NC State Surges in ACC Standings, Possible Bubble Talk?Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 12th, 2014
After starting conference play with an uninspiring 1-4 record, N.C. State has quietly climbed back up the standings. After dispatching Wake Forest 82-67 on Tuesday night in Raleigh, the Wolfpack have now jumped into a tie for sixth place in the ACC with a 6-5 mark. By winning five of its last six games, Mark Gottfried’s team is again starting to get some attention as a possible NCAA Tournament candidate, and that alone is a nice accomplishment in what was viewed as a major rebuilding year in Raleigh. While the surge is certainly great news for Wolfpack fans, there’s still a lot of work to be done for N.C. State to move itself on to the right side of the bubble.
Back on January 5, Wake Forest edged the Wolfpack on a late driving layup by Codi Miller-McIntyre, but last night N.C. State made sure the latest contest between the old Tobacco Road rivals did not come down to a similar situation. Behind T.J. Warren’s 34 points and 10 rebounds, the Wolfpack broke open the game late in the first half. Warren led the surge with 23 first half points on 10-on-14 shooting, marking the fourth time this year that the sophomore has topped 20 points in a half. When asked about his star player in the postgame press conference, Gottfried noted, “He’s got a knack to score in such a variety of ways. I think it’s unique.” That was certainly true on Tuesday as he scored on mid-range jumpers, offensive putbacks, and even connecting on 3-of-5 threes, matching his best long-range performance of the season.
A big key to N.C. State’s improvement has been its growing confidence from behind the arc. In the first nine conference games, the Wolfpack only managed to convert 30 threes for a league worst 3.3 makes per game. Suddenly, however, the team has found its outside shooting touch by making 15 threes in its last two outings, including 8-of-18 attempts against Wake Forest. Another interesting dynamic is how Gottfried is handling the minutes of his two point guards. Earlier in conference play, Anthony Barber was playing around 75 percent of the point guard minutes, but lately he and Tyler Lewis have been splitting the time almost evenly. Lewis has, in fact, been the starter in the last two games. As Gottfried says, “They’re different players, with different strengths.” Perhaps that’s why the time-sharing plan is working. By alternating the two, opposing teams basically have to deal with two different offenses. Lewis is the traditional pass-first point guard who knows how to set up teammates and take care of the ball, as evidenced by his 23 assists versus five turnovers in the last six games. The freshman Barber is a more explosive offensive player and a better on-ball defender. One weakness of both players has been their outside shooting, combining for 6-of-36 threes in ACC play. Perhaps Barber can gain confidence from Tuesday’s 2-of-4 performance from long range, which was his first contest with a made three in the last nine outings.
The Wolfpack now hits the road for a pivotal three-game stretch, beginning with a trip to Syracuse (Saturday – 3:00 ET – ACCN). After that are games at Clemson and Virginia Tech. If N.C. State wins just one of those, they will still be 7-7 in ACC play with four games left, three of which are in Raleigh. A 10-8 ACC finish would probably put them in the conversation with respect to NCAA Tournament selection. Anything less is unlikely to be good enough. But after the gloomy start to conference play, at least there is some remaining hope for the surging Wolfpack.