ACC Team Previews: NC State WolfpackPosted by ARowe on October 29th, 2012
Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams. Today’s victim: the NC State Wolfpack.
Newton’s first law of motion states that an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. To say that Mark Gottfried’s arrival as the NC State head basketball coach was enough to disrupt the forces behind the program’s motion is an understatement. From the time his tenure began, the attitude and aura surrounding the Wolfpack did a complete 180-degree turn. Gone was the subdued and listless Herb Sendek era, where the team flirted with success but could never conjure up the fire needed to overtake their blue blood neighbors. Also gone were the Sidney Lowe years, where excitement and potential reigned over actual results on the court.
Gottfried and his staff converted that potential into sheer kinetic energy by the end of the 2012 season. It might not have been an immediate shift, as NC State finished just above .500 in conference play and ended the regular season with 22 wins and 11 losses. They were one of the last teams selected to participate in the NCAA Tournament, celebrating like they’d never tasted success before in one of the greatest images in college basketball last year.
Just making the Tournament wasn’t enough for these newfound media darlings. They went on one of the more improbable runs in the postseason, toppling 6-seed San Diego State, 3-seed Georgetown and nearly taking out eventual national runner-up Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen. The momentum generated by that three-game run has carried over into this year, with the ACC coaches and media voting NC State as the favorite to win the league. Gottfried’s second Wolfpack team blends talented veterans led by Lorenzo Brown, CJ Leslie and Richard Howell with heralded freshmen Rodney Purvis and TJ Warren.
The same ACC coaches and media who voted NC State as the team to beat in the 2012-13 ACC season picked freshman guard Rodney Purvis as the preseason freshman of the year. When Sidney Lowe was relieved of his coaching duties and Mark Gottfried was named head coach, there was bound to be some turnover. After point guard Ryan Harrow decided to transfer, Gottfried had little other option than to hand the ball over to combo guard Lorenzo Brown. This experiment has worked out fabulously in all respects, and set the table for Purvis to step in at the shooting guard slot.
The Raleigh native was recruited by a number of blue-blooded programs and is highly regarded, at one time being positioned as better than Washington Wizards point guard John Wall at the same age. Purvis gives Gottfried and his staff an offensive weapon who can score from just about any spot on the floor. Like Wall, Purvis’ strength lies in his ability to get to the basket off a quick first step and utilizes a deft handle to disrupt defenses designed to stop players with exactly his talent. Where the incoming freshman is different from other slashers is his advanced upper body strength, which gives him the ability to finish at the rim through contact when he arrives.
TJ Warren and Tyler Lewis make up the rest of NC State’s three-man freshman class, all three of whom are from the state of North Carolina. They have played with and against each other for years, and the familiarity with their classmates’ games will prove helpful as they adjust to the college level. Warren is a 6’8″ inside-outside player who also has the ability to score from nearly any point on the floor. I’ve seen him knock down contested threes and finish isolation drives through contact at the Dave Telep Carolina Challenge, making both look easy. He chose to play in Raleigh just like his father, Tony, a Wolfpack standout in the late 1970s who was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Warren has been overlooked due to Purvis’ stardom, but don’t be surprised if you hear his name just as much as the season progresses.
If Warren is being forgotten, Tyler Lewis is being completely ignored. The son of basketball scout, prep tournament director, and AAU coach Rick Lewis, Tyler brings a gym rat’s attitude and innate basketball intellect to the team. On the court, he’s a natural distributor. Because of this, he attracts talent. While he stands under six feet tall and only 165 pounds, Lewis has been successful at every level of basketball he’s competed in up to this point. Last season, on an Oak Hill team with no true star, Lewis led them to an undefeated 44-0 record. He won’t be asked to carry much of the load this year, but when he’s in the game don’t dare to judge Lewis by his measurables.
With all the praise heaped on the Wolfpack by the ACC coaches and media, one preseason award has yet to be mentioned as CJ Leslie was voted as the ACC Player of the Year. One of Gottfried’s most impressive accomplishments last season was getting Leslie to buy in to his ideas. Leslie has always been talented, but had never shown the ability to put it all together until the end of last season. Over his last 10 games, he averaged 20.1 points per game while shooting 67% from the field. He is a power forward by position, bue he defines a face-up four, showing the ability to take his defender off the dribble as well as post him up on the blocks. No danger to shoot from the perimeter (he made 4-14 shots he took beyond the arc last season), Leslie can score from nearly everywhere in the two-point area. Look for Leslie to lead the team in rebounds again, and to show more of the efficiency he displayed towards the end of last year.
Lorenzo Brown might not have gotten the level of praise from the media and coaches as his teammate Leslie did, but those that are close to the program feel he may be the better player and have a better year. Brown took over the point guard position last year and seamlessly transitioned into one of the best players at that spot in the country. His 6.3 assists per game were only behind Kendall Marshall’s 9.7 in the ACC and now that the UNC point guard has moved on to the NBA, look for Brown to lead the league this year. CBS’ Jeff Goodman took in practice last week and commented that “if I had to do the point guard list again, I’d have Lorenzo Brown somewhere in the Top 5.”
Richard Howell didn’t play as many minutes as he could have last year, mainly due to his foul trouble. He was disqualified from five contests and averaged 3.4 fouls per game, good for worst in the conference and 34th worst in the nation. As a senior, he’ll need to get those fouls under control as he is by far NC State’s most talented interior player after Leslie. There is a steep drop-off between Howell and Jordan Vandenberg, his backup. Depending on who gets the small forward minutes between TJ Warren and senior Scott Wood, Howell either will have to overplay to make up for Wood’s defensive liabilities or not as much with Warren’s athleticism.
Scott Wood has been a sharpshooter from deep his entire career, and boasted the ACC’s best three-point FG%, three-pointers made, true shooting % and offensive rating last year. If he can maintain that level of efficiency this year, it will be hard for teams to slough off of him to defend Brown and/or Leslie as they drive past their primary defender.
Potential Breakout Player
The ACC’s coaches and media were right to peg Purvis and Leslie as two of the best players coming into this year, but my eyes are on Lorenzo Brown outperforming expectations. With his size at the point guard slot and a year at that position under his belt, look for “Zo” to garner All-America recognition.
The Wolfpack only play one ranked team in their non-conference schedule, so that will be their toughest game by default. On November 27, NC State travels to the preseason #5 Michigan Wolverines. Trying to call this game now is impossible, as both teams have much higher expectations than they did last year. Their toughest stretch comes in the month of February as they play at Duke, host Florida State and then travel to play UNC within a span of 17 days. January is not much easier, as they will play both Duke and UNC in a two-week period.
Prediction and Conclusion
While the Wolfpack have a tough conference slate, playing the top three teams twice, their non-conference schedule will not test them too much. I see them entering conference play on January 5 with at most two losses (Stanford being the other possible loss besides Michigan). Handling high expectations and success will be the team’s biggest issue all year, but Gottfried and his staff have shown they can keep their players focused. I look for NC State to finish 24-6 overall (13-5 ACC). This will land the Wolfpack as a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. An Elite Eight finish is their likely finishing spot in the NCAA Tournament, but it’s impossible to predict the unpredictable nature of the Big Dance.