ACC Burning Questions: NC State Wolfpack

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 21st, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will the Wolfpack’s new lead dog be able to replace its top Cat?

A year ago, North Carolina State’s season seemed to have been derailed before it even got started. With the unanticipated departure of All-ACC second teamer and leading scorer Trevor Lacey to the pros, the Wolfpack had lost half of a dynamic backcourt from its surprise run to the Sweet Sixteen. And while Anthony “Cat” Barber did yeoman’s work last season in mitigating the absence of his viable second fiddle, the team just never generated enough traction as the Wolfpack missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Mark Gottfried’s five-year tenure. As he embarks on year six in Raleigh, Gottfried once again will be tasked in replacing his leading scorer, as Barber opted for the NBA after a spectacular All-ACC junior campaign.


Mark Gottfried hopes five-star freshman Dennis Smith Jr. (right) fills a fraction of the void left by Cat Barber’s departure. (The Fayetteville Observer)

Despite captaining an extraordinarily average team, Barber ranked seventh nationally in scoring at 23.5 points per game and second in the country in playing 96 percent of his team’s minutes. In his stead, Gottfried will hand the keys to the offense — an offense that ranked as last season’s 33rd most efficient — to the capable hands of five-star recruit Dennis Smith Jr. Smith, who chose the Wolfpack over Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky, suffered an ACL tear prior to his senior season, meaning he hasn’t seen any game action since 2015 (when he was named the Gatorade Basketball Player of the Year in North Carolina). By all accounts, Smith is now healthy and will undoubtedly have an opportunity to become one of the nation’s most impactful freshmen.

Smith will have the advantage of being flanked by a bevy of seasoned backcourt mates. Redshirt sophomore Torin Dorn, Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year while at Charlotte in 2015, will get the initial crack as the starting shooting guard. Dorn shot over 56 percent inside the arc in pacing the 49ers in scoring as a rookie. That kind of efficiency is something Gottfried would love to see from 6’7” wing Maverick Rowan. Rowan was thrust into a more prevalent role than expected as a freshman, and while he proved to be fearless and thus moderately productive, he did so while shooting a cool 34 percent from behind the arc. Still, Rowan set a Wolfpack freshman record in making 81 three-pointers, ranking fifth in the league at 2.45 makes per contest. The sophomore’s size and perimeter skills will likely be utilized by Gottfried to create matchup problems, as he will prove too big for many guards and too skilled for power forwards. Expect a rather large jump from Rowan after a year in the ACC cauldron under his belt.

The main reason so much was asked of Rowan last year was because of the ominous way in which the campaign began. In their season opening home loss to William & Mary, West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson was lost to an ankle injury that ultimately ended his season. Henderson’s presence was supposed to be crucial in diminishing the loss of Lacey, but his season ended after only seven minutes and deprived Barber of a sidekick who had made 46 percent of his threes as a freshman in Big 12 play. Henderson is seemingly fully recovered and is hoping for a much different outcome in what will be his only year on the floor for NC State.

Gottfried Isn't Impressing His Peers on the Recruiting Trail (Yet)

Few coaches in the country are as snazzy as Mark Gottfried. The hope for NC State fans is that the team reflects that confidence. (AP)

While the team’s backcourt depth is impressive, junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu has the strongest case to become the team’s best player.  After making considerable strides in NCAA Tournament wins over LSU and Villanova late in his freshman season, Abu built on that momentum in authoring a dynamite second term. Ranking fifth in the ACC at nearly nine rebounds per game and 53rd nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (13.8%), Abu’s unique combination of strength and athleticism gives opponents fits. When Gottfried opts to play a traditional lineup, Abu will be joined up front by senior Beejay Anya. Anya, the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 210, has the requisite skills to deter opponents from finishing at the rim, but carrying a weight well north of 300 pounds, the question is always how many minutes can he be counted on to provide? The concerns over Anya’s conditioning are even more pressing given the uncertainty surrounding the eligibility of a pair of freshmen big men. Turkish seven-footer Omer Yurtseven, a consensus five-star prospect, and 6’8” Ted Kapita, have yet to be ruled eligible by the NCAA, forcing Gottfried to prepare for the season under the assumption that he will be short two of his top eight players, and in Yurtseven, one of the conference’s top newcomers.

Once again, Gottfried has assembled a talented, if not particularly deep, roster in Raleigh. The transfer of the Martin twins to Nevada will be nothing more than a minor blip if Gottfried gets a full complement of players available. But if not, NC State appears to go just seven deep. And while the non-conference slate is relatively soft this year, this is not the season to enter ACC play without all the bullets in your holster. With all that said, if Smith plays as advertised and proves capable of shouldering some of the load in his first year, and Abu and Rowan continue their upward trajectories, and Yurtseven becomes available, there is no reason to believe that last season’s absence from NCAA Tournament play will prove to be a one-year aberration.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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