North Carolina State is shooting the ball well, but coach Mark Gottfried needs to see improvement on the defensive end.
That could be a test for the 25th-ranked Wolfpack on Tuesday night when they'll face Connecticut guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
Losers of two of three following a 3-0 start, North Carolina State (4-2) makes its second appearance in this event following Tuesday's 79-72 loss at No. 3 Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wolfpack shot a season-best 57.1 percent from the field after making 55.8 percent in an 82-80 victory over UNC Asheville four days earlier, but both of those opponents also made half their field-goal attempts.
"You've gotta be able to defend, where you can keep them between you and the basket, and we've got to be a lot better at that," Gottfried said on his weekly show.
On Tuesday, that means slowing down Napier and Boatright.
"They're not going to stop until you stop them," Gottfried said. " … Those two guys, in my opinion, are the keys offensively for UConn."
Wolfpack guards Lorenzo Brown, a senior, and freshman Rodney Purvis might get some clues on how to slow down Napier, the Huskies' leading scorer with 18.6 points per game, by watching tape of Connecticut's 61-53 victory over New Hampshire on Thursday.
Napier was held to a season-low five points on 2-of-9 shooting as the Huskies hit a season-low 36.8 percent from the field, including a 1-for-14 effort from 3-point range.
"We definitely have to shoot better going down to Madison Square Garden," rookie coach Kevin Ollie said.
"At the end of the day, we did out rebound them (43-40), which is a good, positive thing. But we've just got to shoot better."
If Napier is off again, the Huskies (6-1) might have to lean more on Boatright and Brooklyn native Omar Calhoun. The duo combined for 35 points versus New Hampshire, and the freshman Calhoun has averaged 14.3 points his last four games to raise his season average to 10.9.
Rebounding has been a major issue for the Huskies – they're getting outrebounded by 6.1 per contest – so they'll likely need big efforts from DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander against Wolfpack forwards Richard Howell (team-best 7.8 rebounds per game), and junior C.J. Leslie (7.5 rpg).
Offensively, Gottfried said he wants Brown to focus on running the team first – the senior tied a season high with 10 assists against the Wolverines – but he also would like him to maintain his scorer's mentality. Brown, a 6-foot-5 guard, could get plenty of scoring opportunities if he takes the 6-foot-1 Napier or Boatright, a 6-footer, to the block.
Brown isn't much of a 3-point threat (1 for 10), but the Huskies' perimeter defense needs to be aware of Scott Wood (15 for 34) and Purvis (10 for 18), who are the Wolfpack's best long-range shooters. N.C. State is shooting 39.3 percent overall from beyond the arc but only 29.0 percent (9 for 31) its last three games.
These teams have split four all-time meetings. The last time they played, North Carolina State won 65-62 in the second round of the 2005 NCAA tournament.
The Wolfpack last appeared in the Jimmy V Classic 10 years ago, while Connecticut is making its debut in this event.