Fresh off another last second loss, the Hokies return to Cassell Coliseum for their final home game of the season against one of the most talented starting lineups in the ACC. NC State is fighting for a first round bye in the ACC Tournament, and they are also fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
NC State is 19-11 overall, with an 8-7 record in the ACC. Five games ago they held a 20 point second half lead at Cameron Indoor Stadium, only to falter down the stretch. That was the beginning of a four-game losing streak that saw the Wolfpack get knocked off the bubble. They rebounded by beating Miami on Wednesday night. It was their second top 50 win of the season, and both came against the Canes. Miami sits at exactly #50 in the RPI, so NC State doesn’t have much room to work with. They can’t lose to Virginia Tech this weekend, and they need another quality win or two in the ACC Tournament.
NC State finally decided to dump Sidney Lowe (a couple of years too late) after last season, and they hired former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried to lead the program. Gottfried took Murray State to two NCAA Tournaments, and between 2002 and 2006 he led Alabama to the Big Dance five straight times, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2004. He has a proven track record of winning basketball games, and he has the program headed in the right direction after the disaster that was the Sidney Lowe era.
To Sidney Lowe’s credit, he did leave Gottfried with a stacked starting lineup.
That’s a quality cast of players, and they have excellent length. However, there are depth issues. Mark Gottfried only uses two players off his bench, and NC State’s seven man rotation is the smallest rotation in the ACC.
Let’s take a quick look at all seven individuals in the playing rotation.
Lorenzo Brown: Brown is in his second season running the point for NC State. He has great size for an ACC point guard, and he averages six assists per game in conference play. He’s a quality rebounder, and he can defend both guard positions. He can’t be categorized as a shooter, but he can make enough jumpers to keep a defender honest.
C.J. Williams: The veteran of this NC State team, Williams is a big, physical guard who has scored nearly as many points as a senior as he did in his first three seasons combined. A solid jump shooter, Williams is over 50% from the field. He is a terrific offensive rebounder for a guard, and it will be extremely important for Dorenzo Hudson to keep him off the glass.
Scott Wood: Wood plays over 32 minutes per game, and he’s at NC State for one reason: to make three-pointers. Of his 107 field goals this season, 78 of them have been from the outside. He’s shooting 41.5% from three-point range on the season.
C.J. Leslie: Leslie was a McDonald’s All-American and one of the top recruits of the Sidney Lowe era at NC State. He is a lengthy forward who can defend multiple positions. Leslie hasn’t developed his outside shooting yet, taking just 12 three-pointers this season. He is still NC State’s best and most versatile player, and if he can develop an outside game he will be even more dangerous. Leslie blocks a lot of shots (48), but he also has a tendency to turn the ball over.
Richard Howell: Already one of the best rebounders in the ACC, Howell could be a first or second team All-ACC player next year depending on the NBA Draft exodus of other players around the league. He is one of the strongest players in the league, and he’s a solid scoring option on the inside as well.
DeShawn Painter (6-9, 231, Jr.): The Virginia beach product originally wanted to attend Virginia Tech, but Seth Greenberg had one scholarship remaining, and he elected to give it to Allan Chaney instead. Painter has developed into a much better player as a junior. He plays 20 minutes a game, and he is NC State’s only post option.
Alex Johnson (5-10, 176, r-Sr.): Johnson is a grad student who transferred from CSU Bakersfield. He made 165 career three-pointers at Bakersfield. He plays 20 minutes per game, he has 90 assists on the season, and he’s a dangerous shooter if left open.
That’s only seven players, but there is plenty of quality in that rotation. The Wolfpack have plenty of experience in that rotation, and a lot of height in their starting lineup.
NC State will have a very good team returning next year. C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are first team All-ACC caliber players, and Richard Howell could be the top rebounder in the league a year from now. They also have one of the top recruiting classes in the country with combo guard Rodney Purvis (#6 nationally), combo forward T.J. Warren (#23 nationally) and point guard Tyler Lewis (#55 nationally) enrolling for next season.
This will be a tough game for the Hokies, as every player NC State puts on the court is capable of scoring in double figures. However, it is probably the first time since league play began that Tech has a little bit of a depth advantage, though with Victor Davila out it’s not as much of an advantage anymore. The bottom line is that depth and fatigue can’t be excuses in this game, because NC State has the same problems.
Dorenzo Hudson and Victor Davila will have their Senior Day events before the start of the game, and hopefully Davila is healthy enough to suit up and get a few minutes of playing time. Tip-off is scheduled for 6pm on ESPNU.