The preseason ACC favorite returns a talented foursome of experienced upperclassmen and brings in three McDonald's All-Americans for the first time in the program's history. If NC State is ever going to make it back to the top of the ACC and national prominence, this sure looks like the year to do it.
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PG- Lorenzo Brown
SG- Rodney Purvis
G/F- Scott Wood
F- C.J. Leslie
F/C- Richard Howell
T.J. Warren (F), Tyler Lewis (PG), Thomas DeThaey (F), Jordan Vandenberg (C)
Guards: Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis. Brown is as good as they get in the ACC and Purvis could be the league's best rookie. Tyler Lewis has tremendous ball handling and passing skills, but will have to prove he can provide effective defense against bigger players.
Wings: Scott Wood, T.J. Warren. Everyone knows Scott Wood is a lights-out shooter. He should get tons of opportunities this season with so many scorers that must be defended, opening things up for Wood. T.J. Warren can play inside or out, and his development could be a key to State's success.
Post Players: C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, Thomas DeThaey, Jordan Vandenberg. Versatility could define this group. Leslie can beat defenders facing up or with his back to the basket. Howell can distribute the ball well for a big man and has some crafty moves of his own. DeThaey is a guy who can shoot it, but is strong enough to bang down low. The weakness is undoubtedly depth, particularly in light of State's foul trouble tendencies, since DeThaey and Vandenberg are unproven at this point.
Reasons to be Optimistic
Generally, one would expect a second-year coach in Mark Gottfried's situation to downplay the hype that has surrounded the Pack this preseason. Considering State was a bubble team that didn't really get it all together until March last season, being picked to win the ACC seems like a mighty big leap. Gottfired, however, appears extremely confident in his squad, and he is embracing the heightened expectations and publicity. That signals to me that he believes he really does have a contender, and perhaps he's right. State has the best point guard in the ACC, the preseason ACC Player of the Year at forward, one of the best shooters in the country, a rebounding machine in Richard Howell, and three big-time freshman who will all contribute.
Reasons to be Concernced
State lost its senior leaders, C.J. Williams and Alex Johnson, so this Pack team will need new leaders to emerge. In addition, top reserve DeShawn Painter transferred out of the program. The Wolfpack basically had a three-man post rotation with Painter, Howell and Leslie. Thomas DeThaey did not play much and Jordan Vandenberg redshirted, leaving the Pack with no experienced post depth this season. DeThaey, Vandenberg and T.J. Warren will all have ample opportunity to prove they can contribute, and the Pack needs one or two of them to be a reliable, productive backup inside. State hasn't been the favorite for a long time. How the Wolfpack handles the pressure could be a key.
Sweet 16 to Sustained Success
2011-12 was a season that felt like an awakening for NC State basketball. Early in the season, State showed signs that it would be a team that never gives up in a comeback win over Texas. The Pack suffered some big game failures against Syracuse, Indiana and at Duke, but learned what it takes to win. Throughout the season the Pack showed tremendous resiliency, fight, passion, and belief- some characteristics that have been long missing from NC State basketball.
The moment that really sticks out is the loss to Carolina in the ACC Semifinal. When C.J. Leslie fouled out with over eight minutes remaining, it seemed like that was it, the season was over. But State didn't fold. The Pack fought back from about 8-10 points behind to re-take the lead late in the game. Lorenzo Brown, perhaps finally realizing how good he is, grew up and took charge of the game. State lost that game, but may have gained the confidence and belief they needed to have that great NCAA Tournament run.
In 2011-12, NC State woke up and started the journey back national relevance. State got a taste of success and learned what it takes to compete at the highest level. In 2012-13, led by Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie, State hopes to continue its stellar play from March that gave Wolfpack fans a reason to believe in State basketball again.
The Wolfpack has the opportunity to accomplish some things this season that the program has not accomplished in over two decades. To get there, State has to prove its late run a year ago wasn't just a hot streak and that it can play at a high level over a full season. State has championship-caliber talent, post-season experience, and a strong coaching staff. Sixteen was sweet, but now the Pack is primed for a return to glory.