A Triangle team has recently shaken up its starting lineup. After a lackluster stretch within ACC play, the coach benched a season-long starter in favor of more talent from the bench. On one side of the Triangle this story has been met with national attention and acclaim. However, a similar switch has happened over in Raleigh, and the results that head coach Sidney Lowe has achieved are no less dramatic or successful.
When the Wolfpack took the floor on Jan. 27 against the Miami Hurricanes, its starting lineup looked slightly different from the one that started all five prior ACC contests. That night Lowe moved sophomore Tracy Smith into the starting lineup in lieu of freshman C. J. Williams, and Tracy Smith hasn't looked back.
Since entering the starting lineup, Smith has played an average of 25 minutes per game, up from 10, and used just over 13 of NC State's offensive possessions per game, up from eight. What's most impressive about Tracy Smith's insertion into the starting lineup is his improved efficiency.
Typically it is easier for a player only getting 10 to 15 minutes of playing time to produce impressive efficiency numbers. This is mainly due to the fact that more effort can be given in smaller amounts of time on the court. Also, opposing teams don't often complete extensive scouting reports on or game plan to stop bench players. Since Tracy Smith began starting for the Wolfpack, his offensive efficiency (Offensive Rating, ORtg) has actually gone up to above one point per possession, which contradicts the expectations of bench players seeing additional minutes.
Tracy Smith's offensive style is much like that of UNC's Tyler Hansbrough or Notre Dame's Luke Harangody. When Smith receives the ball in the post, there are three likely outcomes. Most often he makes the shot; he is shooting 54.5 percent on field goal this year. If he were to miss there is roughly a 20 percent chance he would recollect it for a second chance given his 18.3 Offensive Rebounding percentage, which ranks 3rd nationally. Smith also draws over seven fouls per 40 minutes, so nearly as often as he attempts a shot, he is fouled in the act of shooting. Combine this with the fact that he rarely turns the ball over; Smith commits a turnover on only 10.6 percent of of his possessions, which makes him a highly efficient scorer eager to turn offensive possessions into points and buoy even the most stagnant of offensive teams.
As impressive as Smith's numbers are, equally impressive is the offensive improvement he has brought about in his team. NC State's record in the five games that Tracy Smith came off the bench was 1-4, with their one win coming at home against ACC bottom-dweller Georgia Tech. In those games, the Wolfpack was only scoring 0.94 points per possession, shooting 45 percent from the field and committing a turnover on over 25 percent of their own possessions.
Since Tracy Smith joined the starting lineup, NC State is 4-5 with an offensive efficiency of 1.09. This amounts to an increase of 0.15 points per possession, which at NC State's pace of play is an increase of more than ten points per game. It is rare to see such a drastic increase in efficiency, offensive or defensive, so late in the season. The Wolfpack are shooting 58 percent from the field, a 13 percent improvement, and turning the ball over less often. NC State's defense over the same period of time hasn't seen any major statistical changes, which help point to a revitalized offense and Tracy Smith as the catalyst for change in Raleigh.
The move of Tracy Smith to the starting lineup may not have kept the Wolfpack in the AP poll's top 10, like Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's insertion of Elliot Williams did for the Blue Devils, but it has certainly turned NC State's season around. The Wolfpack have turned what could easily have been a laughably bad ACC season into some memorable wins and a potential NIT berth.