NC State finished with a 24-13 record last year and barely made the NCAA Tournament (they were literally the last team announced). That record was a bit deceiving (11 of their losses were to teams that finished in Ken Pomeroy’s top 35 last season, and six of those were by single digits), but as Bill Parcells once said, you are what your record says you are. But on the strength of a Sweet 16 run, in addition to returning four starters and a strong freshman class, they were picked by both the media and the coaches to win the ACC this year, and are a preseason top-five team in a lot of polls. Will they be able to handle those kinds of expectations?
Junior Lorenzo Brown returns as the starting point guard and is poised to take a huge leap forward this year. There have been times he hasn’t looked for his own offense enough, or hasn’t been a consistent enough defender. He improved significantly in both of those areas last year and has really become a great rebounder for a guard (though he is 6-5). He’s still not a great three-point shooter, but if he can continue to be aggressive offensively, there aren’t any point guards in the league as of now that can stop him. Senior sharpshooter Scott Wood is technically listed at small forward, but he’s been the team’s primary source of made three-pointers during his time at NC State. When he’s on, he’s difficult to shut down but he’s also gone through prolonged cold spells. He shot 29.7% from three in NC State’s losses last year and 46.2% in their wins.
Freshmen Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis are going to get a lot of playing time as well, particularly Purvis, who started NC State’s exhibition game against Belmont Abbey. He was the most heralded of NC State’s freshman class, and he’s got a ton of speed and athleticism. Once he harnesses that, he’ll be just as dangerous as his teammates. Lewis, listed at 5-11 and likely Brown’s backup at point guard, is small and will struggle at first to defend other top-level point guards. He’s as mentally tough as they get though, and he can also hopefully add some three-point shooting to NC State’s offensive arsenal.
Junior forward C.J. Leslie was voted preseason ACC Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media, and he showed why towards the end of the year, playing some of his best (and most consistent) basketball when his team needed him most. He’s an elite shot-blocker, rebounder and scorer with off-the-charts athleticism, but sometimes his decision-making is questionable. He’ll need to be completely mentally engaged this year for the Wolfpack to have a good season. Senior Richard Howell, his fellow frontcourt starter, is as good a big man as there is in the league when he can stay on the court. He picked up four or more fouls in 19 games last year, though, and when he was limited, NC State wasn’t as good a team.
Freshman T.J. Warren is the real wild card. At 6-8, he’s a silky-smooth scorer who is capable of playing on the wing, but started ahead of Howell in NC State’s exhibition (which head coach Mark Gottfried said was a one-game thing). Purvis was the most heralded recruit of the class, but Warren’s early showings indicate he could be the best of the group, at least this season. Also in the rotation will be 6-8 sophomore Thomas de Thaey and 7-1 redshirt junior Jordan Vandenberg. Both have been inconsistent in their limited minutes, and one of the two will have to take a significant leap forward and be able to contribute consistently off the bench.
NC State will be tested early in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but they should win all those games. Obviously, the matchup at preseason No. 5 Michigan on November 27th looms large, followed immediately by a neutral site game against Connecticut for the Jimmy V Classic on December 4th. Other than that, only a potential for a revenge game against Stanford at home on Dec. 18th looms as a potential challenge. But the ACC schedule-makers did NC State no favors by giving the Wolfpack Duke, North Carolina and Florida State twice each. Their first early tests come against Duke at home on Jan. 12 followed by at Maryland on Jan. 16. The most crucial stretch will likely be a six-game stretch in February: at Duke, at Clemson (which can be tricky), Virginia Tech at home, Florida State at home and at North Carolina. That stretch could decide the league.
NC State even last year was a good enough team to hang with most teams for 35 minutes. But depth and foul trouble were huge issues for them down the stretch of those games, and it could be again this year, particularly in the post. If Howell and/or Leslie get into foul trouble, there aren’t a lot of options. This is a much more talented NC State team than a year ago, but will it be as smart after losing veterans like C.J. Williams, Alex Johnson and DeShawn Painter in favor of three freshmen? And will the Wolfpack be able to defend as well as they did towards the end of last year, or will they regress back to the team that couldn’t stop a woeful Georgia Tech offense? The short answer is yes, they can overcome all of that. If all of their core players take the expected steps forward they should in terms of year-to-year improvement, talent alone is going to win some games that they might not have last year. They have the best chance to win the league of any team, they’re a definite NCAA Tournament team and should have a good chance at a repeat visit to the Sweet 16.
NC State is full of guys that should make a fantasy impact. While you can't go wrong with preseason ACC player of the year CJ Leslie, Lorenzo Brown made me the better fantasy performer. Brown will score, get his fair share of rebounds, assists, and most importantly shouldn't be plagued by foul trouble.