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Game Preview: NC State

After two weeks off, Florida State is back in action Wednesday night against the NC State Wolfpack.

We have not seen FSU on the hardwood since a December 29th loss against Clemson, a two week pause due to a positive COVID-19 test and subsequent contact tracing on the eve of the Duke game. They’ve now had a few days of full practices to work on a couple of offensive things, get defensive rotations squared away, and get ready for a tough three game stretch over the next 6 days.

NC State is a tough, feisty team, but is coming off of two straight losses, including a bad home loss to a Miami team with no Chris Lykes last time out. They also should’ve beaten Clemson and led by 8 with 5 minutes left before just self-destructing in the final 4 minutes and losing in OT. They’ll be looking to avoid their third straight loss tonight.

This game will tip-off at 6:30pm EST on the ACC Network from the Donald L Tucker Center.

NC State Wolfpack (6-3, 2-2) Breakdown

In this game, you’re going to see a ton of ball screens from NC State. All they’ve seen from Florida State so far is FSU is willing to switch every ball screen, and they’re going to try and use this to their advantage. Manny Bates and DJ Funderburk have been fantastic for them so far on the block, and Devon Daniels and Cam Hayes have done an excellent job running this pick-and-roll combo.

As an offense, NC State scores in 1 of 3 ways: spot-up (23.2% of shots), pick-and-roll ball handler (19.1%), and transition (18.3%). They’re lethal on pick-and-roll and putbacks, being among the best in the country on scoring on those two shot types, and a lot of their spot up chances are a result of the pick-and-roll. In their last game, more than 50% of all possessions ended with a shot coming from a pick-and-roll, whether it be the ball-handler taking it himself, passing to an open man, or hitting the roll man (or a turnover).

They get into a pick-and-roll as early as possible in a possession, and want to get downhill, make quick decisions. They’ve yet to play a team with FSU’s size, length, and athleticism from top to bottom on the roster. FSU will need to play with active hands to limit these quick passes to the corner and the high/lows. I really think FSU is going to have to go to a more traditional sense of defending ball screens in this game. As great as MJ Walker and Anthony Polite are for their size at defending in the post, I wouldn’t want them going up against DJ Funderburk down there.

Defensively, NC State plays almost exclusively man-to-man with a full-court press. Their guards and wings really try to keep everything on the perimeter and limit drives into the paint, but they don’t have a ton of wing defenders. Shakeel Moore is good, Daniels is solid, and everyone else mainly just goes for steals defensively and force the offense to drive into Manny Bates, who is posting a block rate of 13.1% (top-10 nationally). Bates is a great shot blocker, but sometimes chases blocks too much and over pursues, leaving the back side open; NC State’s wings don’t help much either once the ball is in there. When the defense is set, it’s solid, but they get beat in transition far too often; I want Florida State to really push the pace in this one.

NC State revolves around their guards playmaking, and has for a while now. For the last few years, it was Markell Johnson, now it’s Devon Daniels. Daniels is an efficient scorer, especially inside the arc, where he shoots 53.8%. While his 3-point percentage may point to him being an unreliable shooter from there, he’s more than capable; don’t leave him alone. He’s a pesky defender averaging 2 steals per game and has one of the better defensive ratings on the team.

DJ Funderburk is one of my favorite players in the conference to watch. He’s quick twitch athlete that gets off the floor fast and really attacks the rim, but usually comes off of the bench. He’s a mismatch nightmare against most back-up bigs at 6’10”, 225 pounds with his leaping ability and relentlessness. If he wants to shoot a jump-shot, absolutely let him, but he usually just has his eyes set on the rim and the paint. Funderburk has gotten into foul trouble against Florida State in the past, fouling out in both games in a combined 27 minutes between the two games.

Jericole Hellems is a great secondary option that can do a little bit of everything: score, handle the ball in a pinch, shoot, defend, rebound… Hellems is a legitimate 6’7″ and can defend up and down the lineup but attack in a variety of ways. He’s not going to be the reason you win games, but he also won’t be the reason you lose; a very consistent player.

Manny Bates is in the conversation for ACC Most Improved Player this year, although it’s not entirely noticeable on the stat sheet. There were just a lot of games where Bates was simply unplayable last season; and even a couple this season like against Boston College where he only played 7 minutes. He’s more athletic this season and has a soft touch around the rim, but goes a lot of stretches where he’s just a negative. Phenomenal rim defender, but gets caught out of position a lot.

Cam Hayes is a talented 5-star freshman who continues to get better week after week. He’s much better playmaker than shot-creator, who plays passing angles really well. The player he is now will be a lot different in a month. He can score from anywhere, but prefers to operate inside the paint and really weave through traffic.

Thomas Allen and Braxton Beverly are very similar players. Great shooters, solid playmakers, miniscule in size. Any time these two are on the floor, FSU should be relentlessly attacking them whenever possible. Make them uncomfortable, force them to be the ball-handlers, and make them play defense.

Shakeel Moore is the last guy to talk about that’ll get consistent minutes. He has the best steal rate on the team at an impressive 6.3% and leads the team in DBPM as well. Moore doesn’t take a ton of shots, just 6 attempts per game, but is efficient and a solid 3-point shooter, just a little undersized at 6’1″.

Here are team stats: PPG/RPG (ORBs/DRBs)/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG/FPG        FG%/3pt%/FT%

NC State Produces: 77.3/34.7 (10.8/23.9)/13.4/9.8/4.3/13.0/17.8         47.3/36.6/66.5

NC State Allows: 65.7/35.7 (10.8/24.9)/11.0/5.3/2.2/18.4/18.6         43.7/32.0/66.5

I’m of the opinion that a lot of these stats are deceiving, inflated by playing some really bad teams early. Because of this opinion, here are their in-conference team stats.

NC State Produces: 71.8/35.8 (11.5/24.3)/10.5/7.5/3.5/15.3/17.8          44.8/35.1/65.9

NC State Allows: 72.5/36.0 (11.8/24.3)/10.3/6.0/3.0/13.8/19.8         45.7/33.8/67.7

Player Stats

#24 Devon Daniels 15.9/5.2/3.1/1.8/0.1/2.3/2.2           45.8/30.0/65.7

#0 DJ Funderburk 13.0/5.5/0.0/0.8/0.5/1.3/2.0          64.3/16.7/92.0

#4 Jericole Hellems 11.2/5.1/1.9/0.9/0.1/2.0/3.3         44.3/36.0/75.9

#15 Manny Bates 9.4/5.4/0.3/0.3/3.0/0.9/3.0              61.0/NA/68.4

#3 Cam Hayes 7.7/1.1/3.3/1.0/0.1/1.7/1.0                        51.2/38.9/75.0

#2 Shakeel Moore 7.1/2.9/1.6/2.1/0.2/1.4/2.0                43.9/39.1/38.5

#5 Thomas Allen 7.0/2.6/1.0/1.4/0.0/1.0/1.6                 40.0/46.9/57.1

#10 Braxton Beverly 6.4/1.3/2.6/1.5/0.0/1.0/1.6            38.6/37.9/50.0

Florida State Seminoles (5-2, 1-1) Breakdown

On paper, this is a pretty good matchup for Florida State, as long as they play the way they’re supposed to. They’ll abuse Beverly any time he’s on the floor, and it wouldn’t surprise me if guys like him, Moore, and Allen are forced into more limited roles than they’re used to this season given FSU’s size. It’d be different if they were primary ball-handlers for NC State, but Hayes and Daniels handle that for NCSU. Florida State is going to do whatever they can to take advantage of Beverly, Moore, and Allen whenever possible: force switches, quick traps, bully ball, etc.

How FSU defends the post intrigues me. With UNC on deck this weekend, they’ll have a nice warmup on post defense against Manny Bates and DJ Funderburk, two of the best in the conference in the low post. I think they’ll almost be forced into playing a more tradition ball-screen defense because of this. Bates was almost unplayable last season as a freshman against Florida State, finishing with a whopping stat-line of 0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 blocks, and 3 fouls in 19 minutes. He’s a much different player this season and I would not expect that kind of stat line again. If he does have another poor game, the ‘Noles could run away with this.

With this being their first game in two weeks, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Florida State looks a little rusty early as they get used to being on the court again. Granted, fast starts to games haven’t exactly been this team’s specialty so far this season. They’ll need to get over quick, swiping hands and make quick decisions. Keep the ball high, make smart passes; this is a great game to test the maturity and growth of this team in some of the simple, technical things like that.

Injury Report

Since FSU was dealing with COVID issues, it’ll be interesting to see if anyone’s minutes are restricted, but everything being said so far is they’ve been able to have full practices.

NC State has three guys out indefinitely, but it’s a lot of guys that don’t play many minutes: Chase Graham, Ebenezer Dowuna, and Max Farthing.

6:05 PM UPDATE: Manny Bates is out with an ankle injury. Big loss, started.

Projected Starters

Florida State

G: Scottie Barnes

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

NC State

G: Thomas Allen

G: Braxton Beverly

G: Devon Daniels

F: Jericole Hellems

C: DJ Funderburk

Keys to the Game

Be Physical Without Fouling

NC State has a steady rotation of bigs that continuously attack the glass in Manny Bates, DJ Funderburk, and Jericole Hellems. They have four players that average more than 5 rebounds per game. While NC State doesn’t convert at a great rate from the free throw line, they do average 20+ free throw attempts in conference play. The last thing Florida State can afford to do is give a guy like Funderburk extra chances at the rim with putbacks or let him draw fouls, something he’s great at doing.

It’s imperative that Balsa Koprivica is physical in this game, and RaiQuan Gray and Malik Osborne play without fouling. If some of these guys get into foul trouble, it’ll be incredibly tough for Florida State to finish defensive possessions. Going to typical hedging ball screens will help with this.

Limit Easy Looks at the Rim

Most of NC State’s roster wants to get to the rim again and again. There are guys like Braxton Beverly and Thomas Allen who almost exclusively stay behind the 3-point line, but the offensive revolves around Devon Daniels and Cam Hayes getting downhill off of ball-screens and creating looks for themselves or for Bates and Funderburk. Once you surround that combo with some off-ball shooters, it opens up a lot in the middle of the floor. Those four players all shoot greater than 50% inside the arc, including Daniels at 60%, Bates at 61%, and Funderburk at an insane 72.2% (if he wants to settle for 3s, absolutely let him).

While the Wolfpack have plenty of capable shooters with 6 guys shooting 36% or better from 3, they don’t take a lot of 3s. It’s either going to be early in a possession, like in transition, or late in the shot clock when a shot needs to get off. When the game is in the half-court, expect Florida State to really sink into the middle and force try to force NC State to play outside-in.

Protect the Basketball

This is likely going to be a sloppy game in terms of turnovers. NC State forces just over 18 turnovers per game (about 14 in conference play), while giving up 14 turnovers themselves. Neither team has a real dominant and excellent ball handler and has a tendency to play a ton of pressure defense. There will be a lot of mistakes, and a lot of really bad possessions on both ends. Whichever team limits the live-ball turnovers stands a good chance of winning this game.

Florida State will also have to really drive hard into lanes in the defense; no second guessing. When they do, they have to do it with strength and with their next move planned out. If they drive in and hesitate, someone is going to poke the ball out and it’ll be going the other way. If FSU can make those quick decisions and force Manny Bates, an excellent shot blocker, to get out of position there will be plenty of opportunities to score at the rim; NC State actually forces the 3rd fewest 3s in the conference.

Prediction

Florida Stated opened at 3.5-point favorites, with the over/under set at 142.5.

I like this matchup for Florida State, a lot. Even though NC State has a steady rotation of bigs and gets plenty of offensive rebounds, they also allow their fair share. Whether it’s lack of effort on their part or happenstance is yet to be seen, but this seems like a good chance for FSU to get back on track. It wouldn’t surprise me if DJ Funderburk finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, but as long as NC State doesn’t decide to take 26 3s and hit them around 40%, I like the rest of how the game should match up; the Wolfpack have almost no size on the wing and the ‘Noles should be able to play bully ball there. And if Manny Bates plays like he did last season or DJ Funderburk fouls out for a third straight game against FSU, I don’t think NC State has enough quality players for a matchup like this.

Both teams turn it over a lot, there will be a fair amount of transition points. Give me Florida State 76-71. NC State will make a game out of it like they’ve done in every conference game so far, but FSU ultimately pulls away with their length advantage.


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