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.