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Question and Answer Session with Backing the Pack

We were fortunate to catch up with Akula Wolf over at over at our SBNation Wolfpack Site "Backing the Pack" and gained some insight on what to expect out of the NC State Wolfpack for tonight's hardcourt matchup.  I encourage you all to click over there to catch up on all things State.  Below are our questions and his answers in anticipation of this matchup. 

STS:  NC State is 3-7 to date in conference play.  What are the main problems for this Wolfpack team?

BTP:  Boy, where to start. Generally speaking, this team can't shoot and doesn't play defense. Rebounding comes and goes. Mostly it goes, at least at the defensive end.

We've been hurt by an offense that rarely clicks. We only have one reliable outside shooter. There are too many poor shots, too much panic, not enough movement. Our most important player missed a significant chunk of the season because of injury.

Since we asked about the main problems, we are also curious about the team’s strengths.  Can you tell us where the Pack is strongest in 2010-2011?

The frontcourt is deep if sometimes all over the map. Between CJ Leslie, Richard Howell, and Tracy Smith, we can do a little bit of everything. Lowe's offense works inside-out, ideally through Smith most of the time. Howell and Leslie are excellent on the glass, and Leslie's athleticism makes him a good shot blocker.

Earlier in the year, those guys helped make the team one of the better offensive rebounding clubs in the ACC. The rebounding has faded along with their effort, but when they want to, they get to a lot of missed shots.  NC State also takes good care of the basketball. State has only turned it over on 16.5% of their possessions in conference play, which leads the league. But that's about where the good news ends.

The CU NCST game played in LittleJohn Coliseum earlier this season was a strange game to say the least, as Clemson was able to overcome a 19 point 1st half deficit and won by 10.  Has North Carolina State improved since the first meeting and do you think that they learned anything after this collapse?

That game was NC State's season in a nutshell. They have the ability to play well when they're patient and actually running offense. Then there's the rest of the time, which is most of the time, which is a disjointed mess of guys wearing the same colors. Is the team any better since then? No, don't think so. I hope they learned something. Recognizing their issues has never been the problem, though. It's the fixing that never seems to happen.

NC State has three players who average over 10 ppg:  Tracy Smith, C.J. Leslie, and Ryan Harrow.  Can you give us a quick overview of each and who you have been most impressed with this season?

Tracy Smith is our go-to guy in the paint and an excellent low post scorer. He's been around for a few years and I'm sure you guys are familiar with what he can do. When he is playing well, he is a smart and efficient scorer for us. Unfortunately, he hurt his knee early in the season and hasn't really been the same guy since then. He's had to play through pain in the knee, which has definitely hindered what he can do on the court.

Harrow is just a freshman, but he has already established himself as the best point guard on the team. He is extremely quick and handles the ball exceptionally well--his low turnover rate is one of the big reasons why the team's turnover rate is as low as it is. But as is the case with the other freshmen on the team, he does not shoot the ball particularly well inside or out. In terms of creating offense for others, though, he can be very, very good. I love this kid. Once he finds a jumper, look out.

Leslie is a big time athlete and an excellent rebounder at both ends of the floor, but he's had a hard time finding his place within Sidney Lowe's offense. His shot selection is an ongoing nightmare--he hasn't found a consistent jump shot but that hasn't stopped him from firing up contested 18-footers. When he gets into advantageous position around the rim, he's tough. Wake Forest couldn't figure out how to handle him on Sunday and he ended up with four or five dunks. But he's got to get in close to be effective, because he hasn't been able to finish anywhere else on the floor. If only he could understand that.

Sydney Lowe has had a rough time following the success of Herb Sendek.  What is your take on Lowe and how much longer will the Wolfpack faithful give him to produce?

I have been operating under the assumption that Lowe will be fired after this season. We're in the middle of a series of posts evaluating possible coaching candidates. That's a bit premature, certainly, but I think most folks expect that this will be the end for Lowe in Raleigh.

Coming into the season, there was cautious optimism that he could begin to turn the corner. He signed three highly-regarded freshmen to complement a solid core of returning players, while the ACC is as bad as it's been in a long time. But this team is no better than it was a year ago, maybe a little worse, which should not be possible. Most of the problems that plagued Lowe's earlier teams plague this one. It's a mess. Lowe lost me for good this year. 

NC State is a school that, like its in-state neighbors, has a rich basketball tradition.  What is your favorite moment as an NCST basketball fan and, if this moment involves the obvious (’83 National Championship), can you include your second favorite NCST basketball moment?

I wish I could cite a national championship, but both happened before I was born. My favorite moment would probably have to be when Julius Hodge hit a shot late to upset UConn in the NCAA tournament and send NC State to its first sweet sixteen in forever. That was like a week-long moment, just enjoying the feeling of being in that second weekend. Kind of a lame moment as far as those go, but we haven't won much in the last 15 years.