belmont. There was so much to like about that game, from senior leadership to swarming defense to a John Caprio sighting to finally notching a tournament win, and doing so in emphatic fashion. But just getting past that initial stumbling block isn't enough for these Hoyas, who have precious little time to savor the win. Sunday, they have to take on North Carolina State. The Wolfpack were one of the last teams into the tournament, but made clear they belong with Friday's 14-point win over San Diego State. The tournament appearance and win already puts first-year coach Mark Gottfried ahead of schedule. With the Wolfpack playing their best ball of the season of late, they appear hungry for more. And with time a wasting, let's get you to it.

More St. Patty's Day pre-gaming after the jump.

It's Been So Long Since Last We Met. Since the Hoyas dispatched the Wolfpack to win the 2010 Charleston Classic--the two teams' lone meeting since 1989 and just their third since JT pere took over--N.C. State has undergone a lot of change. Coach Sidney Lowe and his sweet red blazers finally got the axe after years of disappointing results. With Lowe departed a pair of key seniors as well as highly touted but underwhelming freshman point guard Ryan Harrow, who transferred to Kentucky. After Shaka Smart and Greg Marshall each declined to fill the coaching vacancy, Gottfried, who previously had been moderately successful at Alabama, accepted.

The Wolfpack have improved under the new regime, both on the recruiting trail, where Gottfried has landed a number of high-profile recruits, and the court, where N.C. State surpassed 20 wins for the first time since the Herb Sendek era. There weren't any truly stellar wins coming into the tournament--the Wolfpack lost to Indiana, Syracuse, and Vanderbilt in the non-conference slate, then Duke once, Florida State once, and North Carolina three times in ACC play--leading to some bubble trouble. But two wins over fellow bubble dweller Miami, non-conference wins over Texas and St. Bonaventure, and an A.C.C. tournament victory over dance-bound Virginia were enough to punch the Wolfpack's ticket.

Wolfpack (Wolves?) to Know. N.C. State features a balanced starting lineup reminiscent of JTIII's early squads, with a short rotation featuring five players averaging between 10 and 15 points per game. The offense starts with do-it-all point guard Lorenzo Brown (12.7 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4.3 rpg, 1.8 stl pg), who uses his long, 6'5" frame to penetrate to the basket, get to the line, and set up his teammates. Inside, Brown has two targets, the first of which is leading scorer C.J. Leslie (14.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.6 blk pg), a super athletic, bouncy sophomore forward that probably won't step outside much but will cause lots of problems near the hoop. Also manning the Wolfpack interior is junior big man Richard Howell (10.7 ppg , 9.3 rpg), who adds a bit of muscle to Leslie's bounce, but also can work out of the mid- and high posts. Off guard C.J. Williams (10.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg) provides lock-down defense and complementary scoring, while small forward Scott Wood (12.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.6 apg) is resident marksman, canning over 40 percent of his threes. Back-up center DeShawn Painter (6.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and reserve guard Alex Johnson (4.8 ppg, 3.0 apg) are the only bench players to average double-digit minutes.

When N.C. State Has the Ball.

  • Wolfpack's strength: pounding the paint. A large part of N.C. State's improvement under Gottfried has been embracing its identity as an interior-focused team. Wood is a deep threat, but the rest of the Wolfpack starting five get better as they get closer to the basket. The Wolfpack rank below 300th nationally in both the number of threes they take and those they make, meaning the Hoyas' focus will be on stopping Williams and Brown's penetration and Leslie and Howell's activity around the basket. In their tournament opener against San Diego State, the Wolfpack shot just nine threes, making three, but were a sizzling 28 of 44 from two-point range, thanks in part to a porous and undersized Aztec defense that allowed Howell and Leslie to go for 22 and 15 points, respectively. While N.C. State's focus is much nearer to the basket than Belmont, both teams get a high percentage of their baskets off assists, with the Wolfpack leading the ACC in that category.
  • Wolfpack to watch: Lorenzo Brown. The sharp-shooting Wood will make any opponent nervous, and Leslie is the type of athletic power forward that might give the Hoya defense trouble. But Brown makes the N.C. State offense tick. Brown, a converted shooting guard, is uncommonly long for a point, giving him a line of sight over most perimeter defenders. Georgetown did an excellent job containing Belmont's guard play, but will have another active lead guard to corral on Sunday.
  • Hoyas' strength: zone. Georgetown's long zone bothered Belmont into 39 percent shooting on Friday, and should prove equally effective on Sunday. Provided the Hoyas can keep an eye on Wood's zone-busting shooting, a 2-3 formation should contain the Wolfpack dribble-drive.
  • Hoya to watch: Otto Porter. While Henry Sims is busy grappling down low with Howell, someone will need to keep pace with the quick, athletic Leslie. Obviously in a zone, that burden will be shared, but Porter particularly matches up well with Leslie. Porter has continued to impress on both ends of the floor over the past four games, averaging north of 17 points per game while shooting a scorching 70 percent. But he's a particular asset on defense, where his length and agility gives opponents trouble on the perimeter down low.
  • Looming question: rebounding? Georgetown led the Big East in defensive rebounding, grabbing nearly 70 percent of opponents' misses. But N.C. State, especially Howell, crashes the offensive glass, finishing second in the ACC by grabbing 34.4 percent of its own misses. Limiting the Wolfpack's second chances will be essential on Sunday.
  • Looming question #2: foul trouble? Henry Sims picked up two early fouls against Belmont, and was replaced by Nate Lubick, who likewise was whistled for a pair before the half. The Hoyas bought some time with effective spot duty by Mikael Hopkins, and the pre-half foul trouble never reared its head after intermission. Sunday's opponent N.C. State muscles its way to more than 21 free throw attempts per game, and Howell and Leslie are both particularly active near the basket. Georgetown scarcely can afford a thinning of its defensive front line due to early foul trouble.

When Georgetown Has the Ball.

  • Wolfpack's strength: forcing turnovers, sort of. As with Belmont, this is a relative strength. N.C. State has been a bit lenient defensively this year, giving up 70 or more points 17 times, with six of those opponents exceeding 80. (Compare that to eight 70-plus results by Hoya opponents, only two of which surpassed 80.) While some of those numbers can be chalked up to the Wolfpack's faster pace, much is due to a so-so defense. Even so, the Wolfpack have active hands: four of the seven regulars average better than a steal per game, with Johnson and Wood as additional threats to take the ball away. Georgetown generally did a good job limiting turnovers Friday, and will need to avoid miscues again Sunday.
  • Hoyas' strength: work the ball inside. Belmont was the third straight opponent that Georgetown abused primarily by running its offense through the high post. While the Hoyas shot a solid 41 percent from three against the Bruins, they didn't fall in love with the long ball, and instead found Porter and Sims near the basket and Clark off the bounce. Similar patience against N.C. State will be similarly rewarded Sunday.
  • Hoya to watch: Hollis Thompson. Hollywood has been a bit quiet offensively since a sharp showing at Marquette, disappearing for much of the Pitt and Belmont games and down the stretch against Cincinnati. He'll enjoy a size advantage over Wood and any other perimeter defender on Sunday, and so should get some open looks to stretch the Wolfpack defense.
  • Looming question: offensive rebounds? The Wolfpack have been permissive on the glass, allowing opponents to haul in nearly one-third of their own misses during conference play, placing them in the bottom half of the ACC. The Hoyas have been a better offensive rebounding team as the season has worn on, particularly since Porter replaced Markel Starks in the starting lineup. Generating a few extra chances may go a long way Sunday.
  • Looming question #2: foul trouble? Howell frequently finds himself in foul trouble, racking up four personals in each of his past four games while fouling out of five ACC games. Leslie is no stranger to the whistle himself, having fouled out of four conference games. While Painter provides a serviceable back-up, sending one of the two Wolfpack bigs to the pine would do wonders for the Hoyas' inside play.

Prediction. Friday's win was big, but the Hoyas have been expecting still bigger things for some time now. Tomorrow presents new challenges. For a Hoya team that has faced many guard-heavy line-ups of late, the Wolfpack's interior offensive game and athletic big men will be an adjustment. And the Wolfpack seem to have caught their stride of late, beating a tournament-bound Virginia team and taking North Carolina (which was without ace post defender John Henson) to the wire in the A.C.C. tournament, then winning convincingly over San Diego State yesterday. Georgetown also has looked good of late, locking down on its last three opponents defensively while relying on Sims and Porter offensively. Expect the Hoyas' staunch defense to give the Wolfpack as many problems inside as it did Belmont outside. And expect a similar result. Georgetown 68, N.C. State 61.

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