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.
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.