Lost in the middle of the turkey and the bed wetting against UNC in football is the fact that NC State's men's basketball team is playing a pretty important game on Wednesday night against Wisconsin. NC State is 5-2 on this young season with losses against the only quality teams they've played (Memphis and to a lesser extent GT). State desperately needs some non-conference victories against teams that matter, and Wisconsin looks like the best chance against a "brand."
If State were to beat Wisconsin, there's still question of how good that win would really be. Like State they've really not beaten anyone (Marquette probably counts), but they've also lost to St. Mary's, New Mexico and Richmond. Don't let the swing offense and packed line defense fool you, this isn't Bo Ryan coaching. Let's worry about that later, and go for the W now. We'll need all of them that we can get.
This game is the 21st rendition of the annual ACC/Big10 Challenge. This is the "original" made for TV, inter-league, college basketball "challenge." The ACC leads the Challenge 12-5-3, and last year was a 7-7 tie. After dominating the first 10 years, the last 10 years have swung a bit towards the Big Ten. The ACC has only won 2 outright challenges in that period. It's now three nights and the Pack is playing on night three, at the 9:15 slot on ESPN2. This game could decide which league comes out a winner.
Fans like to say these things don't matter, but with the lengthening of the conference schedule, the relative power of the league is increasingly determined by fewer games in the non-conference. The ACC is currently third in the conference RPI, trailing the Big 12 (which has been #1 for quite a number of years now) and the Pac12. The Big Ten is currently fifth, but were a whisker apart from the ACC last season (with the ACC finishing second). The RPI discussion is back to the narrative that expansion has left the ACC with a number of bad teams at the bottom, year in and year out, and these bad teams drag the conference down. Long story short, the ACC needs to do well in these games, both to push the league up, and to push the Big 10 down.
NC State has been horrible in the Challenge, posting the worst winning percentage of any ACC team (behind even VT and GT). Even looking at Big 10 teams, only Iowa has done worse (.333) cumulatively. NC State is an ugly 1-9 on the road, which shows just how noncompetitive we've been against any team with a pulse over the last 20 years. If there's a silver lining for State in this story, it is that the Pack is 6-3 at home in the Challenge, and we've got Wisconsin at home.
If one remembers last year's Challenge game at Wisconsin, they will recall that State led comfortably most of the second half before being bested by Davison's 3-4 (or was it 10?) questionable blocking charges. They'll also remember that Ethan Happ wore NC State out inside on his way to 19 pts, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks. The good news for the Pack this year is that Happ is no longer with Wisconsin, and there was a recent sighting of a flopping call against Davison. Maybe the officials are on to his tendencies?
Wisconsin and NC State are a study in opposites. NC State is one of the fastest tempo'd teams in the land and Wisconsin one of the slowest. NC State forces turnovers at a high rate, and also takes care of the ball. Wisconsin is more passive, but also doesn't protect it quite as well. Wisconsin has the 100th ranked offense, but the 29th ranked defense. NC State has the 15th ranked offense (amazingly), but the 100th ranked defense. Wisconsin shoots FTs very well (81% as a team), but shoots the 3 poorly. State shoots the 3 better, but not as well at free throws.
While neither team is deep, both teams are older. Wisconsin play 6 guys for 60%+ of the possessions and their rotation is made up of 4 juniors a senior and a sophomore. They have two more they can sub in. State by comparison is running 8 deep.
My wild card in this game is Pat Andre for the Pack. He's shooting 48% from 3. If Wisconsin packs it in, then NC State will need to loosen things up from the 3 point line. Also, Wisconsin isn't nearly as athletic as Memphis, so I think he can stay out there for more minutes on the defensive end without his liabilities becoming too exposed.
This game likely comes down to which team controls the tempo and style of play better. If State can force some turnovers and easy buckets, then I could see the Pack winning by 10. If Wisconsin slows it down and uglies the game up (and Davison would be how that happens), then there's a good chance that they'll win.
KenPom likes the Pack by 5.
Two Polls for this game.....
- Who draws more charges?20 votes
Davison for Wisconsin75.00%
NC State's entire team25.00%
- Which conference wins the Challenge?20 votes