After NC State handled business against Vanderbilt, the Pack will now take on BYU who dismantled Arizona State in the first round of the Vegas Showdown. While the competition has been lackluster, NC State gathered the first win of the season against a P-5 opponent and looked great doing it. With a final score of 84-78, NC State managed to hold that lead for most of the game. Behind freshman wing Dennis Parker Jr's game-high and career-high 18 points and nine rebounds. Parker was a spark off the bench for the Wolfpack and has shown flashes of a young player who looks promising for years to come.
NC State takes on a 5-0 BYU team that is off to a red-hot start after knocking off No. 17 San Diego State 74-65. After an underperforming 2022-2023 season, the Cougars look poised to be a sleeper everyone should have on their radar. This could not have worked out better for NC State which is desperate for a resume-building win. Although the Vandy win is nice, it isn't going to push the needle. This BYU game is one that NC State wants to circle and look back on if they come out with the dub. With six players scoring in double figures, yes six, you bet your money that BYU is still the same electric offense we all know and love. Here are the key players you want to watch for...
Senior guard Spencer Johnson was asked to do so much last season as he was thrust into the starting lineup. Johnson has now accepted this role and has turned into a complete player for the Cougars. Johnson is currently putting up 10.8 points per game, third-best on the team in crashing the boards at 5.4 per contest, and leads the team in assists at 5.2 per game. Johnson does a great job at taking care of the ball and is averaging a 3.25 assist-to-turnover ratio, 57th best in the NCAA. There is a lot of optimism with this backcourt and Johnson is the head of the snake. Johnson is the straw that stirs this drink and should draw a lot of attention on defense in this matchup.
Senior guard Jaxson Robinson has transformed into a special player for BYU head coach Mark Pope. A transfer from Arkansas, Robinson made his presence known last season after leading the Cougars with 61 made threes. Robinson put up just 8.5 points per matchup a season ago but has seen his productivity spike and is now leading his team in scoring at 13.8 points per game. Scoring in double figures in each game except the win over Arizona State in a lopsided game, Robinson's efforts just weren't necessary in that game. Robinson is now in his third program but seems to have found his home. Putting up a career-high 19 points in a win over the Morgan State Bears, Robinson is a nice scorer who just has a knack for putting the ball through the hoop. Although he leads his team in scoring, Robinson is playing just 21.2 minutes a game, which is only the sixth most.
BYU has always been a consistent three-point shooting team and that is with Johnson struggling out of the gate at just 28.6 percent. Johnson can light it up from deep as he went on to average 46.1 percent from the three-point range a season ago. As a team, BYU is just outside the top 50 in three-point percentage at 38.1 percent. It is remarkable that BYU is hitting so many shots because of the amount they take. At 33.6 three-point attempts per game, BYU takes the most long-range shots of any team in the NCAA. The Cougars can make big shots and they can defend them just as well if not better. BYU is the nation's best team at defending the three, allowing opponents to shoot just 17.4 (15-86) percent from deep. More than 3 percentage points better than the second-best team. NC State predicates itself on shooting the three ball, and although they can guard the three it isn't quite to the magnitude of a BYU. The Pack are allowing teams to shoot 29.7 percent from three, tied for 114th in the country. It will be the number one thing you want to keep your eye on in this matchup. There will be an abundance of three-point attempts in this one, but it will mean everything if one team is knocking them down at a higher rate.
Take Care Of The Ball
BYU struggled to take care of the ball last season after giving it up 20.2 percent of their possessions. The lack of experience on the roster could be the reason behind the putrid turnover percentage numbers. Now that there is another year under their belt, the Cougars are starting to be smarter with their decisions. BYU is currently averaging 10.6 turnovers per game, which puts them just outside the top 70. The Wolfpack have been elite at taking care of the ball, only giving it up 8.8 times per contest, tied for 17th best. NC State is currently forcing 16.5 turnovers per game while BYU isn't far behind at 13.4 per contest.
Both teams play a similar style of basketball. They want to get you on your heels and attack quickly on the three-point line. While NC State has eight players averaging double-digit minutes, BYU has ten. Both coaches like to use all of their roster and are not afraid to throw somebody in who can expose a matchup. This has all the ingredients of a fun and exciting matchup between two sleepers in their conference. Regardless of who takes home the win, one of these teams will use this matchup as a reason they should be in the tournament come March.