No. 18 NC State Wolfpack
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When the so-called “quiet period” ended last summer, and with it the moratorium on off-campus recruiting visits, North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried wasted little time in dropping in on Dennis Smith Jr., a consensus top-10 prospect from neaarby Fayetteville. On the first day they were permitted to, Gottfried and Wolfpack assistant Orlando Early visited Smith on the grounds of his high school, where a chartered helicopter delivered the coaches from out of a clear blue sky. More important than the attention the gesture garnered was its outcome: two months later, Smith committed to play for Gottfried.
Now Wolfpack fans are hoping Smith’s own much-hyped arrival pays similar dividends. The 6' 2″ guard, whom SI projects as the second-most efficient player among this season’s 50 highest-scoring freshmen, is the driving force behind NC State’s expected turnaround after a dismal 16–17 record last season. With ball-dominating marathon man Anthony (Cat) Barber departed for the pros, Smith will be given the keys to an attack he can lead ably, with his top-level ball-handling and the kind of explosive athleticism that can lead to instant offense. At his season-opening press conference, Gottfried made clear that he thinks the rookie is up to the task. “I think Dennis Smith is the best guard in the country,” he said. “Period, hands down. That’s my opinion.”
What makes NC State such a strong bounce-back candidate is that Smith will not be flying solo. Flanking him in the backcourt will be senior Terry Henderson, a transfer who shot 38.5% from three at West Virginia and missed all but seven minutes of last season after tearing ankle ligaments, and sophomore Maverick Rowan, a former top-50 recruit who finished his freshman year with three 20-point games in the final month. And the Wolfpack’s frontcourt, where double-double machine Abdul-Malik Abu (14 last season, tops among ACC returnees) will be joined after nine games by five-star freshman Omer Yurtseven, a Turkish seven-footer who was suspended for the beginning of the season by the NCAA in relation to compensation from his Turkish club team. Given the talent already on board, when Yurtseven arrives, the Wolfpack could be ready for liftoff.
X-Factor: Freshman forward Omer Yurtseven
A potential NBA lottery pick, Yurtseven is a mobile big man with finishing skills who once scored 91 points in a Turkish U-18 game and averaged 10.4 points and 5.6 rebounds in this summer’s U-20 European Championship. His nine-game suspension will give him only four games to get up to speed before ACC play, so NC State will need him to get up to speed quickly.
Coach’s Take: Mark Gottfried
“I think [Abdul-Malik Abu's] shooting is improved. I think Malik’s ability to score around the basket has improved. You know, he’s a guy that has been really good there in the last couple years but I think he feels and we feel that he can be even better – using both hands, his right hand, left hand on the block, using his speed and athleticism. You look from his freshman year to his sophomore year I thought he took one pretty good step from where he was. This year it has to be one more step. He’s gotta be a reliable scorer every night for this team. And he’s in a much better place to do that this year. So I think his shooting’s improved, [his ability] around the basket’s improved. We’re gonna try to put him in situations where we can get him some one on one opportunities. I think also he might step out every now and then and have the ability to make some perimeter shots. I don’t think that’s his greatest strength, but if he can keep some guys honest from there, that’s gonna be good. Hopefully he’ll have a really good year.”
Projected Depth Chart
|Dennis Smith Jr.||Fr||PG||15.4||5.5||4.5||120.1||22%||87%|
Projected ACC Standings
|Conference Rank||Team||Proj. Conf. Record||’15-16 Conf. Record|