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Virginia Basketball Previews: NC State

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The Wolfpack come into this game at 2-0 in the ACC, good for second place. But both of their wins have come at home, and against lower echelon ACC teams. Nothing like playing the Hoos in JPJ. Last year, in Raleigh, the Hoos won by 31. This version of the Hoos is better, so obviously they'll win by more than 31.

Expect Anthony Gill to have his way inside against NCState's undersized frontcourt.
Expect Anthony Gill to have his way inside against NCState's undersized frontcourt.
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

At 2-0 in conference, the Wolfpack are sitting in second place in the conference. Their best win is probably the blowout of Pitt on Saturday afternoon. But they also lost at home to Wofford and got blown out by Cincinnati a week ago. However, that 2-0 record and second place standing isn't likely to last very long. Especially since their 2 games following their Charlottesville trip are against Duke and UNC.

But, at least those games are at home. The Pack haven't beaten the Hoos in the regular season since 2009, but haven't won in Charlottesville in nearly 10 years. Their last win in Charlottesville was March 2, 2005. That game was during the Pete Gillen era. Last year, the Hoos and Wolfpack played in Raleigh and the Hoos came away with a 76-45 win. That NC State team had T.J. Warren and won an NCAA Tournament game. The Pack have also lost in both of their games away from PNC Arena.

This NC State team is missing that elite scorer, although junior SG Trevor Lacey is attempting to replicate Warren's performance. Lacey, a transfer from Alabama, is leading the team with over 17 points per game. He's actually outperforming Warren's line from last year, although that will change as he enters the heart of ACC play. He's shooting 43% from three, which is better than anybody on the team shot last year. Cincinnati held Lacey to just 6 points on 1-8 from the field.

The Pack are loaded on the wings, with 6 players between 6'5" and 6'9" playing at least 40% of the team's minutes. Only one of these guys is a true "big", BeeJay Anya, a 300 space eater who is one of the top shot blockers in the nation. However, he's also highly prone to foul trouble. Lennard Freeman is one of the top rebounders in the nation, especially on the offensive glass. The Hoos would be wise to put on a body on him any time a shot goes up. He's not much of a threat other than working the glass, and is also prone to foul trouble.

The rest of NC State's frontcourt is full of wing players, led by 6'9" sophomore Kyle Washington. Washington is a solid rebounder and a good defender, but he isn't much of an offensive threat. Keep an eye on the twin brothers, freshmen Caleb and Cody Martin. Cody actually doesn't play much, but Caleb has looked impressive in early showing.

The Pack are a solid offensive team, ranking 32nd in the nation in offensive efficiency. (That ranking, however, comes against a ho-hum strength of schedule). They don't look to be a very good matchup for the pack-line defense. They don't shoot many 3s, just 270th in the nation in percentage of shots from 3. They also score most of their points on isolations, with one of the lowest assist rates in the nation. Sophomore PG Anthony Barber leads the team in assists at just 3.5 per game, and is well below his team-leading assist rate from last year.

Defensively, the Pack aren't quite so good, ranking 117th in the nation, and coming in at just above average. (And, again, this is against a pretty weak schedule.) They play solid defense, using their perimeter length to contest shots. They are 31st in the nation in opposing FG%, and 16th in block rate. But they are 348th in forcing turnovers and they give up a lot of FTs. Five of their players average more than 4 fouls per 40 minutes.

Because of the Wolfpack's lack of size inside, expect Mike Tobey, Darion Atkins and especially Anthony Gill to have big games. BeeJay Anya doesn't start, and averages less than 20 minutes per game. That may change if the Hoos are dominating inside as expected. The Pack's length may bother the Hoos perimeter players, but if the Wolfpack are forced to double-team down low, Justin Anderson and the rest of the Hoos' wings may get some open looks from outside.

The Wolfpack have lost to their 3 best opponents, and none of them were as good as the Hoos. Two of those games were blowouts, including a 14 point loss to West Virginia in the Gotham Classic at MSG. The Hoos have struggled over their past 2 games, at least in comparison to their previous 11 games. Look for them to get back on track tomorrow night with a big win over the Pack.

Ken Pomery predicts a 71-55 win for the Hoos, and that seems like a good bet. I could easily see this being another Pack Line Pledge game though.