ACC Team Previews: North Carolina StatePosted by KCarpenter on October 20th, 2011
Looking at the North Carolina State roster from last year, it’s hard to see how this team was so bad. The pieces all seemed to be there, but the last year of Sidney Lowe‘s tenure was undoubtedly a disappointing season for the Wolfpack. The team won only fifteen total games last season and five in the conference. That said, N.C. State won all the games it was supposed to win and didn’t allow any serious upsets. The closest thing NCSU has to a bad loss was a defeats to Boston College and Virginia. That’s really not all that bad. The Wolfpack had a tough draw in the conference, playing the top three teams — Duke, North Carolina, and Florida State — twice. It doesn’t explain some of the other conference losses, nor does it explain the first round ACC Tournament flame-out against Maryland either. Sidney Lowe didn’t do a terrible job last year: he just did a mediocre job under tough circumstances and it finally cost him his job.
Enter Mark Gottfried. The new coach in charge, as many in Raleigh are quick to point out, is not Shaka Smart or Sean Miller. Gottfried is a proven leader of successful programs. Though his last few years at Alabama are cause for reasonable doubt, Gottfried should receive equal credit for the outstanding Alabama teams that he led in the early 2000s. The Sidney Lowe years weren’t terrible, but they were thoroughly mediocre. No matter what other roster changes have happened between last season and this one, no change is more important than Mark Gottfried taking the helm.
Keeping that in mind, there have been a significant number of roster changes for the Wolfpack. Major contributors Tracy Smith and Javier Gonzalez have been lost to that scourge called “graduation” while freshman starter Ryan Harrow elected to transfer to some obscure school called the University of Kentucky. Gottfried has brought in a recruiting class that, though it might not be as heralded as last years crop of freshmen, is still solid. Tyler Harris and Jaqawn Raymond are capable backups ready to give productive minutes for the team. The real surprise might come from a Belgian import, Thomas de Thaey, a 6’8″, 235-pound power forward with a developed inside and outside game. While it remains to be seen how he will play against top level college competition, de Thaey could turn out to be a real find for N.C. State. Finally, the team adds a back-up point guard and dead-eye shooter in Alex Johnson, a transfer from Cal State Bakerfield. While it’s tempting to write Johnson off as an afterthought, the importance of a capable veteran who can lead the second unit and provide instant offense should not be overlooked.
At the ACC’s media day, Gottfried was asked about which of his players he thought would be surprising or under-the-radar. He replied, “All of ‘em — who’s on the radar? I don’t think any of our guys are really on anybody’s radar.” While that’s a polite and modest answer, it’s also not true. C.J. Leslie was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and an immediate starter last season. While it’s true that Leslie struggled in his first campaign, he couldn’t help but show off flashes of immense talent and ability. No one is overlooking Leslie. Likewise, Lorenzo Brown isn’t going to catch anybody off guard either. The sophomore point guard is talented and prime-time ready. This pair has far too much potential to be sneaking up on anyone. That said, with the departure of the senior leaders, both players will be expected to refine and improve their game if the Wolfpack is going to take any steps forward.
There are a couple of players on the N.C. State roster that are better than many folks think. Last year, Scott Wood has a sneaky-good season as he posted the team-leading offensive efficiency rating while playing the most minutes and shooting 41.9% from beyond the arc. Sadly, Lowe must have hated three-pointers, since last year’s N.C. State squad attempted a lower percentage of three-point shots than almost any other team in college basketball. As good a shooter as Scott Wood is, he was the victim of a system that just didn’t take advantage of his talents. On a three-point-loving team like Duke or Boston College, it’s not hard to imagine Wood averaging twenty points a game. If Mark Gottfried gives Wood the green light while finding ways to get him open shots, Wood could have an All-ACC season. On a similar note, Richard Howell is poised for a big year. Last year, Howell posted outstanding rebounding percentages. Do you know which ACC player grabbed a greater percentage of available offensive rebounds than Howell? The answer is no one. Tempo-free stats love Howell’s rebounding aptitude and nice shooting touch. This year, after losing twenty pounds and preparing to take on a bigger role in a post-Tracy Smith era, Howell stands poised to have a breakout year.
A lot depends on Gottfried, but I think the Wolfpack is ready to take a step forward. N.C. State has a challenging non-conference schedule, headlined by a bout with Syracuse, but I think that the Wolfpack’s conference schedule is significantly easier than it was last year. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for N.C. State fans to expect around twenty wins with around eight conference victories. This team easily has the potential to beat some very good teams. However, I think N.C. State probably had that potential last year as well. The big question for this team boils down to the coach. Can Mark Gottfried succeed where Sidney Lowe failed? Gottfried’s ability to get the most out of his team will decide whether this season is a success or a failure.