NC State: Three-Guard Lineups, Richard Howell Doesn’t Foul, T.J. Warren’s Efficiency, A Lucky Bounce
SIX STARTERS AND INTERESTING LINEUPS
NC State head coach Mark Gottfried has said all year long that he essentially has six starters (Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis, Scott Wood, T.J. Warren, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell). With some rare exceptions – a matchup he might want to exploit, or maybe a violation of team rules – there’s no real rhyme or reason to who that sixth starter will be.
The freshmen, Purvis and Warren, are the only two of the six that have missed starts, though. Purvis started the first five games, and after a loss to Oklahoma State and a close shave against UNC-Asheville, Warren started the next two (at Michigan and UConn). Warren struggled against the Huskies, and Purvis has been the starter the last two games.
But Gottfried said that both will get their minutes regardless, and that’s appeared to be the case. “It’s just not one of those things for me that I’m going to get all that worried up about,” Gottfried said. “I know players do. Everybody wants to start, I know that.”
Junior reserve Jordan Vandenberg missed the game with a knee injury, leaving NC State with seven healthy scholarship players on Saturday. Both Wood (a wing) and Leslie (a forward) were in foul trouble throughout the game, which resulted in some new lineups. At one point, three players who could in theory play point guard – Brown, Purvis and freshman reserve Tyler Lewis – were in at the same time.
After the game, Purvis was asked if that three-guard lineup had ever been used before. “Yeah, several times,” Purvis said. He paused, thinking it over. “Well…not really. Not a lot.” NC State goes with a lot of different lineups in practice, but Purvis said that he can’t remember ever being out there in practice with Brown and Lewis.
When asked if we’d see that lineup again, he seemed much more confident. “Every game, it seems to be a new guy in foul trouble with this team,” Purvis said with a grin. “So you’re going to see many different lineups. I can promise you that.”
RICHARD HOWELL DOESN’T FOUL (LATELY)
One guy that hasn’t been in foul trouble lately? Richard Howell. The senior has seemingly decided he doesn’t much care for losing, and since the loss at Michigan (when he fouled out) he has a total of four fouls in the last three games. NC State has arguably two of its toughest wins this year – UNC-Asheville and UConn – directly because of Howell not being in foul trouble. He played 68 minutes combined in those games, and only missed time during the UConn game because of taking an elbow to the head/neck region.
“Richard has been in foul trouble a number of nights and just can’t get in a flow. … Last year, there were very few games where he could get 34 minutes like he did (Saturday), very few, because of the foul situation,” Gottfried said. “He’s developing some discipline defensively. He’s not reaching as much. He’s not putting himself in positions where he’s trying to recover and make silly fouls. We’re a lot better as a team when all of them are out of foul trouble, quite honestly.”
Howell pulled down nearly half of NC State’s rebounds (19, a career-high, out of 42) by himself on Saturday, including 16 of their 32 defensive rebounds. He’s listed at 6-8, but he’s more like 6-7. His freakishly long arms and fantastic hands are part of the reason he had a tendency to reach in on the perimeter and try to get a steal, but they also make him the great rebounder that he’s become.
Sometimes, even his teammates have a tendency to assume he’ll get every rebound. “What happens to our team at times too is because he’s such a good rebounder, we’ve got other guys leaking our every now and then because we feel like he’s going to get it. If he doesn’t get it, balls are around the floor and bouncing and (the opponents) pick up some loose balls because we’re leaking out (in transition),” Gottfried said.
“But we’re leaking out because there’s so much confidence that Richard’s going to get it. What we’ve got to do is make sure that we still rebound as a team better. But he finds a way usually to help us start the break. He’ll get rid of it quick on an outlet pass so we can start the break. He made some nice passes, I thought, too tonight. He had a heck of a game.”
T.J. WARREN’S CRAZY EFFICIENCY
Warren continues to look like an ACC Rookie of the Year candidate. His game is reminiscent of former North Carolina star Antawn Jamison with his quick release and overall smoothness. Nothing looks difficult for Warren, and every shot looks like it’s going in (and most have – he’s hit 69% of his field goals this season).
As quietly as someone can have 21 points, Warren did that Saturday. He was 9-of-11 from the floor and 2-of-2 from three-point range. He has shot 7-of-11 from three this year (64%).
Even at 6-foot-8, he’s got the green light from three. Well, maybe. “Sort of, kind of, yeah,” Warren said. “I just want to have confidence when I’m shooting that. Coach told me to shoot that, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
When asked to elaborate on “sort of”, he said, “Shoot it when I’m open.” The follow-up question was: “When you’re feeling it?” Warren shrugged. “I mean, I can shoot it whenever.”
If there’s a negative with Warren, it’s that he hasn’t done much else besides score. He is averaging just 3.4 rebounds a game (he had five on Saturday, his most since November 15) and he has just two blocks all season. But considering he’s scored 131 points in 237 minutes, it’s very difficult to find fault.
It sounds insane to say this on a night when the Wolfpack put up 84 points and shot 57%, but they did leave plenty of points on the floor, as the saying goes. The Wolfpack shot just 64% from the foul line (which is their season average), blew a few transition opportunities trying to get “too cute” as their head coach put it and turned it over 17 times.
But there was one basket that even Purvis admits was probably a gift from the basketball gods. Brown attempted to throw Purvis an alley-oop in transition on the other side of the basket, but Purvis only got his fingertips on it, almost like he was setting the ball in volleyball. It popped up in the air and somehow fell in the basket.
They were fortunate on that play, but Purvis said that he and Brown are really starting to get a good feel for each other when they’re on the court together. “Honestly, I don’t know how that went in. It hurt my fingernail, so I don’t really know how that went in,” Purvis said. “The mental connection, we play a lot in practice, getting a feel for each other, knowing what each other can do, what spots and what’s good for each other. So we just try our best to capitalize on everything.”
NC State played in Reynolds Coliseum from 1949-99, and the cozy confines (it seats 12,400 when completely full and has a 9,500 capacity today) helped the Wolfpack go 589-177 (.769) at home in that span. With the win over Cleveland State on Saturday, NC State is now 603-177 (.773) there. It’s always been a hostile environment for opponents, though Saturday’s crowd was a bit sleepy at first. (The game was a sellout, and attendance was announced as 7,234, but the end zones were largely unoccupied. NC State didn’t sell tickets for those seats.)
Eventually, the proximity of the fans and the noise they generated combined to create the kind of home atmosphere most on NC State’s roster hadn’t experienced yet. It was particularly loud when the Wolfpack got its fastbreak offense rolling late in the first half. “I know a lot about (Reynolds). I saw (the team) come play here once last year so I was just waiting for my opportunity to get a chance to play here too,” freshman Rodney Purvis said. “It was great. It’s really packed. It’s small, so a lot of people come in. It was a great first experience.”
NC State’s current home, PNC Arena, seats 18,639 and the fans often feel far away. The crowd on Saturday was almost literally on top of the action. “It’s definitely different than playing in the PNC Arena. I liked it more just because everybody’s more on top of you, the crowd is just right there,” senior Richard Howell said. “And I feel like the crowd is more involved in the game rather than when we play in the PNC.”
NC State has played at Reynolds 14 times since 2002 and they are 14-0 in those games. They haven’t played an opponent that was a serious threat, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been close shaves. NC State played three games there last year in Gottfried’s first year and barely escaped NC Central (a five-point win) and Campbell (a six-point win).
It’s important to Gottfried that the tradition continues. “I think it’s special to play here, and I like the fact that we play at least a game here every year. I think it’s important,” Gottfried said. “I think it’s important for our fans, too. It means a lot to people. And it’s fun, too: the crowd and how close they are to the floor, and our fans are loud. You could feel it in there.”
RICHARD HOWELL, THE RELUCTANT LEADER
Senior big man Richard Howell has suddenly found himself the leader of this team, and he’s as shocked as anyone else. But he knows someone has to do it, and he doesn’t mind. “Just me being a senior trying to step up and fulfill that role, this being my last year – I feel like we can go far, but leadership is something that we’re lacking,” Howell said. “I want to go far, so I’m going to fulfill the role.”
In NC State’s blowout loss to Oklahoma State, he noticed a few mistakes from his teammates and he had his moments to speak up and correct those mistakes. He was saddled with foul trouble for much of that game (he ultimately fouled out), but he still wished he had spoken up. He let the mistakes go, as did everyone else, and the result spoke for itself.
And after the loss, which was the team’s first of the season, he decided he wasn’t going to keep quiet anymore. “Just talk when I need to, tell players what they need to do. When something is messed up, I’m the one that’s trying to just fix the little corrections … just keep everything together and stop the bickering amongst each other,” Howell said.
It took Howell some time to trust head coach Mark Gottfried last year when he first arrived on campus, but the reserved big man is exceedingly careful about who he lets in. Gottfried has his complete trust now, and he’s been telling Howell to embrace this role. ”I won’t say it’s hard, but it’s not easy,” Howell said. “I’m not the biggest talker and that’s one of the things me and Coach Gottfried talked about is me being a leader. I don’t have to say as much, but just lead by example and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
After the Oklahoma State game, he was true to his word: when his teammates played sluggish basketball against UNC-Asheville, he carried them up with 23 points and 15 rebounds. Against Connecticut, he had 13 points and ten rebounds (seven offensive), making a number of plays that led to the win. He did all that despite taking what appeared to be an elbow to the head or neck early in the game.
He picked up where he left off on Saturday with 17 points and ten rebounds. He’s getting more and more comfortable with leading by example, too – after fouling out of both of NC State’s losses, he has one foul in the last two games.
Howell accepting that role is just an extension of his team learning to accept who they are – and who they have to be – this season. NC State hasn’t been “the hunted” in a long time, but that’s the role the Wolfpack has found themselves in early.
“We have learned that we have to play hard every night, every possession, every practice. Sometimes, guys have to learn that. You’ve got to learn what it takes to become good,” Gottfried said. “We’re also learning that for the most part, when you do have some attention around your program, you’d better bring it every night because teams are going to play better against you. We’ve really not been in that role before, and so we’re learning that.
“I hope for these guys they just keep understanding that if we pay a price every day and really commit to it, we’ve got a chance to be good. But we’ve still got a long way to go in my opinion.”
CLEVELAND STATE HANGS TOUGH
Cleveland State head coach Gary Waters seemed pleased with his team’s effort against NC State – they kept the deficit between 10-15 points most of the game – and with good reason. The Vikings were without their best player, 6-8 sophomore Anton Grady, and could have used another big body like 6-9 center Ludovic Ndaye, who was also out. (Spoiler alert: NC State still would have won.)
As it was though, Howell and C.J. Leslie dominated the undermanned Viking frontcourt, combining for 36 points and 18 rebounds on 14-of-19 shooting. “That’s like going against David and Goliath down there. They’re athletic and they’re long,” Waters said. “That makes it hard for you to make lay-ups. It makes it hard for you to do certain things. However, it shouldn’t make it hard for you to pass the basketball. That’s a fundamental thing.”
Waters gave full credit to NC State, but added that if his own team hadn’t turned the ball over so much – which led to a lot of fastbreak baskets – they would have been in the game at the end. The 18 turnovers by Cleveland State were tied for the most by an NC State opponent this year, and the Wolfpack turned them into 16 points. NC State also had 17 fastbreak points.
But Waters wasn’t so sure the NC State offense would thrive if it were forced into a slow-down game. NC State has had a few such games already this year, including the Michigan game (which they lost, but played well) and the Penn State game (a convincing win). Still, that’s going to be the knock on NC State throughout the year and Waters is right about one thing – other teams are going to try to take the Wolfpack out of their transition game.
“They get it out and they push it up and they attack you. The thing is, I don’t know how they would do if you just keep them in a half-court game. I think that’s what’s going to happen to them throughout the season,” Waters said. “People are going to try to shut that down. They’re as good as anybody I’ve seen in the country getting in transition because they’ve got so many good finishers. That’s what I consider their speed.”
Stetson at Miami, 5:30 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Miami’s big men. Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji combined for 39 minutes, ten shot attempts, five free-throw attempts, five rebounds and eight turnovers in the Hurricanes’ exhibition loss to Saint Leo. It goes without saying that can’t become a trend.
Random Stetson facts: The Hatter mascot recently got a makeover, since the previous Mad Hatter with “crazy Doc Brown hair and large teeth” scared the children. Now, it’s this guy:
Prediction: Miami, 78-63.
Gardner-Webb at No. 11 North Carolina, 7:00 PM, RSN
What to watch: Marcus Paige. The freshman point guard is going to be the guy this year for North Carolina no matter how he plays. So he’s going to need to play better than he did in Carolina’s exhibition against Shaw (six points, 2-of-7 shooting, one assist and three turnovers). He’s going to have some growing pains, but he needs to start gaining some confidence.
Random Gardner-Webb facts: I suppose Gardner-Webb’s version of the Bulldog – the “Runnin” Bulldog – differentiates it somewhat from the 7,500 other schools that use it. He does give dancing tours of campus, so there is that.
Prediction: North Carolina, 87-63.
Georgia State at No. 8 Duke, 7:00 PM, ESPNU
What to watch: Duke’s offense. Georgia State was one of the best defensive teams in the country last year. Though the Panthers lost four of five starters, Duke’s offense has struggled some in the exhibition season and this game should be an indicator of where Duke really is offensively. Duke has potential to be a very good offensive team, but they lack a true scorer. Who – if anyone – can step up to fill that role, or will it be a team effort?
Random Georgia State facts: Georgia State chose the Panther mascot supposedly based on the Florida Panther, which was once native to Georgia. Of course it was.
Prediction: Duke, 84-62.
Miami (Ohio) at No. 6 NC State, 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: NC State’s rotation. Even in an exhibition game, NC State played nine people ten or more minutes and just seven played over 15 minutes. Jordan Vandenberg and Thomas de Thaey were thought to be rotation players in the post, but they saw a combined 25 minutes of action. NC State needs them to be productive, but head coach Mark Gottfried won’t play them just for the sake of having depth. Their minutes tonight should indicate how much he trusts them right now.
Random Miami (Ohio) facts: The RedHawks were actually the Redskins up until 1997, when they changed hteir name. Of course, the original nickname in 1928 was “Big Red-Skinned Warriors”. Oops. “RedHawk” was chosen over “the Miamis” and the ThunderHawks”. The Miami’s?
Prediction: NC State, 94-75.
Radford at Wake Forest, 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: The Wake Forest freshmen. Codi Miller-McIntyre, Tyler Cavanaugh and Devin Thomas will all start tonight, and plenty of other freshmen will see time. Radford is far from a juggernaut, but a convincing Wake Forest win might mean that the youngsters are ready to at least make Wake competitive.
Random Radford facts: The Highlander is a reference to Radford’s Scottish heritage. But I prefer to think it is a reference to this classic (HAPPY HALLOWEEN, LADIES!):
Prediction: Wake Forest, 76-61.
South Alabama at No. 25 Florida State, 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Florida State’s turnovers. It’s always been an issue for the Seminoles, even against lesser opponents. In two exhibition games, Florida State had 25 assists to 33 turnovers, and starting point guard Ian Miller had eight turnovers. FSU has to cut back on that this year because they have less of a margin for error on both ends of the floor right now.
Random South Alabama facts: A few years ago, the USA cheerleaders were asked to stop leading a popular cheer after made free throws, which was, “USA, South in your mouth!” By all indications, they still do it.
Prediction: Florida State, 77-59.
Tulane at Georgia Tech, 7:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Um, how about if Georgia Tech wins? The Yellow Jackets were so bad last year that they lost games like this – in fact, they literally did lose this game at Tulane a year ago, 57-52. Ken Pomeroy has Tulane 110th in his preseason rankings, and this is no gimme. But if Georgia Tech is even going to be decent this year, they need to win this one.
Random Tulane facts: Tulane was known as the “Greenbacks” and the “Greenies” before the “Green Wave” nickname stuck in the 1920′s. The pelican riding the wave had been used as a symbol in the past, but so had Gumby. The pelican stuck in 1998.
Prediction: Georgia Tech, 65-57.
Virginia at George Mason, 7:00 PM
What to watch: Virginia’s freshmen. The Cavaliers, because of injuries and suspensions, are going to be starting three freshmen (Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey and Taylor Barnette). Barnette will have to run the point guard against a pretty good opponent, and he doesn’t have any experience.
Random George Mason facts: George Mason really experimented with its mascots over the years. They still use the Patriot, and they also use this….thing named Gunston:
Prediction: George Mason, 61-53.
No. 3 Kentucky vs. Maryland, 8:30 PM, ESPN (Brooklyn, NY)
What to watch: Dez Wells. Maryland was projected to have a good year anyway, but the announcement on Wednesday that Wells won his NCAA appeal and would be immediately eligible changed the Terrapins’ expectations. It’s too early to judge how good they will be based on how they play against the defending national champs, but his impact should be obvious tonight.
Random Kentucky facts: Kentucky has three mascots: The Wildcat (a student), Scratch (a kid-friendly version) and a live Bobcat named Blue. They used to have a live mascot at games, but that stopped about 50 years ago. Here’s the Wikipedia quote about today’s Blue:
▪ Blue — A live bobcat (note that in American English, “wildcat” generally refers to this particular mammal). He lives at the state-operated Salato Wildlife Education Center near the state capital of Frankfort. Unlike the school’s two costumed mascots, he never attends games, because bobcats are very shy by nature and do not react well with large crowds.
Prediction: Kentucky, 79-64.
East Tennessee State at Virginia Tech, 2:00 PM, ESPN3
What to watch: Virginia Tech’s offense. Despite a ridiculously thin roster, first-year head coach James Johnson has said that he wants to push the tempo. I suppose anything is faster than the offense Seth Greenberg ran, but it seems like an odd choice considering his personnel. It will be interesting to see how it looks.
Random East Tennessee State facts: Here was the description given to Pepper the Parrot:
“Once upon a time, on one of the deserted Canary Island, there lived a giant parrot named Pepper. Like most parrots, he had aspirations of playing in the NBA and perhaps having his own line of breakfast cereals. But the big bird had one problem. He wanted to make people happy, but there were no people where he lived. So Pepper packed his suitcase and left his island home. As he flew across the ocean, he was swept up in a hurricane. Pepper, being the strong parrot that he is, fought the storm. Finally, though, he became exhausted and was forced to land. He fell asleep on a sandy beach. When he awoke, he saw a rainbow in the sky. He followed the rainbow to its end at ETSU’s blue and yellow Memorial Center. Since that fateful day, Buccaneer fans have laughed and cheered with Pepper, making him a very happy bird.”
Prediction: Virginia Tech, 72-59.
Lindsay Funke: You’ll never be able to pull this off, Michael. You’re the good guy. This isn’t you.
Michael: It’s me now, Lindsay. It’s the me that can recline.
[he leans back and hits his head on the railing]
Lindsay Funke: I’m saying every time something starts to go well for you, you blow it.
Tobias Fünke: Nothing has ever gone well for me, and you know that.
NC State has not been the favorite in quite some time, and whenever it had a semblance of preseason hype, the team has fallen flat on its face (see 2008). In the fan base, a phenomenon of NC State….stuff has arisen: the concept that what can go wrong, will go wrong, in all sports. And sometimes, things no one would even think could go wrong, go wrong. Sheer terror has gripped NC State fans as they see that their team is the prohibitive favorite to win the league.
2012 record/results: 24-13 overall, 9-7 ACC, No. 11 seed in NCAA Tournament, Sweet 16 (L to No. 2 seed Kansas). Yes, NC State lost 13 games last year. But they lost to just two teams all season that finished outside Pomeroy’s top 50, and 11 of their 13 losses were to top-33 teams (eight to the top 20).
Reason for optimism: As the Wolfpack bought into what then first-year head coach Mark Gottfried was selling, they became a better defensive team by the end of the year and won six of their final eight games. Their only two losses were to top-10 teams North Carolina and Kansas, by a combined five points. Oh, and they return pretty much their entire core from last year: four of five starters, including point guard Lorenzo Brown, who should complete the transition he began last year from very good to elite.
Reason for pessimism: There’s little depth on this team, and the depth they do have they’re not likely to use. Big men Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie are still going to pick up questionable fouls, and when those one or both have to sit down, freshman T.J. Warren could come in along with…Thomas de Thaey? Jordan Vandenberg? Both are unproven, and not as good as last year’s go-to big man sub DeShawn Painter, who transferred. Senior small forward Scott Wood is the only reliable three-point shooter on the team, and he has struggled to get off his shot against more athletic defenders. Who else can make outside shots if he’s not hitting?
Michael: Maybe we were better off with me being businesslike and you being the good time useless party guy.
Gob: It got us this far. And I must say I miss the laughter. Oh God, how they used to laugh with me.
Michael: AT you. We have to figure out a way to hire everybody back. A meeting.
Gob: A party.
Michael: No, we just had a party.
Gob: Yeah but I didn’t get to have any fun.
Gob: [arms crossed] Then there’s me. The joker. The goofball. The magician.
[quickly makes a magician's gesture with his hands]
Michael: I thought you were gonna do a little fireball there.
Gob: I was. It didn’t go off.
I have no idea why those quotes work for Virginia. They just do.
2012 record/results: 22-10 overall, 9-7 ACC, No. 10 seed in NCAA Tournament, First Round (L to No. 7 seed Florida). Virginia began the season 15-2 with one of their losses being a close one at Duke that convinced everyone the Cavaliers were for real. But they finished the season 7-8.
Reason for optimism: Head coach Tony Bennett will have Virginia playing pesky defense, as usual. UVa lost Mike Scott, who was one of the best players in the ACC last year, but they still have two starters left (wing Joe Harris and point guard Jontel Evans). Harris was always steady, but Evans had some very encouraging offensive performances last year. Bennett has brought in six freshmen, at least three of which should make a contribution.
Reason for pessimism: Scott was Virginia’s go-to guy last year. The only even semi-proven player on this roster is Harris, and even he averaged just 9.8 points in ACC play. Evans was far from consistent: somehow, he averaged 10.8 points in four games against FSU and UNC, but 7.6 against other ACC opponents. Akil Mitchell will have to replace Scott, and he found himself frequently in foul trouble last year. Through a combination of graduation and transfers, Virginia is dangerously thin.
Michael: You want to be in charge?
Michael: You want to deal with what I deal with? A sister who takes your money and throws it away. A mother who you can’t trust. A company whose founder may be on trial for treason. Is that what you want?
Gob: What kind of vacation time does it offer?
Lucille: The company is in danger.
Michael: What tipped you off? The falling profit margins or the fact that we’re a regular feature on Bill O’Reilly’s most ridiculous item of the day?
Gob: I’ve made a huge mistake.
Former Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg was on the hot seat, and his assistant coaches were jumping ship. On their way out, they gave exit interviews to Virginia Tech. James Johnson, who left to take the top assistant job at Clemson last year, was no different. Two months later, he was hired as the head coach at Virginia Tech to replace Greenberg, who supposedly (according to the aforementioned exit interviews) didn’t create a “family atmosphere” for his staff. Interesting. You wanted to be the boss, James Johnson? Well, good luck. I wonder if either he or the Virginia Tech administration thinks they’ve made a huge mistake yet.
2012 record/results: 16-17 overall, 4-12 ACC. The Hokies were 11-3 entering ACC season before the wheels fell off. They lost 12 games by fewer than ten points. Even their four ACC wins were decided by a total of six points.
Reason for optimism: Point guard Erick Green is a special player, and there is some experience around him. In fact, Virginia Tech will only have one scholarship freshman. Forward Cadarian Raines got a lot better last year, and neither Robert Brown nor Jarrell Eddie have been shy about trying to carry some of the scoring load. Their starting five is as good as any, but…
Reason for pessimism: …if any of them have to come out of the game for any reason – injury, foul trouble, anything – the Hokies will be in big trouble. There are only eight scholarship players on the roster. And the ones behind the starting five either aren’t very good, are unproven, or both.
Tobias Fünke: Come on, Lindsay. We’ve had some great times.
[a white screen appears with text reading: "Footage not found."]
Michael: I burned it. Down to the ground.
George Sr.: There was money in that banana stand.
Michael: Well, it’s all gone now.
George Sr.: There was $250,000 lining the inside walls of the banana stand.
George Sr.: Cash, Michael. What the hell did you think I meant when I said…
George Sr.: [yells] There is money… in… the banana stand.
Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik could make Ron Wellman look smart after all. It didn’t seem like a good hire three years ago, and the timing was strange considering former head coach Dino Gaudio had just made the NCAA Tournament. It seemed like an even worse hire when Bzdelik won just one ACC game in 2011 and showed just slight improvement last year with a 13-18 record. Wake Forest fans have had to cope with some pretty bad basketball along the way, and they’re still trying to rekindle fan interest. If Bzdelik’s freshman class is as advertised, though, it shouldn’t take long.
2011 record/results: 13-18 overall, 4-12 ACC. About the only good thing you can say about last year’s Wake Forest team is that it finished the non-conference schedule 9-5 with just two embarrassing losses (Arizona State and Wofford). Half of their ACC wins were against BC.
Reason for optimism: C.J. Harris and Travis McKie are one of the best returning duos in the country. And they might just finally have some help this year, particularly McKie, from a very highly-touted freshman class. Also, it can’t get worse for the Deacons than it’s been the last few years. Even if Wake struggles, the freshmen are good enough to start winning back the hearts and minds of Wake fans as they finally have a reason for hope.
Reason for pessimism: It’s essentially Harris, McKie, sophomore sharp-shooter Chase Fischer and a gang of freshmen at this point. McKie and Harris are great players, but it’s impossible to know how the freshmen will play on a given night. So, maybe it can get worse – at least before it gets better. They’re going to start a freshman at point guard (Codi Miller-McIntyre). Ken Pomeroy only has the Deacs projected for nine wins this year.
The words “NC State basketball” and “prohibitive favorite” haven’t often been said together in the last few decades. NC State fans, who have been disappointed by preseason promise before, are cautiously optimistic at best, downright skeptical at worst. NC State second-year head coach Mark Gottfried said that people around Raleigh have approached him to say, “Coach, we had a great year last year.” Despite the Sweet 16 finish, Gottfried knows that a 24-13 record (9-7 against a much easier ACC slate than this year’s) wasn’t a great year.
“We had a really fun finish, and it was exceptional for our group. But our year wasn’t great. We were just okay,” Gottfried said, citing early season non-conference losses to Indiana and Syracuse, missed opportunities to beat ranked teams. Eight of NC State’s 13 losses were to teams that finished the year ranked. “I just think in general, we have to take another step, our program does. That step has to take place before all this, the anticipation, the expectations, there’s a process that has to take place and we’re still in it.”
Gottfried’s biggest reason for caution was the loss of valuable role players like starter C.J. Williams, backup point guard Alex Johnson and backup big man DeShawn Painter. But NC State is bringing in a top-10 recruiting class this season – part of the reason for the unbridled optimism. NC State is also returning four of its five starters (also last year’s four leading scorers).
For the most part last year, NC State beat who it should have and hung tough against top-25 teams. Still, NC State had some head-scratching losses last season (at home to Georgia Tech, at Clemson) to bottom-feeder ACC teams. Last year, NC State only played Florida State and Duke once each. This year, they’ll face all three of the likely top teams – North Carolina, FSU and Duke – twice.
“Real simply, they’ve got to be able to understand that to be a great team – which they want to be a great team – that the price is high,” Gottfried said. “That’s not something we paid much attention to last year, so it’s not something we’re going to pay attention to this year, regardless of where you’re picked. The only thing that counts is how hard you work each day and how well you do your job each day. Now, can our players truly grasp that? We’ll find out.”
But Gottfried has embraced the fun of the college basketball hotbed of Tobacco Road. Gottfried’s last head coaching job was at Alabama, where he said only “close family and friends” showed up for most of his press conferences. NC State’s media day featured at least 15 media members hanging on his every word, questioning him for nearly 30 minutes. Duke and Carolina are always expected to finish in the top three of the league. It’s been a long time since NC State was, too.
“I read the paper. I don’t live under a rock. I’m normal. I watch TV and all that,” Gottfried said of the preseason hype. “I think all that is fun. But I’ve also been around long enough to realize that outside of that being some kind of fun jibber jabber, than after that, you’ve got to go play. We’ve got to work. I get it. It is fun to be a part of it.”
And the players, even the younger ones, aren’t necessarily buying in either. Freshman Rodney Purvis, NC State’s highest-ranked incoming recruit, said this without provocation: “There’s a lot of hype going around with us, but we haven’t really done anything yet.”
When asked if he’d rather be the favorite or the underdog, Purvis simply grinned. “I don’t care. I want whatever it is. I don’t care about whatever it is. I don’t care about none of it. I just want to play basketball. That’s it.”
RALEIGH, NC — Mark Gottfried’s successful approach with C.J. Leslie has been well-documented. But it didn’t begin and end with the 6-foot-9 budding star.
Hired last April to replace Sidney Lowe, Gottfried inherited a group that had done more than its fair share of losing and seen plenty of disappointment. But Gottfried had a ready-made group of veterans – a senior and two juniors – that could help him win right away as he rebuilt NC State.
Senior C.J. Williams and juniors Scott Wood and Richard Howell had been through plenty of bad times, and they didn’t want to spend the rest of their time in school rebuilding a program only to see the fruits pay off after graduation.
And so the question became how quickly would they buy in, if at all?
“First thing that had to happen with all these guys is they needed to get to know me and I needed to get to know them,” Gottfried said. “Until there’s a level of trust, players sometimes, they build a wall and it’s hard to break that wall. Who is this guy? Why do I need to listen to you?”
The toughest of the three was Howell. The 6-foot-8 (on a good day, per his head coach) forward is an imposing physical presence despite his lack of size relative to his competition. Post-practice sweat dripped steadily off of the end of his beard and he stared straight ahead as he talked about learning to trust Gottfried.
“It’s very hard for a coach to come in here and just click instantly with a player, especially a player who had been here two years and had been through the worst possible times,” Howell said. ”The main thing is just trusting him. He tells us every day, nobody wants us to do better than he does and that’s something that we’ve bought into. That’s something that we’ve trusted and it’s got us this far, so we’re going to keep continuing to trust him.”
Getting through to Howell was a unique obstacle for Gottfried, particularly on a personal level. ”There was a hard wall there that was hard to penetrate – not just on the floor, but away from the game,” Gottfried said of Howell. “If we sat down and just talked about his family or life, there weren’t a lot of times he wanted to let us in, let me in. Over time, that began to break down a little bit more.”
Even with Williams, a well-respected team leader, acceptance didn’t happen overnight. Williams had seen his playing time fluctuate wildly in his previous three years while capable Wolfpack teams never came close to reaching their potential.
When Gottfried was announced as the new head coach, the first thing Williams did is look up the new coach’s records his first year at Murray State and Alabama. He liked what he saw, but neither of Gottfried’s first-year teams made the NCAA tournament. His future teams did, and often: in 1997 and 1998, Murray State made the tournament and from 2002-06, Alabama did as well.
Williams, though, had just one more shot to make the NCAA tournament. So he went to Gottfried days after his hiring and let his feelings be known. “I said, ‘Coach, if you’re for this rebuilding stuff, I can’t do that. I’m a senior. I need to win right now. I’ve always had a dream of at least playing in the NCAA tournament’,” Williams said.
“‘I need to know that that’s what you want to do.’ He straight up told me, ‘C.J., I’m trying to win right now. I’m not trying to do the rebuilding. I don’t want to waste time.’”
While no other player could pinpoint a specific “aha” moment, Scott Wood did. It was less than two weeks after Gottfried had been hired. Wood went up to what he called the war room above the Dail Center to meet with Gottfried and assistant coach Bobby Lutz.
“He showed me the offense and what he likes to see, and then he put it into the picture that this is where everybody’s going to be,” Wood said. “It let me see into the future of how it was going to work, and it really made me realize that this could be a good thing for us.”
Williams said Gottfried watched tape of each player from the previous year to evaluate what they could do. He let each player know what he expected of them individually, and each player had to buy into that before they could win as a team.
“He watched tape of us from last year and what we can do,” Williams said. As a coach, he just kind of coached us from that point, seeing what we did as a group and then taking it like, ‘Okay, now I see what you do. This is what I expect out of you.’
“The accountability that we have as individual players has helped us build this team environment.”
Williams recalled Gottfried showing the team tapes of his Alabama teams to give them an idea of what the offense would look like. “Each of us was like, ‘Oh, okay, so this is where my shot is going to come from and this is where his shot is going to be.’ We all saw that everybody is going to have an equal opportunity to score their points,” Williams said.
And they have. All five NC State starters averaged between 10 and 14 points in the regular season, which has held up in the postseason as well. Even after coming up short in a crucial three-game stretch in late February, which included a blown 20-point lead at Duke and home losses to Florida State and North Carolina, the Wolfpack managed to inch forward.
Their offense has been among the most efficient in the league all year, even as players like Wood and Williams went through slumps. They’ve returned to form, and both have hit huge shots in big moments in the NCAA tournament. Among the more recent improvements is a defense that has been downright dominant at times. That’s a far cry from where it was in November, or even December.
“(Gottfried’s) confidence is unbelievable in us. He tells us if we go out there and play hard, the sky is the limit to what we can do,” Howell said. “It definitely shows, not only on the offensive end but especially on the defensive end as well. I felt like that was something we were lacking last year.”
Howell’s progression has been part of the journey as well. He has a propensity to pick up silly fouls, and NC State isn’t the same team when he’s not on the floor, throwing his body around to fight for every available rebound. But he has stayed out of foul trouble for most of the last two games. He was dominant in the first round with 22 points against San Diego State and against Georgetown, he struggled to score but drew two fouls in the first 5:40 on the Hoyas’ star center Henry Sims.
State has always had Sweet 16 talent. It just had to believe that. The Wolfpack’s collapse at Duke and a disappointing close loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament called into question their ability to finish against good teams. Gottfried kept telling his team they were improving and they just lost to some good teams. But NC State ended the regular season without any great wins.
Now, the Wolfpack has two NCAA tournament wins over teams that spent most of the year in the top 25. Gottfried told his team all year that they were good enough to play with anyone in the country. Finally, the Pack and the nation have proof.
“It’s my job to convince our team that we are good enough, and we have to become good enough. It’s not smoke and mirrors. It’s not something you can just talk about,” Gottfried said. “You have to get better, and we did get better. But at the same time, I think this particular team needed – and still does – to believe that they’re good enough. And I do think that they believe that, so that’s exciting.”
No. 11 NC State (23-12) vs. No. 3 Georgetown (24-8), 12:15 PM, CBS (Columbus, OH)
This is a nightmarish matchup for NC State, but as the 11-seed playing the 3-seed, the Wolfpack have nothing to lose. They aren’t approaching the game that way, though (nor should they). Still, Georgetown’s Princeton offense and pesky defense that can go both zone and man-to-man will pose a lot of problems.
Key to the game: Patience on both ends. NC State won’t have an easy time getting good looks on offense. The Hoyas hold opponents to just 43.1% effective field goal percentage, fifth nationally, and just 27.1% from three. They are long, quick and experienced all over the floor. But State has faced some pretty disruptive defenses already (North Carolina and Florida State). Offensively, NC State has to work hard to get the best shot possible.
Defensively, head coach Mark Gottfried pointed out today that even if Georgetown gets a backdoor lay-up after bleeding 25-30 seconds off the shot-clock, it still counts for two points but it can be so demoralizing that it feels like eight points. The Wolfpack have to stay focused and not get down on themselves when that happens.
Prediction: Georgetown 64, NC State 61
Random Mascot Facts: There’s no such thing as a hoya, but in the late 1800′s students combined the Greek hoia or hoya (meaning “what” or “such”) and the Latin “saxa” to form a cheer: “Hoya saxa!” (“What rocks!”) It has stuck every since. Different breeds of dog have been used as the actual mascot since the early 1900s but Jack the Bulldog has been used since 1964. They’ve used a person in a suit since the 70′s as well as the live mascot.
No. 1 North Carolina (30-5) vs. No. 8 Creighton (29-5), 5:15 PM, CBS (Greensboro, NC)
Carolina’s bracket has opened up – the No. 2 and 3 seeds (Kansas and Georgetown) are still alive, but every other seed but one remaining is 10 or worse. The lone exception is the team Carolina faces tomorrow, Creighton (an eight-seed). So in theory, the Tar Heels could advance to the Final Four without facing a seed higher than eight. And in the Sweet 16, should Carolina advance, they are guaranteed to face a 12 (South Florida) or 13 (Ohio). But they have to win this first.
Key to the game: The three-point line. The only way Creighton has any shot at beating North Carolina is if they hit a ton of three-pointers. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, the Bluejays are capable of doing that, shooting a blazing 42.5% on the year. Five Bluejays have hit 20 or more three’s. Alabama defends the three-point line very well and Creighton hit 9-of-21 (42.9%) against them on Friday. Carolina will have to crowd the three-point arc and try to force Creighton to beat them with two-pointers.
Creighton’s not a very good defensive team either, but the Bluejays are going to pack the middle and try to force Carolina to beat them from the outside. Particularly if John Henson plays, the Tar Heels will have the horses to will their way to points in the paint. But they still could use a little more offensive balance than they’ve had the last few games, and now is as good a time as any for UNC to knock down a few extra three’s.
Prediction: North Carolina 84, Creighton 74
Random Mascot Facts: Creighton is the only Division-I school to use a bluejay as its mascot. Prior to 1924, Creighton’s teams were called the Hilltoppers but too many teams used that name. The Omaha Bee helped find a new nickname by asking readers to submit their choices. Since the school colors were blue and white, they decided on bluejay.
No. 3 Florida State (25-9) vs. No. 6 Cincinnati (25-10), 9:40 PM, TBS (Nashville, TN)
Florida State is inconsistent enough to have lost in their first NCAA Tournament game but good enough to reach the Final Four. The Seminoles probably would have lost that game to St. Bonaventure as recently as a month ago. But they didn’t, and now they’ll face a good Cincinnati team for the right to advance to their second straight Sweet 16.
Key to the game: Turnovers. Florida State has cut down on them when it mattered (just a 15.7% loss of ball against St. Bonaventure) but their 20.3% in the ACC title game against North Carolina (compared to just 7.9% by UNC) was one of many reasons that game was close. Cincinnati doesn’t turn the ball over much (just 16.2% per Ken Pomeroy, 10th-lowest nationally) and the Bearcats have a 12.3% steal percentage (18th nationally). Florida State has to avoid give-aways and be able to get stops if they can’t force any.
Prediction: Florida State 71, Cincinnati 60
Random Mascot Facts: When playing Kentucky in football in 1914, a cheerleader from Cincinnati (talking about fullback Leonard “Teddy” Baehr) started the chant: “They may be the Wildcats, but we have a Baehr-cat on our side.” The crowd started chanting “Come on, Baehr-cat!” and it stuck after awhile, but not until 1919. Here’s the worst bearcat suit ever made (from 1950):
And this, of course, is a real bearcat (worth it just for how weird it is):
Last week: 8-3
Season: (144-52) (12-5 Postseason)
RALEIGH, NC — As NC State gathered to watch the NCAA selection show on Sunday night, senior guard C.J. Williams sat in a chair by himself. He had his specially-made NC State hat pulled over his face as he hunched over, head in his hands.
As bubble team after bubble team filled out the brackets, Williams waited eagerly to hear the only words that mattered. Iona, a team with a more questionable profile than the Wolfpack, got in. Texas. BYU. Colorado State.
Then, as Bryant Gumbel unveiled the final part of the bracket – teams 65, 66, and 67, and still no NC State – Williams prayed.
“I was saying, ‘Lord, please just give us the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. Please give us a chance to have our name out there and play in the best show in the world,’” Williams said.
Williams has been huge for the Wolfpack (22-12, 9-7), starting every game and averaging 10.6 points in 31.0 minutes. His leadership, defense and basketball savvy have been just as valuable as his scoring. He’s struggled with his shot in the last few games, but he’s still the one called upon to defend the opponent’s best guard.
In that moment, his team was achingly close to making the NCAA tournament, and he was a big reason why. But his previous three years under former head coach Sidney Lowe were much different.
Williams saw inconsistent playing time, and State had just one postseason berth (the NIT in 2010, where State lost in the second round) and a 51-46 overall record (16-32 in the ACC). Williams had won just two ACC Tournament games in his career before notching two – and very nearly three – this year.
As he sat and waited, Williams thought about those previous three years. But he was haunted by all the missed opportunities this year. Could have beaten Virginia at home. Could have beaten Duke at Duke. Could have beaten Clemson at Clemson. Could have beaten North Carolina in the ACC Tournament.
Would those narrow losses, where just one play could have made the difference, be what kept him from his last chance at the NCAA tournament?
“I was a little nervous,” Williams said with a grin. “I should have known. Life is full of drama and that was big-time drama.”
All but one team had been announced, and it was the 11-seed in the Midwest region. It was NC State’s last chance; Williams’ last chance.
“And the fifth team out of the ACC…”
Before Gumbel could even say “the Wolfpack of NC State”, Williams had exploded out of his chair, arms outstretched.
“I just cried because I couldn’t really put into words what I was feeling. It was so many different emotions,” Williams said. “That moment right there had to be probably the worst moment of my life, just not knowing exactly what was going to happen, who was that last team that was announced? But I’m glad it was us.”
While it seemed unnecessarily cruel to leave NC State waiting so long, to Williams it was appropriate. It summed up their season.
“A lot of people weren’t talking about us in the beginning and now people are talking about us towards the end of the year, so it kind of just fit in with the script that we’ve been taking this year,” he said.
And so Williams is going to his first-ever NCAA tournament as a senior. When asked what he was looking forward to the most, he took a long pause as he let the images of March Madness dance in his head.
“Hmm,” Williams said. “I’m just ready to play, really. I’m just ready to play and see my name, see NC State go through the bracket as much as possible.
“I just want to see that, just knowing I can look at a bracket and see NC State right there and I’m a part of that is fantastic.”
NC State (15-5, 4-1) at North Carolina (16-3, 3-1) (16-3, 3-1), 7:00 PM, ESPN
Finally, this rivalry means something again – at least for now. But if new N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried continues recruiting as well as he has, it will mean something for years to come. If North Carolina wins, they have a shot of going into their first matchup with Duke on February 8th with a 7-1 ACC record. If N.C. State wins, they could not only sweep the Tar Heels but also have a shot at finishing first in the league. They have the easiest ACC schedule of any of the contending teams. And N.C. State, should they win tonight, could go into a three-game stretch in mid-February of Duke, Florida State and North Carolina with a 9-1 ACC record.
Stat to watch: Rebounding. It’s been a bugaboo for both teams in their losses. North Carolina was out-rebounded in all three of its losses and the worst was by UNLV (48-39); the Rebels had 20 second-chance points while the Tar Heels managed a season-low six. N.C. State has been out-rebounded in three losses; it held Stanford to just 36.2% shooting but allowed the Cardinal to post the highest offensive rebounding percentage allowed by the Wolfpack this year.
After Florida State dominated Carolina on the glass in a way that went beyond statistics, the Tar Heels bounced back by out-rebounding Virginia Tech 51-28. Carolina has shown it is capable of rebounding efforts like that but like everything else with the Tar Heels, it comes down to their focus and concentration.
N.C. State was out-rebounded by Miami, a big reason the Hurricanes were able to erase a large second-half deficit on Sunday. But N.C. State is an excellent rebounding team and will try to be physical with Carolina’s bigs, since they lack the height advantage. It has worked for some teams but when John Henson and Tyler Zeller are attacking the boards as savagely as they have been (averaging 22 boards between them the last two games), they’re difficult to stop.
Carolina has allowed nine teams to post an offensive rebounding percentage of 30% or better and 6-3 in those games. N.C. State is 3-3 when it fails to crack 32% on the offensive glass. Something’s got to give, and if N.C. State lets the Tar Heels get a bunch of second looks, this game will be over very early. And if the Tar Heels let an already-good offensive team in N.C. State get second and third looks, they could be in trouble.
Most important players: Reggie Bullock, North Carolina and Scott Wood, N.C. State. The point guard battle will be the most closely watched, but this one will be interesting: not watching the two go one-on-one, but what the game means for each player. Wood has hit just 4-of-24 shots (16.7%) in four career games against the Tar Heels, adding just 3-of-18 three’s (16.7%) and 1.3 points per game. Last year, Wood shot 47% (45% from three ) in 14 ACC games against teams not named Carolina, averaging 10.1 points in 31.5 minutes. In two games against North Carolina, he shot 20% and 33.3% from three (1-of-3), averaging 2.5 points in 23.0 minutes and adding 4.0 fouls. The Wolfpack needs him way too much for him to do that again. Scott Wood has been in single digits scoring-wise or missed games due to injury six times this season. N.C. State is 3-3 in those games and one of the wins was a nail-biter at home against Princeton.
Reggie Bullock will be stepping into the starting lineup in place of Dexter Strickland, who tore his ACL against Virginia Tech and will miss the season. Strickland was Carolina’s best perimeter defender (though Bullock, who has won three defensive player of the game awards from the Carolina coaching staff, is no slouch). “You can teach someone the defensive principles to be a better team defender and I think Reggie’s done a better job of learning those. Now, we’re throwing him another curveball because he’s got to understand now that when you’re playing the two-spot full-time you’ve got to be able to get back and give us defensive balance sometimes as well,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. “The one thing he’s really improved on is his offensive rebounding … Now, he can’t get (to the offensive boards) quite as much because he’s got to be able to get back.”
Bullock normally shoots three’s well but he’s gone cold from three and so have the Tar Heels. In the last six games, Bullock has shot just 8-of-27 from three (29.6%) and Carolina has shot 28%. In the first 13 games, he shot 26-of-61 (42.6%) and the team shot 39.1 percent. He’s just 1-of-10 shooting (0-of-4 from three) in two career games against N.C. State, although he has played a total of 28 minutes in the two games. Obviously, he’ll need to do more this time around.
Random stat(s): Lorenzo Brown is averaging 6.9 assists per game, making him the first N.C. State player to average more than 4.6 in a season since Chris Corchiani in 1991 (9.6). …. Kendall Marshall currently has the best career assist-turnover ratio in Carolina history (2.8). Ty Lawson, not surprisingly, is second (2.78). Third and fourth? King Rice (2.4) and Matt Doherty (2.3). Ed Cota and Raymond Felton aren’t in the top five. … N.C. State has shot a higher percentage in five losses (47.8%) than it has in five wins (47.7%). … Usually, more offensive rebounds means more missed shots, which is good for a defense. But Carolina is 3-3 when opponents have more offensive rebounds and 11-0 when they Carolina has more offensive rebounds.
Prediction: North Carolina 87, N.C. State 79
Last week: 7-5
Season: 82-31 (19-12 ACC)
NC State (12-5, 1-1) at Wake Forest (10-6, 1-1), 1:00 PM, ACC Network/ESPN3
Wake Forest has played above expectations, beating Virginia Tech and nearly stealing a road win at Maryland. It will be very interesting to see how N.C. State responds to losing its first ACC game. Their head coach Mark Gottfried wasn’t shy about the number of ACC wins he sees as the goal – 11 – and if the Wolfpack want to get there, they have to win games like this. But Wake is confident, and N.C. State’s may still be shaken.
Stat to watch: Three-point shooting. This is not just because Georgia Tech, one of the worst three-point shooting teams in D-I, shredded the nets on 9-of-15 three-pointers against N.C. State on Wednesday. And it’s not just because N.C. State is allowing opponents to shoot 39.2% from three. It’s also because Wake Forest is a pretty good three-point shooting team. The Deacons are shooting just 36% from three but in wins, they have shot 41.5% (25.6% in losses). Wake Forest also defends the three-pointer pretty well, allowing just 32%. Wake has held ACC opponents to 10-of-37 (27%) from three, including Virginia Tech, who was red-hot from three coming in (the Hokies shot 6-of-22).
The Wolfpack has struggled to shoot three’s lately, just 7-of-28 in ACC play (25%) and 23-of-76 in the last five games (30.3%). If Scott Wood isn’t making three’s, N.C. State isn’t either: he has shot just 3-of-13 in ACC play and 12-of-35 (34.3%) in the last five games after starting the season 31-of-63 (49.2%). It’s not fair to put it all on Wood, who has made 47% of State’s three’s (44% accuracy) while his teammates’s accuracy is 30.6%. But Wood tweeted out an apology Wednesday night to N.C. State fans from @ScottWood15: “Sorry wolfpack nation. My worst game since coming to state. I’ll turn it around no more 10th plAce promise [sic].” If the Wolfpack wants to avoid disappointment, someone needs to help him.
Most important players: Richard Howell, N.C. State and C.J. Harris, Wake Forest. Howell averaged 13.6 rebounds in the five games leading into ACC play. He has a total of eight rebounds in two ACC games and just four against Georgia Tech. He also has averaged 3.5 fouls and 3.0 turnovers in two ACC games (four turnovers and four fouls against Georgia Tech) and no blocks. His foul trouble in the first half helped Georgia Tech take an 11-point lead at the break. Wake Forest is not a good rebounding team and Maryland was able to dominate the backboards, out-rebounding Wake 45-37 (21-10 on the offensive glass). It can be difficult to score against Wake at times, particularly if they slow it down, but N.C. State has to be able to exploit its size advantage and Howell is a big part of that.
Harris missed Wake’s last non-conference game against Wofford (Wake lost). But since his return, Harris has struggled (by his standards), averaging 11.5 points on 37% shooting. Before his injury, he was averaging 18.7 points on 54% shooting. In Wake’s ten wins, he has shot SIXTY percent from the floor and 64% from three, averaging 19.1 points. In the five losses he has played in, he has averaged 15 points but on 37% shooting (31.6% from three). Considering the damage the Georgia Tech guards were able to do against N.C. State’s defense, the Wolfpack had better be ready to deal with Harris.
Random Stat: Maybe it’s a good omen that N.C. State didn’t equal its longest winning streak since 2008 on Wednesday night. As the 2008 season began, the Wolfpack was coming off of a promising end to Sidney Lowe’s first season as head coach (2006-07), reaching the ACC Tournament title game. State started the 2007-08 season picked third in the ACC and went 11-3 in the non-conference, riding a seven-game winning streak into ACC play. It then got clobbered in its opener at UNC, 93-62: the Tar Heels went on a 25-0 run in the first half as N.C. State scored just 13 first-half points. As good as it would get for N.C. State in ACC play was 4-4 (15-7 overall) – then the wheels really fell off. The Wolfpack lost their last eight games to finish 15-16.
Prediction: N.C. State 89, Wake Forest 74
Last week: 6-3 (4-2)
Season: 68-24 (7-5)