No. 6 NC State starts year as ACC favorite
North Carolina State went from rebuilding to Atlantic Coast
Conference favorite so fast that coach Mark Gottfried is already
having to manage expectations in his second year.
It could be the biggest challenge for the sixth-ranked Wolfpack
in a potential-filled year.
”That’s the one thing I tell our guys that we can control: we
can control how driven we are every day,” Gottfried said. ”It’s
easy to talk about it, it’s a little bit harder to do it at
practice. I can’t control a lot of things nor can our guys, but we
do have the ability to control that, so that’s what we’re trying to
do each day.”
It’s been a stunningly fast rise for N.C. State, which hadn’t
been to the NCAA tournament since 2006 before Gottfried’s arrival
last season. The Wolfpack (24-13) had a late-season surge and took
eventual finalist Kansas to the final seconds in loss in the NCAA
round of 16, ending the program’s winningest season in 24
Now Gottfried has four returning starters to go with a
recruiting class of three McDonald’s All-Americans, making the
Wolfpack the preseason ACC favorite for the first time since the
1974-75 season. N.C. State’s No. 6 ranking is the program’s highest
since reaching sixth in December 1983.
It’s easy to see why expectations are soaring amid a rabid fan
base hungry to challenge heavyweights Duke and North Carolina for
control of the league despite the fact the program hasn’t finished
in the top three in the ACC since 2004.
”I’ll go around town and people will say to me, `Wow, coach,
what a great year last year,”’ Gottfried said. ”And the truth of
the matter is, it wasn’t a great year. It was a great finish. We
had a really fun finish. And it was exceptional for our group. But
our year wasn’t great. We were just OK. So we have to be a lot
better than we were, not just at home, but start to finish.”
Then again, this is also the same coach who announced during a
public scrimmage this month that the program’s goal is to ”play on
Monday night in April.”
”I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot and say, `We’re going
to go out there and do this,”’ senior forward Richard Howell said.
”I just feel like we have the right pieces to reach whatever goals
we feel that we need to. … I feel like we definitely have enough
to finish stronger than we did last year.”
Everything starts with juniors C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo
Leslie, a 6-foot-9 forward, made huge gains with his
ballhandling and shot selection last year to average about 15
points and seven rebounds. He decided to return to school instead
of entering the NBA draft and was the ACC preseason player of the
Brown thrived in his first year at the point, averaging 13
points, five rebounds and six assists.
Howell (11 points) gives the Wolfpack some toughness and
rebounding, while senior Scott Wood (12 points) is a career
40-percent 3-point shooter.
That experienced group will likely ease the burden on the
incoming freshmen, who are led by hometown star Rodney Purvis – the
preseason pick for ACC rookie of the year.
Wolfpack fans were so excited about the guard’s decision to play
for Gottfried that they made a habit of attending his high school
games at Raleigh Upper Room, where he went on to become The
Associated Press men’s prep basketball player of the year in the
Forward T.J. Warren and guard Tyler Lewis round out the
recruiting class, giving the Wolfpack plenty of depth along the
While 7-foot reserve Jordan Vandenberg is back from a shoulder
injury that cost him most of last year, N.C. State is thin up front
behind Leslie and Howell – who battled foul trouble in several key
games last year. N.C. State lost DeShawn Painter to Old Dominion
via transfer for family reasons, robbing the Wolfpack of a reliable
post defender and rebounder.
The losses of veterans C.J. Williams and Alex Johnson also means
the Wolfpack must replace oncourt leadership – something that will
be critical for a team that isn’t used to wearing a bullseye on its
Until then, at least, Gottfried won’t let his players get
overwhelmed by it all.
”He tells us all the time: `How do we deal with this?”’ Leslie
said. ”We practice hard. We ignore (outside expectations) and we
do all those things that great teams do to be great. … We’ve got
to listen and we’ve got to be focused and jump on it from the
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed to this report.