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Know! Your! Foe! - NC State.

Princeton's heads on the road for the first time this season when the Tigers visit NC State on Wednesday evening. To provide you with greater sagaciousness on the new look Wolfpack under first year coach Mark Gottfried, I exchanged emails with writer and podcaster James Curle of the web site Riddick & Reynolds for the second Know! Your! Foe! of the year.

If you cover a team the Tigers will face down the line, let us know. We'd love to talk with you.

Two games in, what do you know about NC State that you didn't know a week ago?

That coaching matters, and that this team's getting it and the last coaching regime wasn't giving it. I really, really hate throwing distinguished alums like Sidney Lowe and Monte Towe under the bus, but based on all we've heard from the players from the time Sidney left until the first game of the season and from what we've seen thus far, it's clear what Lowe and his staff called "coaching" wasn't what this current staff considers "coaching."

Sidney always was and should've always remained a pro basketball coach. He thrives in instructing professionals who don't need to be taught to work hard in practice or take care of their bodies. But college players aren't pros...they NEED to be drilled, worked to the point of exhaustion and instructed on all the habits that go into being the best players they can be. This team wasn't getting that under Lowe. I believe they are now for the first time in their careers.

It's evident in their conditioning (Richard Howell most notably lost just about all his useless body fat and is now trimmer and more explosive). It's evident in their on-court effort (players are now constantly moving on both ends of the court, working to get free for open shots and attacking the glass more). And it's evident in their consistency (in both games, the team has avoided the roller coaster spikes and droughts that plagued the Lowe era).

And the team seems much more poised, focused and confident. They look like a unit prepared for their opponent rather than a team hoping and praying for good things to happen.

Similarly, how has Mark Gottfried's coaching philosophy been different than Sidney Lowe?

I touched on it in the first answer, but I think the major difference comes back to how much variance there is between the styles of a pro coach and a college coach. A pro coach expects to be able to show up to practice, have everyone there ready to go, fine tune some specific elements of the gameplan heading into the next opponent and let the players take care of the rest. A college coach, however, knows that these players aren't disciplined enough to perform at a high level without a structured environment - drills, diets, conditioning sessions - all the things a pro coach DOESN'T have to concern themselves with. Yet these are the very things that will hopefully elevate this team's performance to match its talent level which hasn't been properly utilized to this point.

How much do you think the absence of C.J. Leslie hurts the Wolfpack on Wednesday? He used a team-best 27% of all possessions in 2010-11.

I think comparing tempo-free stats from last year's squad to this season is a dangerous proposition. True, Leslie did get involved with a lot of possessions last year, but that was often due to Leslie's insistence to take over at times when he probably shouldn't have. He thought much higher of his shooting abilities from the perimeter than did everyone else, but yet he continued to take poor shots at all times during games and the coaching staff did nothing to curtail it. True, he's a force down low and incredibly gifted athletically. He showed great promise as a shot blocker and low post defender at times. But too often than he should have, he felt obligated to take a game over and be the savior.

In the exhibition game against Flagler two weeks ago, he seemed much more integrated into the offense and less apt to heave up ill-advised shots (for the most part...finishing with zero three-point attempts was a big step in the right direction). That was encouraging to see.

As far as the impact of his absence, I'd say the team has fared well enough without him to have not felt it to a great degree. Not to say he should ride the pine the rest of the year, by any means, but the continued blossoming of Howell and the emergence of post players like DeShawn Painter has lessened the blow we might've felt otherwise. I think where we miss him most is as a disruptive force down low defensively...Painter and Howell aren't nearly the athletic shot blockers Leslie is.

Has the team's +12.5 rebounding advantage been more about NC State or more about who they have been playing?

Probably a mixture of both. As I mentioned earlier, you can tell the rebounding effort has greatly improved over a year ago without needing to look at a stat sheet. Guys are actively attacking the glass on both ends of the court through two games, whereas rebounding was barely given a token effort in years past. In two games, State's snagged 29 offensive rebounds versus 33 offensive boards through the first three games last year. It's clear attacking the glass on both ends has been a focal point of this new coaching staff, and it's paid dividends already. That said, the Pack's faced two teams they are bigger, stronger and more athletically gifted than, so these are numbers you'd expect to see. We'll see if the rebounding improvements hold once State starts facing stronger competition.

Princeton has won the last five times they've played NC State, going back to the mid-1960s. Any memories from one or more of these games stand out?

Well, the only two times State and Princeton faced off from the time when my college years began until now were both losses for State, a 61-58 loss in the NIT in 1999 and a 38-36 eye-bleeder during the 97-98 season. I can't say any specific memories stand out to me from those two games, though the NIT loss was the last "real" game played in Reynolds Coliseum; we moved to the RBC Center the following season. So there is that. :)

I'll say this: the two losses against Princeton must've left an impression on Herb Sendek at the time, as we hired Larry Hunter as an assistant shortly thereafter and installed the Princeton-style offense that Hunter had been running at his previous gig.

State's variation of the Princeton offense was a controversial aspect of Herb's final five years at State. When it worked, it was a thing of beauty. The Pack played some games where they absolutely eviscerated the opposing team. But it was a tough system to recruit to, and a lot of fans (myself included) felt like it negated a lot of the advantages some of our more explosive athletes had against opponents. State fans had been used to recruiting superior talent to overwhelm opponents, not relying on a system that - similar to the triple option that allows the academies to compete in FBS football - is designed to allow overmatched teams to compete against superior talent.

Perhaps that's an unfair assessment of the Princeton Offense, but I do recall many games where we seemed relegated to launching threes most of the night. That style can produce upsets but isn't a recipe for consistent success at the high-major level.

The scars from those up-and-down performances still linger to this day. Let's just say that even five years removed from Herb Sendek's tenure during this most recent coaching search, folks were VERY adamant against hiring any coaches that implemented a style of basketball even remotely similar to the Princeton offense.

Fill in the blank time: NC State makes it a 3-0 start and heads to the Legends Classic semifinals happy if...

...they continue doing the things they've done so far, which is to play focused and disciplined on the offensive end and continue to improve on the defensive end. Princeton will present a unique challenge when State's on defense, and they'll have to adjust their effort level and focus accordingly.

Princeton is able to bounce back from a loss to Wagner and surprise the Wolfpack if...

...State gets fat and happy with all the good vibes that surround the team after two solid wins. I think the coaching staff will harp at great length on putting these two wins behind them, but it's tough to avoid the press clippings and hundreds of folks patting your "virtual backs" on Twitter. If they play poorly on defense and can't adjust to Princeton's unique style, it could be an ugly game for the Pack.

Finally, please take a moment to plug what you do for our readers!

The biggest news for the site lately is the Riddick & Reynolds Podcast, a weekly podcast about State sports that we record on location at Amedeo's restaurant in Raleigh, one of State's best-known haunts for food and Pack memorabilia. I started the show back in May as just a guy recording Skype interviews and in a very short timeframe it's grown into what it is now. We have regular guests from NC State's basketball and football past, including weekly conversations with Chuck Amato, Chris Corchiani, Chucky Brown and Ernie Myers. The highlight of our guest segments came a couple of weeks ago when we were able to sit down with current basketball coach Mark Gottfried just a few hours after he landed a huge commitment for the 2012 recruiting class.

Folks can listen to the shows by visiting

Thanks for your time James. See you tomorrow night at the RBC Center!

Steven Postrel said,

November 15, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

Fascinating sidelight on the Sendek years and the backlash among the fans toward the Princeton style. N.C. State fans may have been overrating their ability to attract top talent--they probably needed some kind of equalizer, whether it be the Princeton offense, a matchup zone, or some other contrarian approach. I don't think they've been recruiting competitively with UNC or Duke for a long time.

Glenn Morris said,

November 16, 2011 @ 8:29 am

Steve's remark about recruiting is spot on. Sendek, though effective with whom he could recruit, lost the pack faithful. (I attended NC State during the David Thompson years following Brian Taylor here--hoops magic!!!). Sendek was a good solid coach but I think his personality and the campus atmosphere hampered recruiting. NC State needs a coach with a charismatic personality to draw young men to a program that plays in an outstanding conference. The campus cannot be considered a draw for recruits.

Daniel Mark said,

November 16, 2011 @ 10:41 am

210 members! I think we're seeing exponential growth at this point. OCCUPY PRINCETON BASKETBALL DOT COM (in a good way, I mean).


November 16, 2011 @ 11:11 am

First, let me thank Jon for reaching out to me to participate in this. I enjoyed it!

Steven, I would say this recruiting class new coach Mark Gottfried is currently putting the final touches on, ranked by most analysts anywhere from #2-#4 nationally, conflicts with your notion that there's a "ceiling" on the kind of talent that can be brought to State. Keep in mind...he's assembled this top-3 class in just six months.

Recruiting is about effort, relationships and persistence. The new staff has these in spades; I don't think the previous staffs did, not to this degree.

That said, look at some of the RSCI numbers for guys pulled in during the Sendek and Lowe eras:

Not Duke and UNC numbers, but NO ONE pulls in Duke and UNC-type numbers on a consistent basis. There were enough players in the teens, 20s and 30s for this team to have performed better than one Sweet 16 in the last 15 years.

My point is this: everything is in place at NC State to be a draw and a major player on the recruiting trail. We play in a pro arena that seats 19,000+, in the heart of Tobacco Road, and have two NCAA titles and 10 ACC titles in our past. We've been dormant for the last 25 years, essentially, and yet still are the third-most accomplished basketball program in the ACC by any objective measure. What we've lacked is a coaching staff that values talent to a degree that State will need to compete with our neighbors; moreover, we can't be lulled into thinking that one great class will suddenly put us back on the map...this year's haul must be followed up by another top-10 class, then another, then another. That's the challenge.

Again, I would caution folks who judge State through the prism of Duke and Carolina (you're not alone by any means). State hasn't been recruiting at the same level Duke and Carolina, true. But neither has Michigan State, Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, etc., etc., and yet these teams find ways to assemble enough talent year after year to compete at or near their level. It can be done.

Good luck to the Tigers the rest of the year (AFTER tonight's game, of course. :)


November 16, 2011 @ 11:13 am

P.S. I apologize for my grammar in my responses. A few of those subject/verb agreements got away from me. :)


November 16, 2011 @ 11:23 am

P.P.S. Glenn, not sure when the last time you stepped on State's campus was, but there've been some fairly dramatic improvements to it and Hillsborough St. in the last 5-10 years. The city has really invested in improving Hillsborough St, and a mutil-billion dollar bond was passed about a decade ago intent on capital upgrades to all the members of the North Carolina system. Centennial Campus is really starting to fill out with some fantastic growth, as well.

Is it suddenly a paradise? No, lol, but it's not as spartan as it once was. And honestly, I doubt many recruits rank the look and feel of the campus higher than things like playing time, level of competition, coaching style, etc. It's important, but not a deal maker/breaker.

Jon Solomon said,

November 16, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

Daniel, I think sending out the mass "you know your account expired, right?" reminder went a long way. Glad you're keeping tabs.

...and thanks again to James for his interview!

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