North Carolina State may be one of the bigger disappointments to start the 2012-13 season, especially considering they started the season ranked 6 and have two losses so far, but they’re still one of the most talented teams in the land.
Just a week after suffering their second loss of the season to number-3 Michigan, the Wolfpack bounced back with an impressive win over tougher than expected UConn Tuesday night, mainly due to stellar frontcourt play. Don’t get me wrong, junior guard Lorenzo Brown’s 16 points definitely helped NC State, but it was C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell who combined for 29 points on 11-for-19 shooting, and 23 rebounds.
I don’t know if it was more the talent of Leslie and Howell, or the lack of talent on UConn’s end with DeAndre Daniels and Enosch Wolf – who actually played pretty well, all things considered – but the gruesome twosome from Raleigh showed their diversity, dominance, and experience.
As well-rounded of a team as the Wolfpack are, Leslie and Howell represent that diversity through a smaller lens. With as good of an inside-out game as any forward has in the country, Leslie’s drawn comparison’s to LeBron James in the role he plays as a point forward with the ability to score on the block as well. Leslie’s both quick and powerful, can handle the ball and throw it down with authority, and has the middle ground of being able to shoot comfortable from pretty much anywhere inside the three-point arch. As good as he is with the ball in his hands, Leslie’s also NC State’s top rebounder on the season with 8.3 boards a game, and is averaging a block and a steal per contest as well.
With Leslie making the most of his opportunities with the ball, his counterpart seems to thrive on getting said ball to said teams best player. Guys like Leslie need dirty work teammates like Howell, who has been one of the most efficient rebounders in college basketball over the last couple of seasons. This year’s been no different, as Howell’s averaging 8.1 rebounds per game, 3.4 of which are coming on the offensive end. After a slow first half, Howell ripped down 10 boards in the second half of Tuesday’s win, 7 came on the offensive end. He’s the type of player who extends possessions for a team with so much scoring ability, but also plays tough as nails defense – both within the team and individually – and what do you know, is their leading scorer on the season at 14 points per game.
On a team with so many capable scorer’s the Wolfpack seem to be at their best running the offense through Leslie, with Howell playing an less assuming role. They’ve gotten into trouble this season when Leslie tries to do too much and Howell finds himself in foul trouble, but as the team continues to grow, so too should their frontcourt.
It’ll be interesting to see how Leslie and Howell fair against other prominent ACC frontcourts like Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, and Miami, but these guys seem to be as good as any forwards in the country, and they should only continue to get better.
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