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Big Ten-ACC Challenge: Indiana at NC State (preview).

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NC State Wolfpack
Current record: 5-1 (0-0 ACC)
Current RPI: 77 (IU is #89)
Current Sagarin: 78 (IU is #45)
Current Pomeroy: 62 (IU is #22)
2010-11 record: 15-15 (5-11 ACC)
2010-11 RPI: 125
2010-11 Sagarin: 88
2010-11 Pomeroy: 91
Pomeroy scouting report
Series: IU leads 2-0
TV: 7:15 Wednesday, ESPN2
Blog: Backing the Pack

After a 6-0 start punctuated by a comfortable home win against NCAA runner-up Butler, IU hits the road for the second time this season when the Hoosiers visit Raleigh to play NC State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. While tonight's game between Indiana and NC State isn't one of the top tier matchups in this year's Big Ten-ACC Challenge and is relegated to ESPN2, none of the other games can claim as many combined NCAA championships between the two programs (seven--five for IU, two for NC State). IU and NC State have played only twice before. The teams played a home-and-home series in 1967 and 1968, and IU won both games. It's surprising that there have been so few prior meetings, because there are strong connections between the NC State program and the state of Indiana. Two of NC State's most legendary coaches, Everett Case and Norm Sloan, were from Indiana, and both coaches recruited Indiana well, landing the likes of future MLB reliever Tim Stoddard, a legendary high school basketball player from East Chicago. While IU hasn't played NC State in decades, this isn't the Hoosiers' first trip to the RBC Center: IU ended the once-promising 2008 season there with a forgettable loss to Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolfpack program is in transition. Former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried is in his first season at Raleigh, taking over for NC State alum Sidney Lowe. Lowe took over for Herb Sendek, who was unpopular with Wolfpack fans because of his failure to compete with Duke and North Carolina. While he never returned NC State to the ranks of the elite, Sendek did reach the NCAA Tournament in his final five seasons in Raleigh, and NC State hasn't been back to the dance since Sendek left for Arizona State in 2006. Gottfried was an interesting choice. He had a very nice run at Alabama in the early 2000s, making five consecutive NCAA appearances and reaching the Elite Eight, but eventually was forced out midseason in 2008-09. Still, he seems to have NC State playing reasonably well this season. NCSU has played a much tougher schedule than IU to date, and has only a loss to Vanderbilt and a nice comeback win over Texas. On the negative side, the Wolfpack had a close call at home against a pretty unremarkable Princeton team.

While it is still early, and because this is the first year after a coaching transition it's not useful to compare to prior seasons, so far NC State's tempo free numbers would tend to suggest an offense-oriented team. NC State is #37 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (IU is #15) but only #136 in adjusted defensive efficiency (IU is #54). NCSU has solid top 50 rankings offensively in effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, and rebounding percentage (38.1--this is particularly troubling considering that IU doesn't rebound all that well so far). The turnover number is one to watch as well. IU seems to have stepped up its defensive intensity considerably, and as I noted in my Butler wrapup, IU saddled the normally ball-secure Bulldogs with their worse offensive turnover percentage of the Brad Stevens era. Tonight's game, against what is by far the most talented team IU has faced, will tell us if we can keep up the opportunistic defense against teams at or above IU's talent level.

While NC State's offense will be a challenge to the Hoosier defense, I am encouraged by some of NC State's weak spots. IU is 19th nationally in three point shooting (43 percent), while NC State is #293 in three point defense (39 percent). IU is #4 nationally in FTA/FGA (we shoot .6 free throws for every field goal attempt), while NC State is #242 in that stat defensively. In other words, IU's offensive strengths line up fairly nicely with the Wolfpack's defensive weaknesses.

[Sorry for the lack of a stats widget here. Technical difficulties with the widget, and I will edit if possible.]

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Again, this is a much more formidable roster than IU has faced. CJ Leslie, a 6-8 forward, was the #14 player (Rivals) in the current sophomore class, and leads NC State with 16.7 points per game on 63 percent shooting. Richard Howell, another 6-8 forward, is averaging 13.7 points on 50 percent shooting and 8.8 boards per game. Point guard Lorenzo Brown averages 13.2 points on 46 percent shooting and averages 6.5 assists and 3 turnovers per game, plus 3.3 steals per game. Scott Wood, a 6-6 wing from Marion, Indiana, has been hobbled a bit by an ankle injury but is shooting a Jordan Hulls-ian 58 percent from behind the arc and 100 percent from the line. DeShawn Painter, a 6-9 center, is yet another big man who plays a big role in the offense, scoring 11 points a game, shooting 54 percent, and with 6.2 rebounds in 24 minutes per game. CJ Williams is the sixth and final Wolfpack ...Wolf... NC State player to average in double figures scoring and 10 on 55 percent from the field.

A look at the roster, the size, and the recruiting rankings of this team make clear that this will be the toughest test so far for IU this season. The size of their guards, in particular, and how Jordan Hulls will match up defensively is a major concern. Also, the sheer number of big guys who play meaningful minutes will provide a stiff test for Cody Zeller, who has enjoyed a significant talent/height gap over nearly everyone he has played, with the possible exception of Butler's Andrew Smith. This isn't a must-win or a "canary in the coal mine" game or anything of the sort. IU can have a good, promising season regardless of tonight's outcome. But if the Hoosiers pass this test, then I think we can finally allow ourselves to believe that we have something, not for the future (which we all believe anyway) but for the present. This is a resume game. I don't really know how I feel about this game. Pomeroy says that IU will win 75-74 and that the Hoosiers have a 53 percent chance of victory. In other words, flip a coin. It should be fun.