Night Line: Richard Howell is a Crucial Piece For Evolving WolfpackPosted by BHayes on December 19th, 2012
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
Fresh off a Sweet Sixteen run a year ago and carrying a roster bursting with raw ability, NC State began the season as one of the sexier national title contenders. Pack star CJ Leslie was voted ACC Preseason Player of the Year, pundits touted Lorenzo Brown as the nation’s best point guard, and Scott Wood found many a short list of the nation’s best shooters. Heck, even the incoming freshman class was bringing the buzz, as three ESPN Top-50 recruits made the roster that much scarier. There certainly are plenty of reasons for optimism residing on that NC State roster, but one of the most important ones has too often been overlooked. Richard Howell’s game lacks the sizzle of his more celebrated teammates, but the 6’8” forward’s dependable contributions have been crucial for this enigmatic team. Howell quietly posted another double-double (his fourth straight) in NC State’s 88-79 win over Stanford tonight, and as the talented Pack continues to move forward and carve out an identity, rest assured that the gritty senior will be the rock at the core of the evolution.
Howell nearly averaged a double-double a season ago, posting season averages of 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. He’s upped those numbers to 14.1/9.6 this year, and has shot an eye-popping 63% from the field as an upperclassman. Ironically, the most telling Howell statistic may be his three-point shooting numbers from the last two years – 0-of-2 on three-point attempts. In an era loaded with bigs too often dreaming of being J.J. Redick, it’s refreshing to see a guy who knows, glamorous or not, where he’s most effective to his team. But Howell’s contributions go well beyond the stat sheet. On a team that has been accused of careless and disinterested play at times, the senior is a source of relentless energy — a bruising, tough banger who rarely takes a play off. Furthermore, as Mark Gottfried preaches the value of a consistent, focused effort on both ends of the floor to the enigmatic Leslie, he can instruct his star to simply turn and look at the guy next to him, for Howell is the perfect embodiment of those principles.
Tonight’s win notwithstanding, NC State is still very much a work in progress. As is often the case in the hyper-reactionary college basketball world, many who had been pumping the Pack in the preseason quickly jumped off the bandwagon after losses to Oklahoma State (by 20) and Michigan, and a two-point win over UNC-Asheville didn’t slow the exodus. However, no National Championship, let alone an ACC title, has ever been won in November and December, meaning this tantalizing collection of individual talent still has plenty of time to gel. And while there may be plenty of sand left in the hourglass, the challenge for the Wolfpack remains: They must become a more consistent team. Limited initial expectations and the March surge a year ago has made many forget a fairly uneven 2012 ACC season (and rightfully so), but this year’s team has no excuses to fall back on. Leslie and Brown have begun to play more consistent basketball, but the season is long and their mental fortitude will be tested. Scott Wood finally found his range tonight (5-of-10 from deep), but like any shooter, is prone to disappearing for stretches. The three acclaimed freshmen are all in the rotation, with Warren and Purvis already seizing key roles, but trusting freshmen in March can be a perilous exercise.
Gottfried’s bunch is surrounded by questions, but as evidenced by the solid display this evening against Stanford, the answers may be forthcoming. Identities aren’t forged overnight; State fans can only hope that each game on the schedule marks a step closer to the realization of that identity. The luxury that Richard Howell provides cannot be overstated in this conversation – on a team full of untapped potential, he is the one constant, the guy that teammates and coaches can rely on to not only go out and give them 15/10 per outing, but also provide the energy and leadership needed to win in the ACC and beyond.
Who knows how it will all shape up, but if NC State is able to shake off the November doldrums and deliver on all that promise come March, Leslie very well may end up the ACC POY, Brown should be in the discussion for best point guard in the country, and a loaded recruiting class will be celebrated for its immediate contributions. All well and good, but if the winning comes to pass, don’t make the mistake many have made to this point – Richard Howell will be as instrumental as any other member of the Pack.