NC State Wolfpack
Last year, it was all about TJ Warren. The ACC Player of the Year was one of the best – if not the best – pure scorer in the country, and it showed in plenty of the Wolfpack’s games. At crucial points in every game, everyone on the court and anyone watching knew where the ball was going to go. Yet Warren kept scoring, and kept winning games for NC State. Many could argue that Warren was the reason for NC State making it into the tournament, and these many people would be correct. There is no denying that Warren was the best player in Raleigh and the best in the ACC last season. He led his team to a regular season record of 19-12 before State made a deep run in the ACC tourney, which earned them the final spot in the NCAA tournament. They soundly defeated Xavier in the first round before losing a truly heartbreaking game to St. Louis, in a very disappointing fashion. Thus, the season concluded for the Wolfpack, and Warren headed off to the NBA.
This year, NC State will obviously be without its central playmaker and leader from last season, who averaged about 25 points and 7 rebounds per game for NC State, and was constantly the man to rely on. Now, the Wolfpack will need to find a new identity. The hype and letdown of two years ago has been forgotten, and Warren’s time is now in the past. Along with Warren, NC State lost other contributors, Tyler Lewis and Jordan Vandenberg, both calming presences for the team throughout last season. As a result, new guys will have to step up this season, and there is no shortage of players awaiting their chance to play. It will all start with the guards. Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber will take the reins and should start at point guard this season. His lightning quick speed is dangerous in transition, and last season he developed into a more mature PG and learned to play much better defense by the end of the season. Desmond Lee, who is entering his second year with the Wolfpack, will be the first guy off the bench, and is State’s best overall defensive player going into this season. Lee’s development as a scorer will likely determine a lot about where NC State will go this season, but his defense is the most impressive part of his game. The two remaining guards who will see plenty of playing time, and will both likely start for Mark Gottfried’s team, are Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey, the first of whom played his first year of NC State basketball last year after transferring from LSU, and the latter eligible for the first year at State after coming in from Alabama. These two will be called upon for a lot of the scoring to replace Warren, and are both perimeter threats for NC State. These guys could be the most important players in the offensive scheme for NC State this year. Meanwhile, on the frontcourt for the Wolfpack, many other players will be looking to play a lot more this year. These players would be Kyle Washington, Beejay Anya, and Lennard Freeman, along with three incoming freshmen: Abdul-Malik Abu, and Caleb and Cody Martin. All 6 of these guys will share playing time, and will provide plenty of depth for NC State, which is something the Wolfpack has not had an abundance of in years past. Every one of the 10 players listed above will see a fair amount of game action this year, and are all part of a team with lots of chemistry about themselves. Without that one main scorer, however, all of these guys will need to step up and play a role for their team.
NC State’s schedule this year is pretty similar to that of years past. It will include a challenging nonconference schedule, which gives NC State enough games to beef up their résumé for the tournament, but also will give them some easier wins. Games against Purdue, Tennessee, West Virginia and Cincinnati will go a long way in building a résumé for State when March rolls around. However, just like every other ACC team, NC State faces a tough conference road. With the ACC as strong as it is this year, NC State will have 7 games against opponents that are ranked to begin the year, and will have a chance in each of these games, as well as other ACC matchups, to make a statement. It won’t be easy, but for a middle-of-the-pack ACC team, wins in these games would go a long way in determining the fate of the Wolfpack.
Ralston Turner, Senior G: It is almost impossible to pick one or two key players for a team with so much depth and balance, but if there is one key player for NC State’s season, it is Ralston Turner. The LSU transfer played his first year at State last season, and was second in scoring behind TJ Warren. In fact, in one game that Warren missed with a sprained ankle, Turner put up 23 points on 8-19 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds. He filled in well for Warren in that one game, but this year he will be asked to be the team’s offensive leader all season. His great three point shooting and athletic ability make him a huge threat when he gets the ball, and he has the ability to take over any game. As a senior, he will be a team leader on and off the court, and will be a guy NC State will look to in big situations.
Anthony Barber, Sophomore G: Anthony Barber earned the nickname ‘Cat’ for his explosiveness and quickness with the ball. However, to be a well-rounded ACC point guard, Barber will need to have the ability to slow down the tempo and run an offense, which Tyler Lewis was used for many times last season. Without Lewis, though, Barber will need to play the role of an up-tempo PG and a game controller. He will likely be the catalyst for NC State’s offense, as he has the ability to score coupled with natural point guard instincts. If NC State wants to contend with the best of the ACC, Barber will need to mature and step into his new role as a leader of this team.
Lennard Freeman, Sophomore F: Last season, Lennard Freeman did not get an overload of playing time, but he did make the most of what he got. He played with great intensity, and is one of the stronger players around when it comes to inside play and rebounding. While he is not a prolific scorer, his 6-8, 245 pound frame could bang around with any of the ACC’s bigs. This year, Freeman could very well start for NC State, and will certainly have a larger role as a rock solid defensive player underneath the basket.
For NC State to be successful with a difficult schedule this year, they will need a balanced scoring attack along with the leadership to make it through the big games. Fortunately, State will likely have both of those. Led by a solid core and great depth, the Wolfpack should have another very good season and are looking at another berth in the NCAA Tournament, which would be their 4th in a row. I predict a final record of 20-11 in Raleigh, which will hopefully put NC State into March Madness again.