NU basketball at NC State: Gameday

(Rodger here. Since the game is on the road and on TV, come comment along.  If you're on campus, the game is on ESPN360, if you're not, you best hope you get ESPNU.)

I would say more, but unfortunately, Loretta insisted on writing an insightful and interesting post below, so, screw that guy.)

Northwestern plays their first true road game of the season tonight, visiting NC State as a part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. For the third straight game, the 'Cats take on an undefeated team from a power conference.

The game starts at 6 PM central and is being televised nationally by ESPNU, with Beth Mowins and Jay Williams on the call. I know nothing about Beth Mowins, but there are only 3 other female sports announcers I'm familiar with: Doris Burke (good), Pam Ward (bad), and Suzyn Waldman (the worst of all time). Hopefully she's more like Doris. As for Jay Williams, I always rooted against him at Duke, but he does a pretty good job in studio and is very humble for such a great college player, so hopefully it will be a good broadcast.

I'll admit to knowing very little about NC State, but some research shows they went 16-14 (6-10) last year and lost their 3 leading scorers, so they were picked at or near the bottom of the ACC by most prognosticators. The Wolfpack are 5-0, with 4 wins over soft mid-major teams and one good win over Auburn. Coach Sidney Lowe (best known for blazers that make him look like he should be in a barbership quartet) was planning to play an up-tempo style this season, but that hasn't happened as they haven't reached 70 points in a game yet. They have been playing excellent defense, as they've forced 20 or more turnovers in 4 of their 5 games.

Their leading scorer is power forward Tracy Smith, who's averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds a game. Smith is a wide body at 6'8", 250 pounds, and could pose problems inside. 6'9" forward Dennis Horner is second on the team with 14 points a game, and is a good 3-point shooter, hitting 8 of 14 on the season. However with the exception of Horner, NC State has shot the ball poorly from long range, as the rest of the roster is shooting just 30% on threes. So expect Northwestern to clog up the middle and force the Wolfpack guards to beat them from the perimeter.

For an NC State perspective on the game, check out Backing the Pack. The author uses a very statistically oriented approach to analyzing the game, which I found interesting. I've gotten into the more unconventional stats for baseball, but I haven't seen this approach used as much for basketball (I'm probably looking in the wrong place though, I'd appreciate some links to the basketball equivalent of baseballprospectus and fangraphs, thanks in advance). Two things really jumped out at me from that post, the first being that Kyle Rowley's stats accurately reflect how bad he is, and the second being that from looking at the numbers, someone concluded that Jeremy Nash is a 3-point specialist. For anyone who's been watching NU basketball over the last few years, you were probably as shocked as I was to read that. His first two years, it was an accomplishment when he hit the rim on a perimeter jumper. It's really impressive how much he's improved his offensive game, credit goes to both him and the coaching staff.

NC State is a 5 point favorite in this game, a line that looks about right to me. Historically, NU has been absolutely awful on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, losing all 5 games by double digits, low-lighted by a 94-57 humiliation at Virginia. In their only trip to NC State, they lost 74-47 in 2003. Now this team is certainly better than a some of the dumpster fire rosters that the 'Cats brought into those games, but this will definitely be a tough game in a hostile environment. Last season, NU was inconsistent on the road against power conference teams, playing great in wins at Purdue and Michigan State, but barely showing up at Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. I would like Northwestern to win on a neutral court here and really like them at home, but on the road I'm hesitant.


My pick:

NC State 58, Northwestern 55. This will be a grind it out halfcourt game that's close the whole way, but in the end NC State pulls it out at home. I really hope I'm wrong.

Comment here if you're watching, scientific studies have shown that multiple commenters lead to victory. Go 'Cats!

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