<![CDATA[College Sports in North Carolina - NC State]]>Wed, 18 Nov 2015 06:36:49 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[N.C. State Looks To Take The Next Step In 5th Season Under Gottfried]]>Sat, 14 Nov 2015 00:19:54 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/nc-state-looks-to-take-the-next-step-in-5th-season-under-gottfried​               The North Carolina State Wolfpack will look to start off its season on the right foot this Friday night when they get a home matchup with William & Mary, in what should be the beginning of another successful season under Head Coach Mark Gottfried.  Gottfried, entering his fifth year as the Head Coach in Raleigh, is coming off of his fourth consecutive berth in the NCAA Tournament, and his second appearance in the Sweet 16.  His success with the Wolfpack should continue into the upcoming season, as his team maintains plenty key figures from last year’s group, as well as a couple new faces to replace those who departed after State’s loss to Louisville in last year’s tourney.  This year, Gottfried will begin the season with one of the more well-rounded teams he has had since coming to Raleigh.  An experienced core of returning players, coupled with new freshmen and transfers, as well as strong talent and depth in both the frontcourt and the backcourt, should provide the Pack with a blueprint for success not only this year, but also for the future. 

                NC State’s frontcourt is largely the same entering this year as it was throughout last season.  The only significant loss NC State will need to deal with down low is the departure of Kyle Washington.  A strong forward who had the ability to score from everywhere on the court, Washington provided the Wolfpack with its main offensive threat in the post.  While losing Washington certainly will not help the Wolfpack, it is worth noting that by the end of the season and into the tournament, the athletic forward lost a considerable amount of playing time, and was not a central part of this team down the stretch.  Furthermore, the hole left from his transfer will be filled by versatile freshman Shaun Kirk, an athletic, lanky forward who, like Washington, can score from all over the court and adds a solid defensive option.  Kirk provides the Wolfpack with much needed depth at the position behind the regular big guys, who are firmly entrenched in the frontcourt rotation.  These three forwards are juniors Beejay Anya and Lennard Freeman, who will work alongside sophomore Abdul-Malik Abu.  Each of these guys enjoyed strong 2014-2015 campaigns, and will likely build off of them this season.  Anya is coming off a year in which he drastically improved following a large weight loss.  This resulted in improved stamina, which led to incredible defense strengthened by his innate shot-blocking skills, which have been a hallmark of his game ever since high school.  Anya received the ACC 6th Man of the Year Award last year, and after he shaved off even more weight in the offseason, he will be a force to be reckoned with.  Freeman, meanwhile, is one of the strongest and most powerful post presences in the conference, and perhaps even the country.  Despite offseason surgery to repair a fractured leg, he will once again give his team a boost with his prowess on the block and ability to hit the glass on both ends of the court.  Abdul-Malik Abu, the final rotational post player, is the X-Factor for the coming season.  With his size, speed, and extreme athleticism, Abu is a matchup nightmare for most teams in the conference.  In order to break out as a true superstar, though, he needs to polish up his game.  This involves improving his jump shot and his work from the foul line, where he struggled all of last season.  If Abu can become an offensive threat alongside the freshman Kirk, and Anya and Freeman continue their defensive dominance, then State will lay claim to one of the strongest frontcourts in the ACC, if not the country.
                Meanwhile, the Wolfpack frontcourt looks a little different heading into a new season.  With the loss of Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner, NC State loses its most dangerous long-range and offensive threats.  Lacey was the go-to guy last year, and was one of the nation’s best scorers.  This year, the responsibilities of these two will be divided up amongst a handful of players.  Freshman wing Maverick Rowan will be the outside threat, along with transfer Terry Henderson, who is entering his first year of eligibility as a member of the Wolfpack.  These two provide NC State with high level threats from the three point line, with Henderson adding on other scoring elements.  He will look to play the role of Trevor Lacey, but maybe not to the extent which Lacey scored at will.  Rowan should be able to spread the floor with his sharpshooting from the three point line, which should open up scoring lanes for every other weapon on the floor.  Caleb Martin, as well as his twin brother Cody, should improve upon solid performances as freshmen a year ago and step into more prominent roles on this team.  Caleb Martin provides a multitude of offensive skills, while Cody should step into a higher role as a strong defender.  However, despite all of this, NC State’s season truly and completely hinges on the performance of Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber.  Barber was the catalyst of this offense down the stretch last year, and provided the Pack with a boost that nobody else on that team could give.  He led NC State to big, statement wins on the road at Louisville and North Carolina, which was perhaps NC State’s most impressive game on the season.  He also performed at an extremely high level, both as an offensive playmaker and game manager, during State’s tournament run and upset of 1-seed Villanova.  If the Wolfpack is going to make a run this year, and have any hope whatsoever at winning or finishing at the top of the ACC, it will come down to whether or not Anthony Barber can handle leading the team, playing well over 30 minutes per game, and if he can stay healthy.  If so, he is spark that most teams do not have.  His speed in transition, his explosiveness to the hoop, his improving outside shot, and his strong defensive play make him one of the premier point guards in college basketball.  If he can play like the talented PG that he is, it will do leaps and bounds for the Wolfpack.

                Prediction time.  How will the Wolfpack follow up last year’s very successful season?  Looking at the nonconference schedule, State has put together a solid slate of games which should tell us a lot about this team.  With big games against Arizona State, Missouri, and Michigan, the Wolfpack should be challenged by good teams, which will give us a glimpse to how good this team truly is.  However, the nonconference schedule should be fairly smooth riding for a talented NC State team.   It is the ACC schedule that will be the hardest part of the year.  Just being in the ACC gives any team a hard schedule, and this is no different for North Carolina State, as they play Florida State, Duke, and North Carolina all twice, as well as showdowns with Virginia, Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Miami, and many more.  Overall, though, NC State should finish in the upper half of the ACC, with the chance at cracking the top four.  Overcoming Duke, UNC, and Virginia could be tough, but is not entirely out of the question.  It is unlikely that it will happen, but it could easily turn out that NC State finishes as a top 5 ACC team.  I am predicting a 21-9 regular season for the Wolfpack, with a fifth consecutive March Madness appearance, where they should be able to make another deep run.
<![CDATA[Can N.C. State Pull Off a Season-Defining Win Against #3 Clemson?]]>Sat, 31 Oct 2015 14:51:42 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/can-nc-state-pull-off-a-season-defining-win-against-3-clemsonCarter-Finley Stadium will certainly be rocking this afternoon when the undefeated Clemson Tigers, ranked number 3 nationally, roll into Raleigh to take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack (5-2) for an ACC showdown.  NC State will be looking for its first marquee win of the season, as well as under Head Coach Dave Doeren as they look to take down Clemson in what could potentially be a trap game for the Tigers, with Florida State looming on the horizon next week.  This matchup will feature two of the nation’s top defensive units, with NC State and Clemson ranked third and fourth in terms of yardage allowed per game.  NC State is coming off of a game that very much went its way last week as they jumped out to a quick start against in-state rival Wake Forest, while Clemson looks to continue its winning streak after a 58-0 drubbing of Miami.  Visiting Raleigh will not be such an easy task for Clemson, as this game has the makings for an exciting atmosphere.

                Clemson currently stands as the ACC’s best and probably only chance at securing a bid for this year’s College Football Playoff.  With FSU’s loss last week to Georgia Tech, Clemson is the last unbeaten in the conference, and have made it thus far in convincing fashion.  The Tigers have shown their strength in blowout wins (see last week’s obliteration in Miami) but also have proven themselves capable of pulling out close wins over quality teams, including a two point victory over Notre Dame and a three point win at Louisville.  Led by dynamic quarterback Deshaun Watson, Clemson has paved the way for an appearance in the four team playoff at the end of the season, and has even opened the door for a National Championship.  They have allowed merely over 14 points per game to opposing teams, and feature a defense in every sense.  They feature the second-highest defensive efficiency rating in the country, and should come out strong today against North Carolina State.  The Tigers’ offense, meanwhile, can certainly not be taken lightly.  Deshaun Watson has grown into one of the best in the country at his position, and is held up by a strong supporting cast.  The dual-threat QB is aided by a strong ground game featuring Wayne Gallman, who has over 700 yards and 6 rushing touchdowns so far this season.  Clemson also has a wide range of receivers, among which is Watson’s primary target, Artavis Scott, who just reached 40 receptions on the season.  Not turning the ball over will be key for Watson and the Tigers today, as any momentum in NC State’s favor could turn this game on its heels.  This is especially true against a young, hungry, and aggressive North Carolina State defense.

                Clemson’s defense may be one of the nation’s best, but the Wolfpack hold a force not to be reckoned with as well.  The Pack rank 3rd in total defense and passing yards allowed, have allowed the 4th fewest first downs in the FBS, rank 15th in rushing defense, and is the country’s number one unit when it comes to fourth down conversions.  On top of that, this group ranks third in scoring defense.  Some of this comes from having a fairly easy nonconference schedule, but even in tougher matchups, State’s defense has excelled in almost every aspect of the game.  It is the offense that has to be worried about in this one.  The defense should be able to keep the game where NC State has a solid chance throughout, as long as the other half of the team does its job.  In NC State’s two losses this season, this has simply not been the case.  Very conservative play calling kept Jacoby Brissett from reaching his full potential, and as a result, the Wolfpack struggled immensely to get anything going.  The failure of the passing attack impacted the ground game, as Matt Dayes, one of the premiere threats in college football, was unable to get much going either.  Dayes is number two in the ACC in rushing yards (793), behind only FSU’s Dalvin Cook, leads the ACC and ranks seventh in the FBS with 12 rushing TDs, and is coming off a 200 yard, 2 TD performance one week ago against the Demon Deacons.  Getting him into space is of utmost importance in today’s game, as he is always a threat to break a long run with his extreme agility, quickness, and speed.  However, the offensive attack is not entirely on Dayes today.  Fifth-year senior QB Jacoby Brissett will also look to impress in what could be the biggest game of his career.  NC State holds one of the most balanced offenses in the country, but if the Wolfpack want a win, it will come down to the kind of game that Brissett has.  With a plethora of great receivers, the main target being big TE Jaylen Samuels, and a weapon like Dayes out of the backfield, Brissett is completing two-thirds of his passes this year for 1332 yards and 10 TDs, versus just one interception.  He is a smart QB whose athleticism and innate ability to escape defenders bring multiple elements to his game that challenge the defense.  Just as in last year’s near-upset of Florida State, Brissett will need to step up, make some plays, and fire the ball down the field, getting away from the ultra-conservative approach that plagued the offense in its two losses.

                Look for today’s game to be a physical battle, with the defenses leading the way for both teams.  However, do not be surprised if both offenses come out firing to gain the upper hand early and often.  Clemson opens as a 10.5 point favorite over NC State, and has a winning streak of well over 30 games against unranked teams, dating back to a 2011 loss to the Wolfpack.  This is a game that NC State could pull off an upset in, as Clemson may be caught looking ahead to its big game with FSU.  It will be a close one throughout, and I am picking the Wolfpack to upset the unbeaten Tigers by a score of 21-20.

<![CDATA[This Could Be the Year in Raleigh]]>Wed, 02 Sep 2015 00:07:08 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/this-could-be-the-year-in-raleighThis could very well be the year that we have been waiting for in Raleigh.  NC State’s improvement from 2013 to 2014 under Dave Doeren was remarkable; State followed one of the worst seasons the program has seen with a far better one.  In 2014, NC State jumped out to a 4-0 start with an easy schedule, then faltered in ACC play some before pulling things together at the end of the season.  Last year saw a thrilling near upset of then number 1 Florida State, Doeren’s first ACC win with a victory over Syracuse, and three resounding wins to end the season.  Among these was a domination of the rival North Carolina Tarheels in Chapel Hill, followed by a great performance in the Bitcoin Bowl, when the Pack took down UCF.  So ended a very successful season for the NC State Wolfpack, a team full of youth, talent, depth, and leadership for this season.

                The Wolfpack are headed into this season with plenty to look forward to.  The primary reason for the hype revolves around fifth year senior QB Jacoby Brissett.  Throughout last season, Brissett proved his innate ability to create big plays, whether it be with his arm or his legs.  Brissett ran for over 500 yards and had three touchdowns on the ground last year.  Alongside of his running skills, Brissett had one of the better seasons in the country in terms of throwing the ball.  He completed 60% of his passes, throwing for a grand total of 2606 yards, 23 touchdowns, and only five interceptions.  Combining his rushing and passing totals, Brissett ended the season with over 3000 total yards, over 25 total TDs, and, again, only 5 picks.  The only other quarterbacks in the Power 5 conferences who amassed these totals in 2014 were Marcus Mariota, Nick Hundley, and Cody Kessler.  Brissett put together a truly great season last year, and his leadership will carry the Wolfpack through this season.  While the Heisman Trophy may be a bit lofty at this point, another year of experience in Doeren’s system will allow Brissett to replicate and even exceed his numbers from a year ago, so do not be surprised to see him as a potential dark horse candidate for College Football’s most prestigious award.

                It is important to note that Brissett is not alone headed into this season.  He has a strong and very wide array of weapons all over the field for him to utilize.  The only contributing member of the offense that NC State lost in the offseason was Bo Hines, and while he was the Pack’s leading receiver, there is more than enough left to make up for his talent.  NC State has a strong group of young, quick, and athletic receivers, including Bra’lon Cherry, Jaylen Samuels, Naquan Brown, and newcomer Nyheim Hines.  Further, TE David Grinnage provides Brissett with a big, impact receiver at the goal line.  However, while State has a solid dispensary of receivers to draw from, it will make its greatest offensive mark through the running game.  Tony Creecy graduated after last season, but his loss allows for Shadrach Thornton to play a more central role in the ground attack.  Thornton will be joined in the backfield by freshman Reggie Gallaspy II and the guy who could be the key to the whole season, Matt Dayes.  Last year, Thornton led the Wolfpack with in carries, rushing yards, and rushing TDs.  He will miss the first two games this year in accordance with his recent suspension, but when he returns, he will have an immediate impact as the go-to guy in the backfield.  Meanwhile Dayes is an all-around threat in all parts of the game.  In limited touches last year (10.5 per game), he was 3rd in the ACC in TDs with 13.  If he is cut loose this year, then his big-play potential will add an important element to NC State’s offensive attack.  Dayes has stated his intentions to reach 1,000 yards both rushing and receiving this season, which is not outside of the realm of possibilities for him.  He was the only player in the FBS to have over 300 yards rushing, receiving, and returning last year with over 10 total touchdowns.  With more touches his year, his productivity should see a major lift, as should NC State’s offense.

                This season, we are looking at a Wolfpack team that, if it can stay healthy, will finally make  a push to challenge Florida State and Clemson in the very strong ACC Atlantic division.  Jacoby Brissett will lead the way with talent, strategy, and experience.  Shadrach Thornton will pound the ball repeatedly and hope to build off his great season last year.  Matt Dayes should see an increase of workload in the running and passing game, and has the ability to be one of the biggest threats in the ACC, and maybe even the entire country.  NC State’s defense was rock solid at the end of 2014, and no key defensive players were lost in the offseason.  Overall, the Wolfpack are on an upward trend – one which will continue into this season.  The Wolfpack will contend with some of the ACC’s best, and home matchup with Clemson this year opens up the chance for a season-defining upset. 

Prediction time: NC State will build off of last year’s success, with the potential of contending for an ACC title.  There will be disappointment along the way, but NC State will also show flashes of excellence, possibly knocking off one of the top teams in the conference.  I predict that they will finish the year 8-4, and will gain entrance into a bowl game of a higher caliber.  Expect good things in Raleigh this year.


<![CDATA[NC State Looks to Bust Brackets Against Villanova]]>Sat, 21 Mar 2015 14:15:21 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/nc-state-looks-to-bust-brackets-against-villanovaMarch Madness continues today with the Round of 32, and as a part of that round, the 8-seed in the East, North Carolina State, takes on the 1-seed Villanova.  Villanova is coming off a blowout win against Lafayette, while NC State enters the game after a last second win over LSU in the Round of 64.  Villanova will enter the game favored, and rightfully so, as they are the number 2 overall seed in the Tournament this year. 

               Both NC State and Villanova are dangerous teams in this tournament.  NC State, when at its best, can beat or at least compete with any team in the country.  They defeated Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville this season to prove that.  Villanova, meanwhile, is experienced, fast-paced, and smart.  The Wildcats have just 2 losses on the season and are very consistent.  This consistency is where State and Villanova separate, as NC State is very inconsistent.  Even throughout the course of one game, NC State can go from looking just about unstoppable to looking pitiful.  If the good version of NC State shows up, this game will likely be competitive and exciting.  If it is the other version, however, things could get ugly for the Wolfpack. 

               Another big similarity between these two teams is their dependency on their backcourts.  Both teams have very talented backcourts, but again, Villanova’s is more consistent than NC State’s.  Darrun Hilliard III, Josh Hart, Dylan Ennis, and Ryan Arcidiacono form a talented, smart, and experienced backcourt.  The Wildcats rely on these four guys, who together average 44.5 points per game and about 10 assists per game.  Furthermore, they are all dangerous from the three-point line, and are a huge reason that Villanova is one of the fastest and best offenses in the nation.  This deep backcourt is a huge threat for every opponent, and is the main reason for Villanova’s success.  Villanova’s high-powered offense is what wins them games, and it is almost impossible to stop.

               NC State, much like Villanova, has a talented backcourt.  Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner, and Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber lead the charge for the Wolfpack.  The trio averages a combined 40.9 points and 8.2 assists per game.  This backcourt is loaded with talent and potential, but can have trouble reaching that potential.  When it does reach its potential, the backcourt trio is explosive.  As shown in some Wolfpack wins this year, most specifically the win over Duke, these guys are capable of changing the course of any game.  Against Villanova, NC State needs all three of these guys to be on.  Lacey and Barber need to be scorers from outside while also driving in and scoring, and opportunities must be created to run Ralston Turner off of some screens for good looks from three. 

               If there is one area where NC State owns an advantage in this game, it is the frontcourt.  The Wolfpack has a solid rotation of four big guys.  Kyle Washington and Abdul-Malik Abu can be difference makers offensively, and can use their athleticism in a variety of ways to help their team.  Both did this in the win over LSU – specifically Washington, who proved his versatility all over the court.  Meanwhile, the other two forwards, Lennard Freeman and BeeJay Anya, are the big bodies inside.  Freeman is the team’s leading rebounder, and Anya is one of the best shot blockers in the country.  He is becoming better on the boards as well, and when he plays well, NC State tends to do a whole lot better as a whole.  Villanova, on the other hand, has basically two forwards to lead the way underneath.  Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston are the two frontcourt leaders for the Wildcats.  They average about 16 points per game combined, and both are good in terms of rebounding.  However, Villanova doesn’t have the frontcourt depth of the Wolfpack, and State may hold a slight advantage on the glass.

               NC State can attack this game in two ways.  First, and what probably gives them the best chance at winning, would be to control the tempo and slow the game down.  This is how they beat UNC – with slow play and great defense.  NC State locked down, played patiently, and made sure that the Tarheels couldn’t get going in transition.  By slowing the tempo, NC State could try to throw off Villanova’s offense and keep them from getting out and running.  The other option for NC State is to match Villanova’s offense.  NC State is athletic enough to run with the Wildcats, and if their guards are hitting shots, then they could keep it close by playing along with the up-tempo, high scoring style of Villanova.  Either way though, it will not be easy for State to contain such a good offense.  Villanova will likely find a way to keep their offense going no matter what NC State tries to do.

               Quite honestly, this game will go one of two ways.  Villanova could dominate the Wolfpack.  If NC State comes out flat, as they did against LSU on Thursday night, Villanova will not hold back.  They will attack NC State and build a lead, and will likely not give that lead up.  The best chance NC State could have would involve them slowing the tempo and controlling the speed of the game, as they did in the win over Carolina.  State should attack inside, but also needs to be able to knock down threes to stay in the game.  They need to play a truly complete game against one of the top teams in the country.  However, even if they do this, Villanova’s shooting, experience, and smartness will probably be too much for NC State to overcome.  While the Wolfpack have a chance if everything goes their way, they are too inconsistent to pull out a win against a team such as Villanova. 

Final Score Prediction: Villanova 72, NC State 61

<![CDATA[NC State Defeats LSU in Dramatic Fashion, Advances to Take on Villanova]]>Sat, 21 Mar 2015 13:35:29 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/nc-state-defeats-lsu-in-dramatic-fashion-advances-to-take-on-villanovaThe play was drawn up for Trevor Lacey.  With 10 seconds left, Mark Gottfried made the decision to put the game in the hands of his star player.  Lacey, the country’s leader in isolation points, drove to the lane, stopped at the free throw line, jumped up to shoot, and had nothing.  He dropped the ball into the hands of the last guy NC State would want taking a last second shot: BeeJay Anya.  The 300 pound forward took the ball and drove into the lane, spun around, and threw up a left-handed hook shot.  The ball sat on the rim for what seemed like an eternity, then rolled into the hoop and gave the Wolfpack a one point win over LSU.  Anya took a while to make a significant impact in the game, not scoring (per usual) and getting into foul trouble that kept him out most of the second half.  However, he had 7 rebounds and played solid defense inside.  And then Anya had the final four points of the game, one a putback to make it a 1 point game, and then of course the game-winner to move his team to the next round of the NCAA Tournament. 

For a majority of last night’s matchup, things did not look good for the Wolfpack.  In the first half, the offense looked out of sync, and NC State was getting dominated on the boards and on fast breaks.  LSU was having their way, and Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey were putting on a dunk fest.  NC State just looked overmatched.  LSU went into the half with a 40-26 lead, and seemed to be well on its way to advancing in the tournament.  When the second half started, it was much of the same.  NC State was scoring, but they could not quite find a way to stop LSU, and had trouble gaining any momentum.  They were in desperate need of a spark to start something up.  It started when Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey knocked down a pair of buckets – Lacey’s a 3 that gave the Pack a little hope.  Still, though, State was looking for that spark.  It was Kyle Washington who provided it.  Off of a layup by Barber that bounced off the front rim, Washington rose up and slammed it back in with authority to cut the Tigers’ lead to 7, at 62-55.  The very next possession, Washington got the ball open at the top of the key and knocked down a huge three-pointer that cut the lead to 62-58. 

               From Washington’s outburst until the end of the game, it had a whole new feel.  LSU stayed out in front for all but the final thousandth of a second, but NC State gained momentum.  When the end of the game rolled around, LSU looked like they would hang on and send the Wolfpack back to Raleigh.  However, things changed when the Tigers missed their last 6 free throws, and NC State capitalized.  Anya finished the game strong, with the final four points to win the game.  NC State came back from down 16 to knock off LSU. 

               North Carolina State was on the other side of a game like this last season.  In the round of 64 last year, State missed almost every free throw down the stretch and blew a 20-point lead en route to a loss to Saint Louis.  It was nice to see the Wolfpack on the other side this year.  Give them credit for clawing back into the game and eventually picking up the win, but also, some of this win was due to LSU’s debacle at the end.  When all was said and done, though, it was NC State who came out on top and earned a date with Villanova on Saturday night. 

               So how did NC State win? There are a couple of reasons.  First, NC State stepped up defensively.  Much like what they did at the end of the season in some big wins, State played great defense and earned a win because of it.  They stopped LSU from making any of their last 12 field goal attempts, and held them scoreless throughout the end of the game.  Second, Kyle Washington provided a lot of intensity off the bench.  The sophomore forward has somewhat been in the ‘doghouse’ lately, but last night, he was key for NC State.  He ignited the run that won them the game, and game through on both ends of the court.  Lastly, Cat Barber played well all game.  He was the catalyst for NC State, and kept them hanging around throughout the first half and the start of the second half.  He played smart, and got to the hoop, creating opportunities for his teammates, while also scoring himself.  He led the way with 17 points, and did all he needed to do to keep his team in the game. 

               Next up for NC State is a game with 1-seed Villanova, a team with great guard play, like NC State, but also an underrated frontcourt.  NC State needs to avoid a slow start against Villanova, because while LSU slowed a little bit throughout the game, Villanova will not stop until they win the game.  For the next little bit, though, the Wolfpack can be glad for the great comeback win over LSU.

<![CDATA[NC State vs. LSU- NCAA Tournament Game Preview]]>Thu, 19 Mar 2015 03:28:54 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/nc-state-vs-lsu-ncaa-tournament-game-previewNorth Carolina State tips off its tournament play with a matchup against LSU.  The Wolfpack go into the game as a number 8 seed, and play in one of the more intriguing matchups in the second round of the NCAA Tourney.  NC State and LSU are similar, but also very different.  The two teams are similar in that they both have extremely talented rosters, and are capable of playing with any team in the country.  NC State proved that by beating Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville.  LSU proved that with wins over teams like Arkansas and West Virginia, and also a two point loss at the hands of Kentucky, the best team in the nation.  However, both teams underperformed this season, often times failing to live up to their potential.  NC State had tough losses to Boston College and Wake Forest, and LSU lost to Auburn and Missouri.  This makes this game so interesting.  Both teams are similar overall, and it should make for an exciting game.  Now, there is a big difference, and it is how the two teams play.  LSU gets production from a talented frontcourt, while the Pack pulls their production from a talented backcourt.  This game will likely come down to whether or not NC State can rebound the ball and keep LSU from dominating inside.

                Let’s get to know LSU a little bit.  The Tigers finished 3rd in the SEC standings due to their frontcourt.  Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey form a formidable duo underneath the basket.  They are the backbone of this team, combining for over 30 points and 18 rebounds per game.  They are true beasts underneath the basket.  They are the big reason that LSU is a top-10 rebounding team in the country, and take advantage on the interior against lesser opponents.  For NC State, it is quite the opposite.  The backcourt trio of Trevor Lacey, Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber, and Ralston Turner forms one of the most talented backcourts in the nation.  These three together average over 40 points per game, and at the end of the season, when NC State played its best, it was these three who constantly stepped up.  When these three guards are hitting shots, it opens the offense and creates opportunities for everyone else. 

                For NC State to advance in the tournament, they need to do two things.  First, they have to get Barber, Lacey, and Turner going – especially Turner.  When Turner, a transfer to Raleigh from LSU, is on, NC State is extremely dangerous.  When these three are playing well, the offense clicks perfectly and everything flows smoothly.  The main key to the game for NC State, however, will be their ability to match the production of Mickey and Martin for the Tigers.  This will fall on the shoulders of the Wolfpack’s four big men: Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Beejay Anya, and Kyle Washington.  Abu and Freeman are regular starters and are the team’s leading rebounders.  They need to crash the boards, offensively and defensively, and hold LSU from getting many second-chance opportunities.  Beejay Anya needs to do what he does best, and clog up the paint.  He has the innate ability to deny anyone from getting an easy shot inside, and as long as he stays out of foul trouble, he can be a best.  Anya will also need to grab rebounds.  He has a huge body, and needs to use it to his advantage.  The key to the game for NC State will be Beejay Anya and Lennard Freeman working together inside.  Anya will come off the bench, but has to provide valuable minutes for his team.  Freeman is a great rebounder, and needs to show it.  These guys need to at least equal the production of LSU’s forwards.  We’ve seen NC State’s frontcourt step up against Louisville, Duke, UNC, and other teams, and if it plays as it did against them, NC State should come out well – assuming the three guards for State are sharp. 

                Prediction time: Look for LSU to get the ball inside early and often, and for the Wolfpack to let their backcourt handle a majority of the offensive load.  If the backcourt for the Pack is on, it will be hard to LSU to beat them.  Likewise, if LSU’s frontcourt is playing at its full strength, it will be difficult for State to win.  If State’s big men get into early foul trouble, it could spell doom for Mark Gottfried’s team.  Beejay Anya must step up and lock down the paint, along with the help of Lennard Freeman.  I think that both teams will come out ready to play, and this game will be very competitive throughout both halves.  In the end, I predict NC State comes out on top, and will earn a date with Villanova in the Round of 32. 
NC State 76, LSU 73.

<![CDATA[NC State ACC Tournament Preview]]>Wed, 11 Mar 2015 22:22:37 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/nc-state-acc-tournament-previewAs NC State heads into the ACC Tournament, there are a couple storylines to follow.  The Wolfpack have played exceptionally well lately, and their late-season push is the big reason for them getting off the bubble and likely into the NCAA Tournament for the 4th consecutive year.  The question that needs to be asked is where can the Wolfpack go from here?  This is a team that certainly has the ability to take down some of the best teams in the country, but also a team that could lose in their first ACC tourney game tonight.  It will be interesting to see what happens.

                North Carolina State (19-12, 10-8 ACC) ended the season on a high note, winning 5 of the final 6 games of the regular season.  Because of this streak, Mark Gottfried has his team primed for an entrance into the tournament on Sunday.  NC State picked up marquee wins at Louisville and at North Carolina, while also winning hard fought games against solid squads such as Clemson and Syracuse.  The only blemish, as of late, on the Wolfpack’s resume is the 16 point loss to Boston College, a game they did not seem emotionally involved in to their full capacity.  Looking past this game, however, NC State has looked like one of the ACC’s best teams in the final stretch of the season, and is playing its best basketball going in to March.  So, how have the Wolfpack turned things around and solidified themselves for an at-large bid?

1.       Defense: NC State’s defense is becoming a hallmark of this team.  This is something the Pack has not been able to say over the last 3 year, but times have changed.  NC State has cracked down on the boards, out-rebounding their opposition in recent games.  Against Louisville and North Carolina, this was key.  A frontcourt of Lennard Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, and Beejay Anya, winner of the ACC 6th Man of the Year Award, have stepped up tremendously.  They have defended the interior and rebounded the ball at a high level, stopping the scoring of other teams inside.  NC State has won plenty of games recently with its defense.  They held UNC to a mere 46 points en route to a huge victory on the road.  They cracked down against Clemson, holding them without a point for 14 minutes in the second half, opening up a chance to again earn a big win.  Finally, the defense stepped up during a 27-2 run against Syracuse that won the game for them in the regular season finale.

2.       Productive Backcourt: NC State has one of the best backcourts in the nation, led by Trevor Lacey, Cat Barber, and senior sharpshooter Ralston Turner.  Since the Wolfpack beat Georgia Tech in overtime, Barber has become more assertive offensively and has stepped into a larger defensive role as well, and is the main reason for State’s success.  He has found a way to use his speed to his advantage, constantly making beautiful drives to the hoop, and also breaking defenses down.  He did just so against Syracuse.  The Orange attempted to trap the lighting-quick PG, but he turned onto a new gear, drove to the hoop, and kicked the ball to Caleb Martin, who turned to whip it to Ralston Turner for a three that gave the Pack a 20 point lead.  This was one of many huge shots that Turner has had this season.  He is not only the leader of this team, but one of its best scorers.  He averages 13.4 points per game, and when he is on, he knocks down every three he gets.  He led the Wolfpack past North Carolina with two big threes to swing momentum the way of his team, led State to the win over Clemson with 23 second half points, then again against Syracuse with 19 in the second half.  Lacey, averaging 16.1 PPG, is State’s best player.  Leading the country in ISO points, he has the ability to create off the dribble, or any other time he wants to.  The impressive backcourt has led NC State all the way here, so why stop now?

Now that the regular season has come to a close, NC State can look forward to March.  They kick off the ACC Tournament tonight against Pittsburgh, and, if they can pull out a victory, get a showdown with rival Duke, who they took down in Raleigh two months ago.  If NC State can keep up its winning ways and keep turning heads in the ACC Tournament, they will gain a lot.  Right now, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Wolfpack locked up in the Big Dance, but has them as a 9 seed.  This means they get a team about their level in the first round, and even worse, a number 1 seed in the next round.  Unfortunately, according to Lunardi, NC State would play Cincinnati, who they lost to early in the season, in the round of 64, and then if they win, NCSU would get undefeated Kentucky.  NC State would benefit tremendously from moving off the 8-9 line, and a deep run in Greensboro this week could potentially boost them to a 6 or 7 seed.  NC State is certainly capable of going on such a run.  They can beat teams at the top of the ACC standings, as they have done many times this year, but can also lose to some of the worst, another thing they have done this year. 

As for tonight’s game, NC State needs to come out strong.  Pittsburgh will come out looking to avenge an 18 point loss at the hands of NC State to open conference play, and desperately need to win to have any shot at playing in the NCAA Tournament.  NC State, meanwhile, will need their guards to do what they do best, and keep this team on their winning streak.  I think the Wolfpack will go in and pick up a win tonight, setting up a rematch with the Duke Blue Devils in the next round of the tournament.  NC State wins tonight by a score of 77-72.

<![CDATA[March 07th, 2015]]>Sat, 07 Mar 2015 15:55:18 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/march-07th-2015            There are two storylines going in to today’s Syracuse-North Carolina State game.  First, it is the regular season finale for NC State, who is looking to solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament.  A win today would do that for them.  For Syracuse, the question is how will the Orange respond to the recent allegations imposed upon them from the NCAA after the investigation against them?  They have one thing to play for, and that’s pride.

            The Wolfpack have a lot on the line today.  Their NCAA Tourney resume has been bolstered by three huge wins.  They beat Duke in early January, before dropping 6 of their next eight.  Just recently, the Pack has won two huge games on the road against then-number 9 Louisville and then later at UNC.  However, they followed those wins up with a terrible loss by 16 at Boston College, the worst team in the ACC.  All in all though, NC State has a much better resume than other bubble teams just because of their three huge wins, and their Strength of Schedule of 6.  As of now, they are on the right side of the bubble.  A win today, against a good Syracuse team, would likely put them squarely in the tournament for the 4th consecutive year. 

            Syracuse, meanwhile, is playing for pride.  Earlier this season, they underwent a self-imposed postseason ban, brought about by violations involving ineligible players in about a 5 year period in Jim Boeheim’s career.  Just yesterday, the fallout of an NCAA investigation included a 5 year probation, and the loss of 108 of Boeheim’s career victories.  They cannot play in the ACC tournament, so this is the Orange’s final game of the season – no matter what. 

            Syracuse is led by senior Rakeem Christmas, one of the best players not only in the ACC, but in the country.  He is a prime candidate for ACC Player of the Year, and is just about unstoppable underneath the basket.  Christmas averages 17.6 PPG and 9 rebounds per game, and will be the key in this game.  If he can play as he normally does, it will certainly create problems for NC State throughout the game. 

            For the Wolfpack, the key will be defense.  Recently, NC State has made defense its calling card.  They have held down the interior in big wins over Louisville and other teams, and have played stellar defense to stay in games against Virginia, Clemson, and North Carolina.  They beat Clemson and UNC with defense, and even held their rival Tarheels to their lowest point total ever in the Dean Dome.  They have buckled down, and this, along with two other players, has been the big reason for State’s recent winning ways. 

            These two players are Anthony Barber and Abdul-Malik Abu.  Barber has become a lot more confident and assertive in the last 6 or 7 games, leading the team in scoring, and using his quickness to his advantage on fast breaks and defense.  He has played smart, limiting turnovers, and has been the key to the offense.  He has shot almost 50% from three, and has been looking to drive to the basket, creating opportunities for himself and others around him.  Meanwhile, on the interior, Abu, a freshman, has been hitting the boards.  While Lennard Freeman leads the team in rebounding, Abu has become a great rebounder recently.  He has contributed to the better defensive play of the team as a whole, reaching almost 7 boards per game over the last 5 games.  He has some help though, as Beejay Anya has stepped up in big games, becoming the lane protecting presence underneath.  When State’s big men are at their best, Freeman and Abu are grabbing rebounds, and Anya is doing what he does best: blocking shots.  He has the ability to clog the lane, and does so effectively, not allowing as much penetration when he is in the game. 

            And how could we forget about NC State’s other guards, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner?  These two are the shooters for NC State.  Lacey is likely the team’s best player, leading the team in scoring, and able to create shots for himself almost at will.  If the Wolfpack need a big shot, they will look to him.  Turner, meanwhile, is the teams number 1 three point threat.  Mark Gottfried likes to run Turner (playing on Senior Day in his final home game) off screens and get him open for a catch-and-shoot.  Turner has been hot lately, and opens up the offense in an incredible way when he is shooting well.  If Turner and Lacey are hitting their shots at a high efficiency, it makes the Wolfpack difficult to take down.

            Prediction time: I think NC State will come out passionate and ready to play.  They will need to be hitting shots against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, while also penetrating and creating opportunities every possession.  Barber, Lacey, and Turner, averaging over 40 PPG for the Pack, will be responsible for this.  Hopefully with a pumped-up crowd behind them, NC State can pick up a win to possibly get them in the tournament for good.  Let’s not forget that last season, NC State beat Syracuse to get into the tournament as well.  My prediction is a 78-71 win for the Wolfpack.

<![CDATA[NC State Looks For a Resume Win vs. Louisville]]>Sat, 14 Feb 2015 19:42:33 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/nc-state-looks-for-a-resume-win-vs-louisvilleToday, NC State will get yet another chance at a big win as they visit Louisville for a game at 4:00.  After defeating Duke in early January, NC State looked as though they would have a great shot at making the NCAA Tournament.  However, things changed quickly for State as they have now lost 6 of their last 8 games, falling to 14-11 and 5-7 in the ACC.  NC State has lost to Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, and Virginia, with none of the losses coming by more than 5 points.  The Wolfpack had an opportunity to win plenty of games.  They were winning at Miami until the end of the game, when they let a win slip by in the final minute.  They lost to UNC by a matter of inches in the final seconds.  They lost to Notre Dame on a missed last second three pointer, after leading by 18 points in the first half.  They lost at Wake Forest by four after climbing back from down 21 and making it a three-point game in the final 10 seconds.  Most recently came the heartbreaking loss at home to Virginia by 4, after maintaining a lead for a lot of the game.

            Count ‘em up, five heartbreaking losses by a total of 18 points.  Five losses in winnable games that would have gone a long ways in bolstering their resume.  Three losses to three of the best teams in the country by a total of 9 points.  Plenty of missed opportunities.

            The Wolfpack desperately need to cash in on an opportunity, and they get two more chances at top-15 teams before the regular season comes to a close.  One of them is in 10 days when they visit rival North Carolina, and one is today, when the have the chance to play number 9 Louisville on the road.  Can NC State finally cash in on an opportunity today, or will they yet again let an opportunity slip by and fail to help themselves?

            That question will be answered by the end of the day.  NC State is capable of winning this game, but they need to play up to their potential, something they’ve done for an entire game only a couple times this season.  They will have to consistently score against one of the best defenses in the country.  This comes first of all from NC State’s guards.  Trevor Lacey is this team’s best player, and he needs to get the ball a lot.  Lacey’s ability to create his own shot is one big reason why he is averaging 16.6 points per game and leading the team in many offensive categories.  Meanwhile, Anthony Barber has looked fantastic as of late.  Starting in the win over Georgia Tech, Cat Barber became more assertive offensively, not only shooting at a much better rate and increasing his range, but also driving to the hoop on a regular basis.  Over the last 3 games, Barber has averaged 20.7 points per game, while throwing in 13 assists, 7 steals, and only one turnover.  While his emergence has greatly helped the Pack, the performance of senior shooter Ralston Turner has plummeted recently.  Turner had been shooting extremely well through the whole season, up until the last three or four games.  He has shot just over 20% in the last three games, and has made only 4 of his 22 three point attempts.  His confidence seems to have faltered, and it is killing NC State.  Turner will need to step up at some point, and become the guy that scored 33 against Tennessee just before conference play began.  If he can do that, then State will improve mightily, as he, Lacey, and Barber would all be playing at a high level.

            Defensively, it will be the post players who need to step up for NC State.  Montrezl Harrell is a beast on the interior, and will somehow need to be contained if NC State wants to win.  This assignment will probably fall on Kyle Washington and Abdul-Malik Abu.  Those two have been starting every game for a while now, and will be called upon to stop Louisville on the boards.  While it will certainly help State to play solid defense against Louisville’s guards, specifically their leading scorer Terry Rozier, the game will be decided inside.  Perhaps the best men capable of bolstering the Wolfpack’s post play are those who come off the bench.  Beejay Anya currently leads the ACC in blocks, and will need to continue his solid defense down low.  Lennard Freeman is another guy who can help out his team inside.  Surprisingly, he did not see the court in the loss to Virginia, despite being possibly NC State’s best rebounder.  His solid and strong interior presence is important, and when he grabs rebounds, State tends to play well.  In fact, they are undefeated when he hauls in over 10 rebounds in one game.   It will certainly be interesting to see how it all plays out this evening.

            Prediction: Again, this game will be decided on the inside.  Even if Lacey and Barber, and maybe even Turner have big games for NC State, it is likely Rozier and Chris Jones will have good games for Louisville.  The fact that the inside game will be key to whoever wins helps Louisville.  Montrezl Harrell is tough to stop, and the Wolfpack have shown they have trouble stopping guys like him.  That is why Louisville wins this one, 62-54.

<![CDATA[Can NC State Rebound from a Shaky Start and Earn a Tournament Bid in Conference Play?]]>Sat, 03 Jan 2015 00:04:16 GMThttp://www.nccollegesports.com/nc-state/can-nc-state-rebound-from-a-shaky-start-and-earn-a-tournament-bid-in-conference-play                To this point in the season, North Carolina State is looking like they will yet again be a bubble team come Selection Sunday.  While a 10-4 start is nothing to be ashamed of, it is hard to say that NC State has built an astounding resume as of now.  They certainly have had the opportunity to do so, with games at Purdue, on a neutral court against West Virginia, and a home game against Cincinnati.  All of these games were winnable for NC State, but they could not quite pick up wins in any of them.  At least one win out of these three games would’ve been nice for the Wolfpack to pick up, but instead, the signature win in nonconference play for NC State would be against either Louisiana Tech or Tennessee.  On the flip side, NC State has one bad blemish on the slate so far, a home loss to an average Wofford team.  That will certainly not help when NC State is inevitably sitting on the bubble.  They will likely be there again, due to what is looking like another good – but not great – year in ACC play.  The ACC is extremely competitive and loaded with good teams, and NC State will need to beat some of the best teams in the nation to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

 Now, let’s take a more in depth look at NC State’s season and what is to come.  First, we’ll start with the positive takeaways from the season thus far:

1.       Backcourt Play – NC State’s offensive game is led by three great guards in the backcourt.  Trevor Lacey, Anthony Barber, and Ralston Turner have all shown glimpses of greatness this year, and are leading the charge for Mark Gottfried’s team.  Combined, the three are averaging over 42 points per game, good for more than a half of the Wolfpack’s scoring.  It will be hard, and it has been difficult, for teams to be able to shut down all three of them, which is something only Cincinnati and their great defense has done to this point.  As long as the three stay healthy, NC State has 3 legitimate scoring threats, two of which (Lacey and Turner) can be deadly from beyond the arc.  State has seen all three step up at different points this season.  Lacey has been the number 1 contributor so far, but both Turner and Barber can contribute greatly as well.  Turner, a senior, had a career high 33 points in the win over Tennessee, and Barber constantly takes the reigns of the offense, and has become a better defensive player as well.

2.       Trevor Lacey – While he is mentioned above, Lacey deserves his own spot on this list.  The transfer has immediately taken the leading role in the offense, averaging over 17 points per game, as well as about 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.  He is shooting just under 50% from the field, and has been clutch in late game situations for the Wolfpack.  He has taken a lot of the offensive load from the gap left when TJ Warren left, and is filling this gap very nicely.  He is a guy NC State will undoubtedly continue to center the offense around and look to as a shooting threat in close games.

3.       Emergence of Freshmen –  NC State brought 3 high-quality freshmen to the team this year, and two of them have shined in somewhat limited opportunities.  Caleb Martin, and to a lesser extent Cody Martin, have provided NC State with more scoring threats, as well as energy and defense.  Caleb is averaging over 6 points per game in just about 18 minutes per game, and is efficient on the floor.  All around, he is a talented player who can take over a game if needed, as he did in his first career start against Charleston Southern.  Without Trevor Lacey, Martin scored 15 points in the first 9 minutes, and 17 overall, leading NC State to an easy victory.  Meanwhile, Abdul-Malik Abu, a 6-8 athletic forward, has recently seen an uptick in playing time, and rightfully so.  He gives tremendous effort and energizes the team when he enters the game.  He’s one of two NC State players who play regularly that is shooting over .500 from the field, and is very agile inside.  He is a nice complement to the stronger players underneath, such as Lennard Freeman and Beejay Anya. 

4.       Starting off ACC play right – Let us not forget that NC State is already tied for first in the conference standings, as they took down Wake Forest already in a home game in early December.  This puts the Wolfpack at 1-0 entering ACC play, one game ahead of almost every other team in the conference.

5.       Inside Defense – Led by Lennard Freeman and Beejay Anya underneath, NC State’s defense beneath the basket has been impressive.  An aspect of the game stressed by Gottfried prior to the season, the defense has been much improved.  NC State ranks 22nd  in the country in rebounding and 13th in blocks per game.  Anya provides the blocks, while Freeman is a very strong man to have underneath on the boards.  For State to win, they need their defense to step up against quality opponents.

Now, let’s look at the things that have gone wrong for the Wolfpack so far:

1.       Lack of Excitement – Before I go on, we have seen this before from NC State basketball.  Two years ago, State was considered one of the best teams in the country.  While they had the potential to be one of them, they oftentimes failed to show up for plenty of games.  That led to a very, very disappointing year in Raleigh.  Now, come back to this season.  State has not seen this lack of excitement very much, but it showed in the game against Cincinnati just recently.  The Bearcats dominated the Wolfpack in PNC Arena, and State looked slow and unenergized throughout the game.  It was a terrible way to enter ACC play, and NC State can only hope that the fire that they had at the start of the season returns soon.  Guys like Beejay Anya, Caleb Martin, Ralston Turner, Lacey, and Desmond Lee can bring energy to the table, and they need to.

2.       Missed Opportunities and Bad Losses – NC State has had multiple missed opportunities to this point in the season, and two bad losses.  They missed a chance for resume boosting wins against Purdue and West Virginia, which were two games they could have won.  The bad losses came at home to Wofford and Cincinnati.  The Cincinnati game was the worst one of the year for NC State (see above), and the Wofford game was the worst loss.  That should have been an easy win, but State gave it away at the end, per usual.  Trevor Lacey was one hundredth of a second away from winning the game with a miraculous shot, as the buzzer sounded the split second before he released the would-be winning shot.  These two games will haunt NC State in March, which is nothing new for them.

3.       Where is Dez Lee? – Desmond Lee has seemed to disappear this season.  At first, it looked like Gottfried had just overlooked him, but he has consistently been sitting on the bench, averaging just 8.7 minutes per game.  He is a quick guard, who doesn’t excel anywhere offensively, but who is a great one-on-one defender.  It seems he could be capable of shutting down an opposing guard, but he has just not earned the playing time yet.  He can turn the ball over in key situations (see Syracuse game last season), but he is a strong defensive player who could help out a lot on that end of the floor.  It’ll be interesting to see if Gottfried involves him more in ACC play to bring energy and emotion to the team.

4.       Road Games:  All but two of NC State’s games so far have been at PNC Arena.  The two not at home were losses at Purdue and on a neutral court to WVU.  This does not fare well for State, who always plays better at home.  They enter ACC play not as prepared for road contests (the first of which comes at Virginia on Wednesday), and will likely not do well in these games against top-notch opponents, or even average opponents. 

Prediction Time:

                NC State will be in the middle of the pack of the ACC yet again.  They will likely not beat teams like Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, or Louisville on the road, but could take on Carolina at home.  They have the ability to beat some of the better teams in the conference, but maybe UVA, Duke, or Louisville.  To make the tournament at the end of the year, the Wolfpack will need to beat teams like Notre Dame, UNC, Miami, Florida State, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh, who they open play up with tomorrow.  They will also have to avoid bad losses in trap games at Wake Forest, Clemson, and Boston College, which they have fallen victim to in the past.  The ACC schedule is certainly difficult, but the Wolfpack will have plenty of must win games the rest of the season. 

ACC record prediction: 10-7

Final Regular Season Record Prediction: 20-11, narrow entrance into NCAA Tournament.