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Virginia vs NC State: The Big Preview

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Hoos hope to avoid five straight losses as they head to Raleigh to face the Wolfpack.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina State
Dennis Smith Jr. is dangerous for the Wolfpack.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

It is clear now that there are problems with this Wahoo team. Four losses in a row, including a pair of overtime (one double overtime) games to lower-tier ACC teams, have left the Hoos looking for answers. In the past two games (against UNC and Miami), the Hoos have scored 0.67 and 0.81 points per possession, which would rank dead last in the nation by a large margin. On the one hand, it is very concerning that the Virginia offense has fallen off so much, so quickly. On the other hand, they can’t possibly continue to be that bad.

The next test is a road game in Raleigh against NC State. The Wolfpack are 15-14 (4-12 ACC) and are coming off a win on the road against Georgia Tech on Tuesday. Prior to that, they’d lost seven in a row, four of which were home games. As a result of all those losses, head coach Mark Gottfried has been fired, though he’s staying on through the end of the season. The Pack are a solid offensive team, ranking 39th in the country, but they are a dreadful defensive team, ranking 223rd. That could be the antidote for whatever is ailing the Hoos offensively.

NC State is led by freshman phenom PG Dennis Smith Jr. He’s a likely top-10 pick in this year’s NBA draft. Smith averages almost 19 points per game, along with six assists, four rebounds and two steals. He’s shooting 37% from three, and 52% on twos. He gets to the line a ton, but he’s not a great FT shooter (71%). Smith also rarely comes off the court, as he plays almost 35 minutes per game. Smith isn’t particularly big, but he’s still more than capable of scoring inside. He plays with much more strength than you’d expect from his 190 pound frame, and he’s quick and athletic enough to beat just about any defender off the dribble. The Hoos will have to rely on team defense to slow him down. He really isn’t a great shooter, though his shooting has been coming on later in the season. The Hoos will likely play off him a bit and give him some looks from outside rather than let him drive into the lane and disrupt the defense.

On the wings next to Smith are two transfers, Terry Henderson and Torin Dorn. Other than the transfer aspect, they are vastly different players. Henderson is a perimeter oriented player, while Dorn is a slasher who excels in transition. Henderson transferred from West Virginia after the 2014 season. He sat for a year and then was ready to go last year. One game into the season, he tore the ligaments in his ankle and missed the entire season. He is showing little signs of rust after 2 years off this year as he’s the second leading scorer on the team and is a deadly outside shooter. He benefits from defenses paying so much attention to Smith and is shooting 39% on threes - averaging over six attempts per game. He doesn’t do much else.

Dorn played one season at Charlotte before transferring. His father played football at UNC and later in the NFL. (Wonder what his father thinks about his son playing for the hated Wolfpack.) Dorn isn’t the shooter than Henderson is, though, as he’s at 37% for the season. He’s taken just 60 treys on the season and is Dorn is more of a slasher who can get to the rim and finish. Dorn excels in transition and is a strong rebounder for a wing. He’s 6’5” 205, so likely will face up with Devon Hall all game long. That means Henderson will spend a lot of time with Marial Shayok on him. Shayok’s length could cause problems for Henderson. We could also see Shayok on Smith, with London Perrantes on Henderson. Shayok’s length could bother Smith, which would also affect the looks Henderson gets.

The Pack had another bigtime PG prospect last year, Markell Johnson. Johnson was the ninth rated PG in the nation (Smith was unrated, because he spent a post-grad year at Trinity Christian School). Johnson has seen time off the bench at both backcourt spots, but he’s struggled in his limited playing time. He’s shooting just 21% from three and has a higher turnover rate than assist rate. He’s been better of late and has seen his minutes spike, starting against GT in a three-guard alignment with Dorn coming off the bench.

Up front, the Pack start junior Abdul-Malik Abu and sophomore Maverick Rowan. Abu is a true big. He’s a banger. He’s not much of an offensive player, at least in terms of creating his own shot. He’s good in transition and is a beast on the boards (seven rebounds per game). Rowan is really a wing, though he spends a lot of his time essentially playing the 4-spot for the Wolfpack. Rowan is a 36% shooter from downtown and has taken over 50% of his shots from there. He’s 6’7” 220, so he’s big enough to cause problems for the Hoos wings, but he’s also mobile enough that Isaiah Wilkins may have some trouble staying with him on the perimeter.

The wild-card in the frontcourt mix is freshman Omer Yurtseven. The seven-footer from Turkey (via Uzbekistan) was suspended for the first nine games of the season because of his experience playing for a professional team in Turkey. He hasn’t really lived up the hype thus far, as he’s averaging just six points and four rebounds in about 20 minutes per game. He is a decent shot blocker, but his offensive game is underdeveloped and he has a tendency to get into foul trouble. Still, when he’s in next to Abu, the Pack have an intimidating front line. Despite his struggles, Yurtseven is still considered a possible first round pick this year.

The Pack have a ton of talent, and yet their record is so disappointing. This is why Gottfried has been fired. They simply do not play defense with any consistency. They don’t contest shots, they don’t fight for rebounds and they don’t generate turnovers. Offensively, they have a ton of athleticism, but Smith is really the only guy who can create his own shot. They have some good shooters, but they don’t have any great shooters. They play at a very fast pace, and get a lot of points in transition. This is almost entirely due to Smith and his ability to push the ball. The Hoos will negate some of this simply by playing their brand of methodical basketball.

The Hoos badly need a win. The Wolfpack are essentially playing out the string. Wahoo fans certainly can’t take anything for granted right now, but this game is one the Hoos should win.