Mark Gottfried made himself very clear both before and after NC State‘s ACC opener against Maryland: his goal is to make the NCAA tournament. He knows 11-5 in conference play should lock up an at-large bid (the Wolfpack would be 22-9), so he wants 11 conference wins. His team is one game closer after beating the Terrapins 79-74. The score doesn’t really reflect the game, which NC State led nearly the whole way.
The one thing that was clear watching Gottfried’s squad is they have the talent to make the Big Dance. They are long and athletic up front–especially with the offseason transformation undergone by Richard Howell. CJ Leslie looks much better than when I saw him last season. He is still dominant in transition, but now he is much more comfortable around the basket. Where last year, he settled far too often for the 15-foot jump shot, against Maryland Leslie attacked the basket and boards to earn 19 points and ten boards. Leslie still needs to work on taking care of the basketball, finishing with five turnovers for the game.
As for the rest of the frontcourt, Howell struggled in the first half because of foul trouble, but came out swinging in the second to finish with 10 points. Maryland frosh Alex Len clearly struggled to keep pace with the athletic frontcourt late in the game, which allowed DeShawn Painter a couple of open transition lay-ups.