ACC Preview: NC State’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 3rd, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Cat Barber run this team effectively?

NC State made its third NCAA Tournament appearance in a row last season as head coach Mark Gottfried cajoled his team to a surprising 22-14 record. The Wolfpack were immensely reliant on ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren to get there, as he accounted for 34 percent of the team’s scoring and 32 percent of its shot attempts. Warren has since departed as a lottery pick of the Phoenix Suns, so NC State will put its hopes on a balanced scoring effort this season to make up for his lost production. That will start with sophomore point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber. His ability to protect the basketball and facilitate the offense while also looking for his own shot will largely determine his team’s fate this season.

Barber needs to utilize his speed but keep turnovers low to help move NC State along (credit:

Barber (#2) needs to utilize his speed but keep turnovers low to help move NC State along. (AP)

Barber was erratic in the early going last year, largely because he had been a score-first point guard in high school who was suddenly asked to find good shots for his teammates (primarily, Warren). Those struggles to run the offense led to Tyler Lewis earning a large share of the available minutes at the point, with the team often looking significantly more fluid with him running the show. That won’t be an option this year, as Lewis has since transferred to Butler. Barber’s improvement during conference play, where his assist-to-turnover ratio was just a tick above 2-to-1, could be a precursor for the floor leader’s 2014-15 campaign. If the sophomore can cut down on turnovers while improving his overall scoring (8.5 PPG) and three-point shooting (26.1%), he’ll be able to keep defenses honest and make the game much easier for his supporting cast.

That supporting cast is perhaps the deepest Gottfried has had at NC State since taking over, but nearly everyone will need to improve and pick up more of the load for the Wolfpack to repeat or better last year’s success. Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey will likely join Barber in the backcourt, and his 37.3 percent three-point shooting as a sophomore at his previous school would be a huge boon to his new team in an area of dire need. Ralston Turner, himself a former SEC transfer from LSU, was the only three-point marksman the Wolfpack had last year (his 77 threes led the team; no one else made more than 31). If Lacey is as good as advertised and Turner can find more shots with Warren no longer commanding the ball, the backcourt should be the strength of this team. But while Lacey and even senior Desmond Lee can occasionally direct the offense, Barber will have to play the majority of the minutes at the point for this team to run smoothly.

Of course, Barber’s job becomes even easier if the young Wolfpack frontcourt has improved dramatically from a year ago. BeeJay Anya led the team in blocks and showed flashes of promise in the paint, but his 340-plus-pound frame meant he could only play 12 minutes per contest. If Anya is more well-conditioned this season and can log heavier time on the floor, he can be more than just a large body inside. Kyle Washington came on strong at the end of his freshman campaign, a year in which he spent a lot of time in the starting lineup, so improvement on his 4.8 PPG is also expected. Likewise, Lennard Freeman will be counted on to become more assertive in his second year with the Wolfpack, but the key inside may lie with a freshman, Abdul-Malik Abu, who is already a notable defensive force who will need to become more assertive on the offensive end. Freshmen twins Caleb and Cody Martin could also figure into the deep frontcourt mix this year.

Clearly, Gottfried has more options at his disposal than in any year since he arrived. The team has potential to improve in both three-point shooting and inside scoring, two glaring issues last year, with Anya, Washington, and Abu making the paint a more fruitful option for NC State. If Turner can build off of his successful first year and team with Lacey to create multiple perimeter threats, the Wolfpack has the look of a balanced team that is capable of finding points from a variety of contributors. None of that is possible if Barber doesn’t take the reins full-time and make the offensive machine hum for 30 minutes per night. If he can, this team will likely be dancing in March for the fourth straight season.

Lathan Wells (77 Posts)

A 30-year old unabashed college basketball fan, I currently reside in Richmond, Virginia. I especially enjoy following the ACC and the local teams, VCU and the University of Richmond. I hope to continue my journalistic pursuits in the sports arena full-time in the future, but in the meantime I am really enjoying covering the greatest sport there is for RTC. Follow me on Twitter @prohibitivefav.

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