by Bob Geary
Tracy Smith, Dennis Horner, Scott Wood: They'll start up front, and at the risk of reading too much into a single exhibition game, an 84-42 rout of St. Paul's, they're better than last year's group of McCauley, Costner and Fells. Not because they have more talent -- Costner and Fells had the talent. But Horner and Wood have the head for the game, and the consistency, that C&F never had.
But the backcourt? Same Javi Gonzalez, who's still better than the same Julius Mays at the point. But at the two-guard, there's still nobody who really fits with either one of them. C. J. Williams started (as he did in game one a year ago); he plays hard, but he's not the scorer that Javi needs nor the slasher who'd complement Mays. Farnold Degand, who played the two with both point guards, is still superfast, out-of-control fast, and a bad shooter. Johnny Thomas didn't appear until garbage time.
Bottom line, State has a go-to player in Smith and four pretty good starters in all, generously counting Javi in that group. But there's no fifth starter, and there's no bench -- yet. More on that below.
Freshmen DeShawn Painter (6'9) and Josh Davis (6'7) looked like they might develop into solid, ACC-level players in time, but that time did not appear to be soon. They've got lots of enthusiasm, not enough anticipation about where to move or what will happen next, and not the scoring touch either. But they, and Degand, were Sidney Lowe's first players off the bench. He also used the Aussie 7-footer, Jordan Vanderberg, who may not be a project in Sidney's mind (that's what he says, anyway), but is certainly a project in terms of his footwork and strength. (Vandenberg did, however, display some passing skills from the high post and a smooth foul-line jump shot.) Vanderberg was an instant fan favorite, btw, getting a big "E" for effort.
But back to the good news. The 6'8 Smith (21 points in limited playing time) is lighter, faster and better in the middle than a year ago, and Horner (6'9) faster on the edge. Horner, in fact, functioned well as a point forward much of the time, but he missed four or five open 3s, then stopped taking them. He needs to hit those shots (and eliminate a little hitch in his 3s that caused every one of them to hit the front rim -- no need to load it up, Dennis); if he does, he could be the guy who makes this team work.
Scott Wood, the 6'7 freshman, is that no-conscience shooter who just drills 3s if you let him -- on two of the four he hit (he was 4-for-4), he almost didn't look. He also has what Painter and Davis don't have yet, which is good floor sense -- he's not fast, but he's fast enough that, combined with excellent anticipation, he plays ahead of the game, not behind it.
St. Paul's won't be mistaken for Clemson, let alone Duke, and Wood will be guarded in the ACC. But he's got All-Freshman team potential, and complements the Smith-Horner duo quite well. Another shooter at the two-guard, and State would be dangerous. But so far, I don't see him.