No. 5 NC State women’s basketball is off to a great 18-2 start to its season, cementing itself as one of the top programs in the country. After a down year last season, the Pack is back to its dominant ways and looks ready to compete for a national championship.
The Pack has been able to bounce back because of its depth scoring, physicality in the paint and lockdown defense. Here are some key numbers that show why NC State is a top-ranked team after starting the season unranked.
Five players averaging over 10 points per game
It’s hard for opposing teams to scout the Wolfpack when all five starters can create their own buckets. Graduate center River Baldwin, graduate forward Mimi Collins, senior guard Madison Hayes and junior guards Saniya Rivers and Aziaha James all average over 10 points per game.
All five players mentioned above have set their career highs in scoring this season. Rivers and James have both scored over 30 points in a game while Collins, Baldwin and Hayes have all dropped over 20 in a game.
What are NC State’s opponents supposed to do? If they try to neutralize the guards, then they can just dump it down to Baldwin or Collins. Similarly if they try to lock down the paint, Baldwin and Collins can kick the ball outside to one of the Pack’s strong shooters. The Pack hasn’t lost a game this season when all five players start, and that’s no coincidence because it may be impossible to stop all five.
9.8 rebounding margin
NC State has dominated the glass so far this season — it ranks first in the ACC in rebound margin, which is also the 15th-best mark in the nation. This squad has four players averaging over five boards a game, with Baldwin leading the way at 7.2 per game.
While one would expect Baldwin and Collins to grab a lot of rebounds, the guards haven’t been afraid to crash the boards either. Rivers, Hayes and freshman guard Zoe Brooks have all recorded games with double-digit rebounds and also set their career highs in that category.
In the two games the Pack lost, it only won the rebound battle by a combined three boards — with Baldwin not available in either contest. Even though NC State won the rebound battle in both losses, Baldwin elevates the Pack’s dominance on the glass, and her presence was clearly missed in the losses to Virginia Tech and Miami.
34.4% opponent field goal percentage
This is another area where the Pack ranks first in the ACC, as well as seventh in the country. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because head coach Wes Moore always produces competitive defensive teams.
However, the Pack has ticked it up a notch this season as it held then-No. 2 UConn under its scoring average and then-No. 3 Colorado 17 points under its average. It does this with great team defense as well as lockdown individual defense.
It all starts with Rivers, who is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. She uses her long wingspan to disrupt the ball handler and get into passing lanes as she averages 2.6 steals a game, which ranks third in the ACC.
Her impact can’t be understated because her defensive prowess allows the rest of the team to stay with whoever they’re guarding because they know Rivers won’t need help. And if someone does get by Rivers or any of the other players on the perimeter, Baldwin and Collins are clogging up the paint, blocking or altering shots.
The red-and-white’s elite defense starts with great individual play, but what makes it one of the best in the country is how connected the players are to one another.