Warren, a sophomore forward out of Durham, N.C., is averaging 22.5 points on 51.3 percent shooting this season. The 6-foot-8, 215-pounder is taking 35.0 percent of the Wolfpack’s field goal attempts when he’s on the floor, according to kenpom.com, which tops the ACC and ranks 13th nationally. That explains why N.C. State is 12-3 when Warren scores 20 or more points.
Those statistics highlight the one simple truth surrounding Mark Gottfried’s third squad in Raleigh: as Warren goes, so does the Wolfpack.
“He’s a scorer,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters on Friday. “He can drive it to the basket, he can pull up, he can shoot from three, he gets fouls and he goes to the free throw line and makes his free throws. He can score in traffic. We recruited him very hard; there was a reason.”
Warren averaged 14.5 points on 63.6 percent shooting in two games against UNC last season. He grabbed 10 rebounds – five offensive - in N.C. State’s 76-65 loss at the Smith Center last February, although he committed six total turnovers in the pair of contests.
Of course, Warren wasn’t the primary or even secondary option for the Wolfpack in 2012-13. He’s effectively the first, second and third option this season. While UNC has only allowed four players to score 20 or more points over the past two months – and just one over Warren’s season average (Davidson’s Brian Sullivan scored 33) – the long-running joke in Chapel Hill centers on the Tar Heels’ ability to fuel career shooting performances by opponents.
Williams is often content to let a shooter shoot himself out without sacrificing significantly in help defense, thereby limiting the other available options. Given Warren’s efficiency, that approach may be tweaked on Saturday.
“He has to affect what you’re doing defensively,” Williams said. “We have to be willing to help off of him. We have to understand that he does a great job of when he misses a shot, going right back up to the board and getting the rebound and putting it back in. We’ve got to get a body on him and wall him if it’s inside and bother his shot if it’s outside, but then get a body on him and stop him from getting to the boards.
“He’s about as efficient of a player as there may be is in the league.”
Williams confirmed that wing J.P. Tokoto will get first dibs at Warren, although Gottfried’s played his star forward at the four quite often, which would call James Michael McAdoo into defensive action.
Tokoto’s freakish athleticism comes complete with a side of vast potential, although his lateral quickness has allowed various opponents to slip by him in penetration. Even so, Williams opined that Tokoto could be one of the best defenders he’s ever coached, noting that Dudley Bradley and Jackie Manuel set the standard for perimeter defense.
“He has athleticism, he has tremendous length, he has jumping ability,” Williams said of Tokoto. “He can block shots. He has an ability to move his feet. He has every attribute that you need to be a really, really good perimeter defender.”
Tokoto won’t be called on to shut Warren down by himself on Saturday, but if he’s effective in limiting the driving force in N.C. State’s offensive production, UNC will be in good position to win its 21st game in 23 tries against its neighbors from West Raleigh.