College Basketball Nation: North Carolina State Wolfpack

Tar Heels, Paige win shootout over NC State

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27

AP Photo/Gerry BroomeMarcus Paige's career-high 35 points carried the Tar Heels to the win.

No. 19 North Carolina and NC State exchanged haymakers on Wednesday night, with the Tar Heels coming away with a dramatic 85-84 overtime win in Raleigh.

Warren goes wild
It appeared the night would belong to Wolfpack sophomore T.J. Warren.

Warren had 17 points in the 2nd half on 7-for-11 shooting and finished regulation with 27 points, the 11th time in his career he has reached that number.

On each of the previous 10 occasions, the Wolfpack had gone on to win.

Warren finished with a career-high 36 points, the second-most points in a game by an ACC player this season.

It was the highest-scoring game by an ACC player against North Carolina since Boston College’s Tyrese Rice put up 46 on March 1, 2008.

It was also the most points scored by an NC State player since Tom Gugliotta had 36 on Jan. 22, 1992. That game was also at home against North Carolina.

Of the five highest-scoring games by ACC players this season, Warren (36, 34) now owns two of them.

Marcus Paige answers

But the biggest play of the game belonged to North Carolina's Marcus Paige. Paige's layup with less than one second remaining gave North Carolina a one-point win and capped a career-high 35-point night for the sophomore.

Continuing a recent trend, 31 of Paige's 35 points came after halftime.

The past four times North Carolina has won a game by single digits, a huge second half by Paige helped get the job done.

Over those games, Paige is now averaging 17.8 points per game after halftime, including the 10 he scored in overtime Wednesday.

Combo effort
It has been a while since we've seen a pair of ACC players go head-to-head like Paige and Warren did on Wednesday.

In fact, they're the first ACC opponents to score at least 35 points against each other since Al Thornton (Florida State) and J.J. Redick (Duke) on Feb. 4, 2006.
At the end of NC State's win over No. 1 Duke Saturday, thousands of delirious Wolfpack fans rushed the court. It was similar to pretty much every court rush ever, save for one thing: At the front of the group was a kid in a wheelchair, being pushed by a fellow student.

It was impossible to miss and profoundly confusing. ESPN's Dick Vitale, who was working the game, was immediately and rightfully concerned. For as fun as they are, court-stormings are a mass of people running and jumping into one another, potentially (though rarely) hazardous to everyone involved. It doesn't seem like a very good idea to put someone in a wheelchair in the middle of that fracas.

In fact, the kid himself shot a first-person YouTube video of him being pushed onto the floor. It starts out awesome, and ends up terrifying:

USA Today's Nicole Auerbach tracked down the man himself. His name is Will Privette, a Zebulon, N.C. native and senior at NC State. He was pushed onto the floor by student body president Andy Walsh, and it wasn't his first time; he rushed the court when the Pack beat Duke in 2010, too, but "that time I waited for the first wave of people to go through so I wouldn't get crushed," he said. (Some have criticized Walsh for pushing Privette on the floor, but Privette has been quick to shoot such criticism down.)

Anyway, things didn't go quite so smoothly this time. As the video shows, Privette was knocked over onto the ground, with little recourse for escaping the mass of people flying onto the floor. Just when things were starting to get legitimately scary, Privette got what he called a life-saving assist from forward NC State forward C.J. Leslie. You can see a photo of that moment, shot by Oliver Sholder, here. From Auerbach's interview:
We got right in the center, and as you can see in the video, I got hit from one side. It was like a wave. It toppled me over. I fell out of my wheelchair. I was on the ground, and I had my phone in my hand -- I was trying to film the event -- and the phone flew out of my hands and my glasses flew off my face. I was on the ground. I was like, "OK, what am I going to do now?"

C.J. Leslie was in the middle (of the crowd) and he saw me. I knew him from being around campus. He pushed everyone back and told everyone, "Get back, get back." Once everyone moved and realized what was going on, he picked me up and I've described it as like how you'd hold a baby. Once I realized I wasn't in trouble any more, I started to scream, like "Wooooo! Let's go!" C.J. held me for a little bit because we lost my wheelchair in the sea of people. He held me for a couple of minutes. I was screaming and yelling.

I patted him on the head and said, "Thank you." Then he put me in my chair, and the PNC Arena staff escorted me off the court to safety. After the game, I waited around for C.J. to say, "Thank you, thank you for helping -- saving my life, really."

It was the dumbest thing I've done in college but it was awesome.

That last sentence is correct in every single way. If you don't have at least one moment of your college career that you could describe the exact same way, you're doing it wrong.

In closing: Will Privette is an American hero. And Leslie's not too far behind.

Video: Rodney Purvis' one-handed dunk

January, 12, 2013

Rodney Purvis (NC State) delivers a crowd-pleasing dunk against Duke.

Freshman Rankings: Who made the cut?

December, 20, 2012
Every other week in these parts, we'll unveil our list of the nation's top 10 freshmen. As with first-year players, this list is bound to be fluid throughout the season. So if you don't see your favorite player on these initial rankings today, check back with us for later editions. Or you can just leave us an angry comment in this one.

Without further ado, here are the choices (followed by a notable player from the past who put up similar numbers as a freshman):

[+] EnlargeAnthony Bennett
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Bennett's size and perimeter ability break the mold of the traditional power forward.
1. Anthony Bennett, UNLV -- 19.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 54.7 FG pct
Freshman Statistical Comparison: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (2005-06)

As the most consistent and most prolific freshman in the nation, Bennett has distanced himself from the pack. He’s the top freshman scorer (19.4) and ranks fifth in rebounds (8.6). His 19-8 averages were achieved by only four freshmen over the previous 10 seasons: Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Kris Humphries and Carmelo Anthony. Pretty good company. Forget freshman honors, Bennett’s in the conversation for national player of the year.

2. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State -- 12.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 5.2 APG, 2.6 SPG
Freshman Statistical Comparison: Jason Kidd, California (1992-93)

Statistically, the last freshmen to fill up the score sheet like Smart were Jason Kidd and Penny Hardaway. On top of lockdown defense, he’s averaging 12.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.6 steals. Arguably the top freshman in November, Smart’s production has waned a bit this month. His turnovers are high and he’s shooting only 35 percent from the field on the season. With those caveats aside, there’s really no one like him.

3. Jahii Carson, Arizona State -- 17.9 PPG, 5.3 APG
Freshman Statistical Comparison: Jerryd Bayless, Arizona (2007-08)

Three of the top 20 recruits in the nation enrolled at Arizona this year, but there’s little question that the most impressive freshman in the state plays in Tempe. Carson (17.9 ppg) trails only Bennett is scoring, while also ranking in the top five in assists (5.3). It has been 16 years since a freshman averaged 17 and 5 (Seton Hall’s Shaheen Holloway in 1996-97). On a team picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12, it’s no surprise that the Sun Devils are leaning heavily on Carson. If he turns ASU into a conference contender, he might lock up this award. But keep in mind that the last USBWA Freshman of the Year to miss the NCAA tournament was Eddie Griffin in 2000-01.

4. Ben McLemore, Kansas -- 15.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.3 APG
Freshman Statistical Comparison: Courtney Lee, Western Kentucky (2004-05)

Kansas is the only team in the top 20 with a freshman leading the team in scoring. McLemore (15.9 PPG) is on track to break Danny Manning’s freshman scoring record, while joining Brandon Rush as the only freshmen to lead the Jayhawks in scoring over the past 30 years. An interesting side note: Both McLemore and Carson are redshirt freshmen, who were ineligible last season. They were ranked back-to-back (at 49th and 50th, respectively) in the ESPN 100 for the Class of 2011.

5. Archie Goodwin, Kentucky -- 15.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.4 APG
Freshman Statistical Comparison: Tyreke Evans, Memphis (2008-09)

Goodwin is putting up numbers eerily similar to another John Calipari freshman sensation, albeit from his pre-Kentucky days. Like Goodwin, Tyreke Evans was pressed into point guard duty for Memphis in 2009, finishing the season at 17.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 3.9 APG. Through 10 games, Goodwin is averaging 15.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 4.4 APG. Just like John Wall and Brandon Knight did as freshmen, he leads the Wildcats in points and assists.

6. Nerlens Noel, Kentucky – 10.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 3.9 BPG, 2.8 SPG
Freshman Statistical Comparison: Tyrus Thomas, LSU (2005-06)

In the span of a month, Noel went from overrated to overlooked. That’s what expectations will do for you. Maybe he won’t be the next Anthony Davis, but his numbers on the defensive end are worthy of praise. Noel leads all freshmen in steals (2.8), ranks second in blocks (3.9) and fourth in rebounds (9.0). He’s the only player, regardless of class, ranked in the top 50 in steals and blocks. Even if his offense doesn’t come around, Noel will remain among the most impactful freshmen.

[+] EnlargeShabazz Muhammad
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsUCLA's Shabazz Muhammad has been stellar since becoming eligible this season.
7. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA -- 17.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG
Freshman Statistical Comparison: Rashad McCants, UNC (2002-03)

While Muhammad missed the first three games of the season, Jordan Adams exploded out of the gate. But Muhammad has been the Bruins' most consistent player since becoming eligible. He’s up to 17.8 ppg, the fifth-highest scoring average among freshmen. A week ago, he wouldn’t have been on this list. But after totaling 46 points over the past two games, Muhammad is coming on strong. Apart from Kevin Love, no one has been a bigger threat to Don MacLean’s school freshman scoring record (18.6 ppg).

8. Semaj Christon, Xavier -- 14.7 PPG, 5.2 APG
Freshman Statistical Comparison: Dominic James, Marquette (2005-06)

Cramps limited Christon to 23 minutes against Cincinnati, blocking him from a potential statement game. On a team that lost its top six scorers, he has thrown the Musketeers on his back with the fifth-highest usage percentage of any freshman. He’s on track to be Xavier’s second-leading freshman scorer of all time behind Byron Larkin (17.0 in 1984-85). All that’s missing is the deep threat. Christon is 2-for-11 from 3-point range.

9. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke -- 12.7 PPG, 2.7 APG, 3.6 RPG
Freshman Statistical Comparison: E’Twaun Moore, Purdue (2007-08)

While most of his brethren dominate lesser competition, Sulaimon is getting it done against the nation’s elite. With 17 points against Ohio State and 14 against Louisville, he’s a big reason that the Blue Devils are unbeaten and No. 1 in the nation. He doesn’t have the flashiest numbers, but Sulaimon is third on Duke in points, rebounds, assists and steals.

10. Nik Stauskas, Michigan -- 13.2 PPG, 54.7 3-pt FG pct
Freshman Statistical Comparison: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt (2009-10)

The least heralded recruit on this list, Stauskas was ranked 76th in the ESPN 100 coming out of St. Mark’s in Southborough, Mass. But the Canadian has been just the deep threat that John Beilein needed at Michigan, shooting 54.7 percent from 3-point range. That puts him on pace to break Jay Edwards’ 25-year-old record for 3-point percentage by a freshman (53.6).

Just Missed: T.J. Warren (NC State), Isaiah Austin (Baylor), Jordan Adams (UCLA)
Rising: James Robinson (Pittsburgh), Jakarr Sampson (St. John’s), John Brown (High Point)
Falling: Brandon Ashley (Arizona), James Woodard (Tulsa), Dewayne Russell (Northern Arizona)

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

December, 7, 2012
The Blue Devils continue to roll; the Hokies continue to rise. Here are this week’s ACC power rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have played lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Duke. After beating three top-5 teams in November, the question is: When will the second-ranked Blue Devils lose? They easily dispatched Delaware last weekend, and next up is a matchup with Temple in East Rutherford, N.J.

2. Virginia Tech. If the Hokies’ 6-0 start didn’t raise your eyebrows, then last weekend’s win over No. 15 Oklahoma State (to push their record to 7-0) should have. Senior Erick Green (24.9 points per game) continues to impress as Tech -- picked before the season to finish 10th in the league -- gets another test Saturday with a trip to West Virginia.

3. NC State. The No. 25 Wolfpack remain a work in progress, but they proved they are going in the right direction with their win over UConn in the Jimmy V Classic. Senior Richard Howell and freshman T.J. Warren -- two of the “other” guys often mentioned after C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood and Rodney Purvis -- lead the team in scoring with 14 ppg and 13.4 ppg, respectively.

4. Maryland. Coach Mark Turgeon inserted three new players into the starting lineup in a blowout win over Maryland-Eastern Shore -- just, he said, to give them the experience of starting. And he might do something similar this weekend against South Carolina State. This team seems to be having fun, and it has translated into seven straight wins.

5. Miami. The Hurricanes have won three straight since the return of guard Durand Scott, who had to sit out the first three games of the season. He’s averaging 15 ppg, second only to Shane Larkin (16.3). Miami doesn’t play again until Dec. 14.

6. North Carolina. The Tar Heels beat UAB last weekend without injured starting point guard Marcus Paige, but coach Roy Williams is looking for someone to step up at center (three players have started there) and for his team to get better on defense. Reserve Leslie McDonald is making 50 percent of his 3-pointers, which is a good sign for a team that needs to be accurate from long distance.

7. Virginia. It hasn’t always been pretty -- how about that 46-38 win over Tennessee? -- but the Cavaliers have reeled off six straight victories since their 1-2 start. Guard Jontel Evans’ surgically repaired right foot continues to be an issue, but Joe Harris leads the team with 16.1 ppg and forward Akil Mitchell has four double-doubles this season.

8. Clemson. The Tigers lost a starter when the school announced earlier this week that sophomore guard T.J. Sapp would transfer. But they’ll return another -- senior forward Milton Jennings, who missed the past two games because of a suspension -- in time for Saturday’s game against No. 8 Arizona. Clemson is ranked 12th nationally in scoring defense, holding opponents to 53.7 points per game.

9. Georgia Tech. By beating Georgia earlier this week, the Yellow Jackets have won back-to-back games in the in-state rivalry for the first time since winning three in a row from 1992 to 1994. Freshman Marcus Georges-Hunt leads Tech with 12 ppg.

10. Florida State. What’s worse: A five-point loss to a sub-.500 Mercer team or a 25-point loss to a top-10 Florida squad? The Seminoles, who have dropped three straight, have a lot to figure out.

11. Wake Forest. After back-to-back single-digit scoring games (in losses to Nebraska and at Richmond), senior C.J. Harris finally got back to double figures (10) in a win over High Point. Their poor rebounding margin (minus-1.4 per game, last in the league) hasn’t helped the Deacons, either.

12. Boston College. Ryan Anderson is seventh in the ACC in scoring (15.4 ppg), but the Eagles rank last in field goal percentage defense (45.4). Harvard shot 61.5 percent in the second half of BC’s latest loss. Harvard has won five straight in the series.

How NC State can avoid disappointment

November, 27, 2012
Mark GottfriedRob Kinnan/US PresswireExpectations are high this season for Mark Gottfried's NC State team.
North Carolina State was the ACC preseason favorite for the first time since 1975, and after visiting Raleigh for Midnight Madness, I felt like this team deserved the hype. A one-sided loss to Oklahoma State and a close call with UNC-Asheville has quelled some of that excitement.

As the Wolfpack head into a showdown at Michigan on Tuesday, consistency has been one of the biggest issues -- and it’s not that surprising as Mark Gottfried tries to blend his core group of four returning starters with his extremely talented freshmen.

Let’s look at five important questions that surround this team:

1) The Wolfpack have (and most likely will) beat almost all of the teams they're supposed to, but when will they win a meaningful regular-season game? Part of the reason there is so much hype in Raleigh is because of the Wolfpack’s run in March, but this group went winless (0-8) against Top-25 opponents last season before taking down SDSU and Georgetown in the NCAA tournament. Was that a sign of things to come or an anomaly? They don't want to gain the reputation of being a team that only wins the games it's “supposed” to win. That would be a problem for a program that plays North Carolina and Duke twice each season and is trying to elevate to that same elite level.

2) Can the early-season loss to OSU and near miss with Asheville be a wake-up call that ignites this team? The Pack were told how great they were going to be for six months. They have two All-American-caliber players, three McDonald’s All-American freshmen, an experienced coach and a boatload of hype. That is a recipe for potential, but not necessarily success. Sometimes an early loss can put the chip back on the shoulder of a team that has potentially gotten a bloated sense of themselves. Oklahoma State took it to them. They were more physical, more athletic and played with a sense of urgency that was lacking on the NC State side. The next time out, NCSU lets a Big South team hang around throughout. You have a lot of experience in that locker room. The loss and close-game scare may be the early wake-up call the Pack needed.

3) C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Richard Howell and Scott Wood are guys who have been there, but can this team avoid chemistry problems? Rodney Purvis was a name that was floated around a lot in the preseason as a game-changing talent. He hasn't disappointed early on, and neither has T.J. Warren. Both guys find themselves averaging double-digit points and are among the leaders in minutes played as the new guys in town. Meanwhile, Brown has struggled through five games, surprisingly not shooting well (34.8 percent) or distributing the ball effectively (a near-even assist/turnover ratio), seemingly trying to do too much and not making his teammates better. State played its best when Leslie was the focal point of the offense and that’s what it needs to go back to.

4) Were Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams smiling contently in the preseason as NC State got all of the attention? For the first time in nearly 40 years, the Pack were the big men in the Triangle. But so far Duke has gone about business as usual and been outstanding. There is no doubt Duke and UNC are equipped to handle expectations -- that's what they do every season. But for NC State, winning big games is not going to be easy. These guys aren't used to being the target. Changing an entire culture takes time. Banners are not hung for teams ranked No. 1 in the preseason.

5) NC State drew fourth-ranked Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and will have an opportunity to prove itself against a very good Wolverine team on the road. But how do the Pack match up? It has to be tempting to look over at the Michigan sideline and think, “Wow, this team is what our team was supposed to look like.” Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. are making a case for the best backcourt in the country, and Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary are young guys making huge contributions. Conversely, Leslie and Brown were thought of as All-American quality players, but have underperformed and the freshmen have not fit seamlessly into coach Gottfried’s system. These were two teams that were ranked in the top 10 that are trending in different directions. Does NC State have the talent to beat Michigan? Yes. Do I think they’re ready to do it at this point in the season? No.

But it's important to keep in mind that this is college basketball, not football. Every game is important and winning big games can help immensely during seeding time, but it is also a very long season. NC State is going to be good. Perhaps very good. What needs to happen in Raleigh is a concerted effort to blend as a group and begin to play consistently.

North Carolina State is not a top-10 team right now. And Oklahoma State, the team that dismantled the Wolfpack Sunday, can compete for the Big 12 title if it plays the way it did against NCSU (no guarantee) throughout the season. Those are the two conclusions I reached after watching this matchup in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship.

Yes, the teams played indoors, but mentally, NC State was on a Puerto Rican beach sipping mango smoothies and building sand castles.

The Wolfpack was not in that gym. Mark Gottfried’s squad looked listless. The knock against C.J. Leslie throughout his career? He’s great when he wants to be, average if he’s not focused. And Leslie didn’t look focused. T.J. Warren (15 points) was the only NC State player who seemed to recognize the moment. But overall, the Pack didn’t bring it.

Now, I’m not going to call Oklahoma State the best team in the Big 12 (it will certainly crack the Top 25 Monday), but I think the Cowboys proved that they belong in the Big 12 title conversation after this performance. They stifled a North Carolina State team that was bigger, stronger, deeper and more experienced. Why? Well, Google "Marcus Smart."

Go with me on this one. At some point in the Jackson 5’s path to stardom, the group was recognized as Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. The group was good but the star was the key to the show. Everyone knew it. And that’s the situation Oklahoma State is in right now. If Smart is on his game, as he was Sunday night, the Cowboys can contend with any team in the country. But the freshman won’t play like that every night. He’ll need consistent help throughout the season. The ceiling, however, is very high for this Pokes squad with Smart on the roster. Very high.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smart
AP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoNC State had no answer for Marcus Smart as the freshman scored 20 points with seven rebounds and seven assists in the Cowboys' win.
Overview: Oklahoma State raised its stock in Puerto Rico. The Cowboys improved each game, an effort that concluded with Sunday’s 76-56 upset over No. 6 North Carolina State in the championship game. Smart (20 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, four steals, four blocks and five turnovers) was brilliant. Le'Bryan Nash (13-for-13 from the free throw line) added 23 points and eight rebounds for an OSU squad that established an early double-digit lead against NC State and preserved it in the second half. Lethargic defense, foul trouble and limited contributions from its stars doomed the Wolfpack. Gottfried’s program wasn’t just outplayed. It was embarrassed.

Turning point: This game turned the day that Smart signed with Oklahoma State. The dynamic point guard not only changed this game, he changed the entire outlook of a program that won only 15 games in 2011-12. The Cowboys were down 7-5 in the first half when Smart connected on back-to-back 3-pointers and a jump shot to put Oklahoma State ahead by four points. He was unstoppable the rest of the first half (18 points before halftime). Smart was 7-for-11 from the field in the first, while the rest of the squad was 6-for-17 on its way to a 38-28 halftime advantage. The Cowboys took North Carolina State’s heart in the first half. Early in the second half, the Pack didn’t look like a squad that had much interest in competing.

Why Oklahoma State won: NC State didn’t have any answers for Smart. He was the difference-maker in the first half. He was aggressive and dominant. Smart attacked the basket and finished with ease. Oklahoma State’s relentlessness led to 24 free throws. The Cowboys made 20 of them. But their offense was only one component in this upset. NC State had more depth and brawn inside. But the Cowboys challenged the Pack at the rim. They took away the easy buckets against a team that struggled inside and outside.

Why NC State lost: These guys lost because they couldn’t/didn’t adjust defensively as Smart began to heat up in the first half. Gottfried employed a zone with some success in the second half, but it was too little, too late. Smart was the main guy who North Carolina State had to limit and it couldn’t stop him. But the Wolfpack also lost because its best players were ineffective. Leslie scored two points and fouled out with 17 minutes to play. Lorenzo Brown was 2-for-9 and finished with six points. That’s eight combined points for NC State’s top players. Richard Howell fouled out with six points. The Pack just didn’t have it on either end of the floor Sunday.

Star of the game: Smart did whatever he wanted to do against a veteran Wolfpack squad. Brown couldn’t handle him. A zone couldn’t stop him. If there were any questions beforehand, there shouldn’t be any now. The preseason hype was obviously legit. I know it’s early, but that was arguably the best first half of the 2012-13 season.

What it means for North Carolina State: Gottfried has to figure out what happened cerebrally more than anything. North Carolina State is definitely one of the most talented teams in the country, on paper. The Wolfpack’s run to the Sweet 16 in 2012 proved that it’s capable of competing with the best, but Sunday’s performance echoed a dangerous trend for a team that lacked energy in too many games a year ago. That’s what the Wolfpack has to address.

What it means for Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are a team that’s fully capable of playing with the best teams as long as Smart is on the floor. But teams will stack defenses against him and force other players to make plays. Nash did that in the second half Sunday, but Smart will need help throughout the season. If they continue to defend (NCSU shot 35.5 percent from the field), however, the Pokes may evolve into a team that’s not only good enough to get into the NCAA tournament but one that can make a run.

More observations: I have to co-sign what my colleague, Eamonn Brennan, wrote on Twitter: I love Warren’s game. Position? Scorer. He’s crucial for the Wolfpack. … Oklahoma State preserved its lead in the second half but I think the Cowboys would have surrendered it against more tenacious opponents. The Cowboys were greedy and took bad shots. That strategy could hurt them if they’re in a similar situation in the future. … I don’t think Smart is making Nash a better player as much as he’s allowing Nash to play to his strengths. The bottom line is that the duo is one of the best in the country. … Leslie drew a technical foul after picking up his fourth personal foul. That’s what sent him to the bench for good with just more than 17 minutes to play. He’s an important leader for the program. But he didn’t act like one in that moment. Who knows what might have happened with him on the floor in the second half?

What’s next: NC State will face UNC-Asheville on Friday, four days before its ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup at Michigan Nov. 27. Oklahoma State will play Portland State on Sunday and will take on Virginia Tech Dec. 1.
Add North Carolina guard Dexter Strickland to the list of NC State doubters.

The senior told's Jeff Goodman on Thursday that he wasn't exactly in agreement with the coaches and media who picked the rival Wolfpack to win the ACC this season:
"They talk those guys up every single year and we beat them every single year," Strickland said. "They are the least of our worries. Beat us one year and then they can talk smack. Until then, you can't put them in the mix."

The Tar Heels (picked to finish third in the league by the coaches and media) have beaten NC State 13 straight times, but as shown by Strickland's comments, the matchups this season are sure to breed some smack talk on and off the court. While the Wolfpack return four starters from the team that advanced to last March's Sweet 16, UNC lost four starters from the squad that lost in the NCAA regional finals.

Video: NC State coach Mark Gottfried

October, 12, 2012

Andy Katz talks with NC State coach Mark Gottfried about the upcoming season.

Three Big Things: North Carolina State

September, 17, 2012
In the buildup to Midnight Madness, Insider and our college hoops team are collaborating on a preview of one high-profile college hoops team per day -- based on Joe Lunardi’s top 20 teams in his offseason Bracketology. We're calling it "Countdown To Madness." I'll be tracing three key things you should know about each team we preview. We're calling that "Three Big Things." (Hey, that's snappy!) Today: NC State.

1. Is this the year C.J. Leslie puts it all together? NC State fans are certainly hoping so, and with good reason. Leslie is by far the Wolfpack’s most talented returning player, an athletic and versatile 6-foot–8 big man who can score with either hand on the low block, and who cleans up on the defensive glass. But there’s reason to think Leslie is still just scratching the surface of his ability. There were times in 2011–12 -- which was a good season for Leslie individually, and a decent one for his team in general -- in which he still looked less than fully engaged on both ends of the floor.

[+] EnlargeCJ Leslie
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteHow well NC State does next season will depend largely on their big man C.J. Leslie.
When he’s on, he’s a force, particularly in the paint. According to Synergy scouting data, 24.4 percent of Leslie’s possessions came in the post, where he can score over his left shoulder or over his right shoulder, and where he oftentimes pivots and faces up against his defender before diving toward, and finishing at, the rim. And that’s just in the half court. Because he’s so athletic, Leslie was a major target for NC State in transition, where the Wolfpack played nearly 20 percent of their possessions, and finished ranked No. 87 in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo. Leslie’s second-most-frequent play types were transition finishes.

Still, despite having so many weapons in his offensive arsenal, Leslie finished the 2011-12 season with a just-above-average offensive rating of 102.1. Until a late push in February and through the ACC tournament, Leslie was often hit-or-miss. Now, as a junior, there are no questions about his talent, and about the role he'll be asked to play on an NC State team with designs on its first ACC regular-season title since 1989. The question is whether he can bring a high and efficient level of play not just game-to-game, but possession-to-possession. Because if he does, there are only a handful of players who can impact a game the same way. He'll be a star.

2. Will Rodney Purvis play? NC State coach Mark Gottfried brought in three talented prospects in his 2012 recruiting class: No. 5-ranked shooting guard Rodney Purvis, No. 8-ranked small forward T.J. Warren, and No. 5-ranked point guard Tyler Lewis. Warren and Lewis can be immediate contributors, most likely off the bench. But Purvis is the star of the class, a super-athletic slasher who can get “wherever he wants on the court, whenever he wants,” according to ESPN Recruiting Nation’s scouting report. The only problem? He may not qualify. Purvis’ high school, North Carolina’s Upper Room Christian Academy, is a new institution that hasn’t yet cleared all of its core classes through the NCAA Eligibility Center. That’s why Purvis -- who the NCAA has allowed to practice with the team and attend classes, but who hasn’t been cleared for competition -- may end up missing all of his freshman season as a partial qualifier.

As Gottfried has said this offseason, not only is Purvis a high-quality player -- he’s a high-quality player at a position where the Wolfpack don’t have much depth. What the NCAA eventually rules will have a big impact on the season, one way or the other.

3. If Purvis is cleared to play, NC State is the prohibitive favorite to win the ACC. North Carolina is just as talented, and Duke is just as experienced, but neither team would combine the two like the Pack. If Purvis’ arrival is delayed by a year? Well sure, it’s a blow, but I’d argue -- for whatever a preseason notion is worth (hint: not much) -- NC State still belongs at the top of the preseason heap.

Lorenzo Brown will provide savvy senior guard play (35 percent assist rate). Scott Wood is a lights-out shooter (124.9 offensive rating, 62.8 percent true shooting, 41 percent from 3). Forward Richard Howell is a beast on the glass, particularly on the offensive end (15.8 percent offensive rebound percentage, the 15th best in the country). The aforementioned Leslie has set a high baseline, one he could very well exceed (and then some) as a junior. And the non-Purvis freshmen, Warren and Lewis, do provide the backcourt depth that could be lost with Purvis’ absence.

This is a team that took its sweet time figuring it out last season, but did so just in time to (A) sneak in the NCAA tournament and (B) make an impressive run while there. Purvis or no Purvis, it is adding top-100 talent to an experienced core, with a bona fide star at its center. The future -- long-term and immediate -- is decidedly bright.

Update, 3 p.m. ET: On Monday afternoon, NC State coach Mark Gottfried told that Purvis had been fully cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center. Huge news for the Wolfpack, huge news for their fans. It's going to be a big year.

3-point shot: ACC conference schedule

August, 23, 2012
1. The triangle and Tallahassee should be at the center of the ACC race this season and that means the games among the four schools -- NC State, North Carolina, Duke and Florida State -- should decide the race. The two teams to cause the most trouble outside of this group are likely to be Miami and Maryland. The ACC released its conference schedule Wednesday. The dates that might have the most significance on the race could be Jan. 12 (UNC at Florida State, Duke at NC State); Feb. 2 (Duke at Florida State, Miami at NC State); Feb. 13 (UNC at Duke, Miami at Florida State) and March 9 (NC State at Florida State, Duke at UNC and Maryland at Virginia).

2. Memo to any high school player: If you change schools multiple times and/or reclassify to enter school a year early then you can fully expect a thorough NCAA eligibility check. The era of trying to fool the NCAA enforcement staff into thinking that you won't get at least an extended examination is in the past. Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel was going to get checked, regardless of any questions about how he visited schools. But no one should be surprised, either. The NCAA enforcement arm has had its antenna up to look into all high-profile incoming freshmen, no matter what school the player decided to attend.

3. Bobby Cremins' decision to help Georgia Tech's Brian Gregory is a significant development for the second-year Yellow Jackets coach. Cremins was the face of the Georgia Tech program for two decades. Gregory took over the program from Paul Hewitt (who replaced Cremins when he initially retired). Attendance was a major issue last season while the team played in multiple arenas not on campus during refurbishment of Memorial Coliseum. Getting Cremins, who retired again and this time from coaching at the College of Charleston, to be an advisor secures a link to Tech's past. Gregory needs to get former players involved in the program and having the endorsement and active participation from Cremins will only help speed up the process. Cremins' name was on the Memorial court and will don the new McCamish court this season.
1. The USA men's U18 national team that will play in the FIBA Americas championship in Brazil later this month cut its roster down from 23 to 14 Thursday and there are a few names that fans will come to know next season. The incoming freshmen who will be instant hits on this roster -- so far -- are: Rodney Purvis (NC State), Sam Dekker (Wisconsin), Shaq Goodwin (Memphis), Jerami Grant (Syracuse), James Robinson (Pitt), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), Jake Layman (Maryland) and Joel James (North Carolina). The coaching staff was most wowed by Smart, but the most memorable name when this tournament ends could be Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes. Stokes should star for this team -- and for the Vols next season. He’s the only player on the squad who is currently in college.

2. The early departure of Butler to the Atlantic 10 has forced teams in the Horizon League to scramble in non-conference scheduling. Illinois-Chicago coach Howard Moore said Thursday that the Flames and other teams are searching for two more games at this late date. The Flames actually need four more games. One of the games the Flames had already secured is the opener against UC Riverside. Why is this significant? The Flames have Joey Miller -- who transferred from Eastern Illinois after his father, Mike Miller, was fired as head coach -- eligible immediately. Well, Mike Miller has now joined the Riverside staff and will be in Chicago for the opener, coaching against his son.

3. Former UConn wing Jeremy Lamb said he has been in touch with Ryan Boatright since his departure and that he has no doubt the perimeter of Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun, with whom Lamb said he has played, will shine next season. Lamb also said he anticipates that Tyler Olander will be the anchor inside and can handle the chore of being the focal point in the post. No one should expect Lamb to trash his former team, but he was overly confident about the Huskies surviving the attrition that has hit the team since it was handed a postseason ban.

Kentucky, Kansas advance in different ways

March, 24, 2012
The Kentucky Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks advanced to the Elite Eight, but both teams took very different paths to get there.

(1) Kentucky 102, (4) Indiana 90
Kentucky avenged one of its two losses with a fast-paced attack that the Indiana Hoosiers were unable to slow down.

In fact, Kentucky's 102 points are the most ever against Indiana in the Men's Basketball Championship.

Kentucky scored 24 points in transition and has now scored 20-plus transition points in each of its three Men's Basketball Championship games. Kentucky’s 70 total transition points are the most of any team in the tournament.

Another factor in becoming the only tournament team this year to score 100 points was that Kentucky made 35 of 37 free throws.

That's the most makes for the Wildcats in a Men's Basketball Championship game. The 94.6 free throw percentage is the highest in tournament history of any team with at least 30 attempts.

Overall it's Kentucky's 12th 100-point game in the Men's Basketball Championship, giving the Wildcats sole possession of second place.

Kentucky advances to the Elite Eight for the third straight season and will face the Baylor Bears Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.

(2) Kansas 60, (11) NC State 57
Kansas advanced to the Elite Eight for the seventh time in the last 11 seasons, but had to fend off a late North Carolina State Wolfpack surge to get there.

What ultimately won the game for Kansas was its domination down low. The Jayhawks controlled the interior by taking 42 shots from inside the paint and outscoring the Wolfpack, 44-22.

Kansas’ presence down low was also a major factor on the defensive side of the ball as Jeff Withey registered 10 blocked shots.

That’s tied with former Jayhawk Cole Aldrich for second-most in Men’s Basketball Championship history. Only Shaquille O'Neal (11) had more blocks than Withey and Aldrich in a single tournament game.

Also of note was Thomas Robinson who dropped an 18-point, 15-rebound performance. That gave Robinson 26 double-doubles, breaking Drew Gooden’s single-season school record of 25, set in 2002.

Kansas now moves on to play the North Carolina Tar Heels for a chance at the Final Four.

ST. LOUIS - His team had just advanced to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season, but shortly after Kansas’ 60-57 victory over NC State on Friday, a reporter asked Bill Self if the Jayhawks were living “on borrowed time.”

Inside the KU locker room, Thomas Robinson said he had a sour taste in his mouth. Instead of talking about his 10 blocks (just one shy of Shaq's NCAA tourney record), Jeff Withey answered questions about his teammates’ inability to make outside shots. As fans spilled into the St. Louis streets to celebrate, Elijah Johnson slumped in an Edwards Jones Dome chair and stared at the ground.

“We’ve got to do something,” Johnson said. “The way we’re playing ... we’ve got to fix it.”

Winning isn’t supposed to feel like this -- and at most schools, it doesn’t.

Things, however, are different at Kansas, where, fair or not, seasons aren’t viewed as a success unless the team reaches the Final Four. The Jayhawks have the talent to get there, but they realize they won’t unless their performance takes a dramatic turn in Sunday’s tilt with North Carolina.

“I don’t know what the problem is,” guard Conner Teahan said. “We’re not playing our best basketball.”

Less than a week after shooting just 33.9 percent in a 63-60 victory over Purdue, Kansas made just 37.5 percent of its shots Friday against an 11th-seeded NC State squad that barely made the NCAA tournament.

KU outscored the Wolfpack 44-22 down low, but once they stepped away from the blocks, the Jayhawks couldn’t have hit sand if they fell off a camel. Kansas made just two of its 22 shots outside the paint, a stat that still had Self and his players baffled nearly an hour after the final horn.

“We couldn’t throw it in the ocean,” Self said. “We couldn’t make free throws, all those things. If anything we’ll spin this into a positive. Two shots outside the paint and we still won? That’s unbelievable.”

[+] EnlargeTyshawn Taylor
Scott Rovak/US PresswireTyshawn Taylor and KU struggled most of the night, but still came away with the victory.
Kansas missed 13 of its 14 attempts from 3-point range and was just 11-of-20 from the foul stripe. Point guard Tyshawn Taylor, who led KU in scoring during Big 12 play, was particularly brutal with a 2-of-14 performance.

Taylor and Robinson both missed the front end of one-and-one opportunities that would’ve sealed the victory in the game’s final minute.

“The lid just hasn’t come off [the rim] yet,” Self said. “But it’s going to come off. We’re going to start making shots.”

Teahan even joked about the situation.

“Maybe,” Teahan said, “we’ve just been stockpiling all of our shots for Sunday.”

Disappointing as they’ve been on offense, these Jayhawks have hardly resembled the KU teams of the past that played scared and tightened up against inferior teams in the NCAA tournament. No one can question the Jayhawks’ effort or toughness in any of their first three games.

Especially on the defensive end.

NC State connected on just 28.4 percent of its field goal attempts Friday. Kansas may have scored just two baskets in the final 7 minutes, 10 seconds, but it also made a handful of key defensive stops in the game’s waning moments to thwart NC State’s comeback attempt.

Kansas led by as many as 10 points in the second half.

“You can say what you want about our offense,” Robinson said. “But defensively, we’ve been great. When nobody scores, we can’t lose.”

The Jayhawks, however, know they’re in for a much tougher test against North Carolina on Sunday. The Tar Heels, 32-5, needed overtime to defeat No. 13 Ohio on Friday, but they played without All-American guard Kendall Marshall, who missed the game with an injured wrist.

It has yet to be determined if Marshall, who averages 9.7 assists, will play against Kansas. The Jayhawks hope he does.

“We want their best shot,” Teahan said.

Even if Marshall doesn’t play, North Carolina will be the best opponent Kansas has played all season other than Kentucky. Forwards John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and James Michael McAdoo are all projected as NBA lottery picks. Sharpshooter Reggie Bullock, who made five 3s on Friday, is also a potential first-rounder.

Self said the Tar Heels were “the best rebounding team in college basketball.”

As impressed as he is with the Tar Heels, Self is more concerned with making sure his own team is ready.

Even though Kansas wasn’t as efficient as Self would’ve liked on Friday, he said he wasn’t leaving the Edward Jones Dome discouraged. Instead he focused on the bigger picture. Five months ago, analysts predicted this year’s team would be Self’s worst at Kansas. The Jayhawks lost four starters from a 35-win squad and appeared to be destined for a rebuilding year.

Yet here the Jayhawks are -- 30-6, Big 12 champions for the eighth straight season and in the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Self said. “If you’d have told us before the season that we’d have a chance on Sunday afternoon to play to go to the Final Four, we would’ve all said, 'Wow!' That’s how I feel. Considering what we lost and how far this team has come ... we’re one game away.”

Now if only those shots would start falling.

“Every team in the country, I don’t care who it is, plays their best ball at least one game every year,” Johnson said. “We haven’t yet, but I think it’s going to happen.

“The best has yet to come.”

ST. LOUIS - Quick thoughts from Kansas' 60-57 victory over North Carolina State in the Sweet 16.

Overview: The Kansas team that everyone tagged as Bill Self's worst is turning out to be one of his best. Or at least one of his toughest.

For the second consecutive game, the Jayhawks found a way to grind out a win against double-digit seed despite struggling mightily on the offensive end. Kansas shot just 37.5 percent from the field against NC State, the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region. The Wolfpack, though, made just 28.6 percent of its shots against Kansas, which advances to play No. 1 seed North Carolina on Sunday at 5:05 p.m. ET at the Edward Jones Dome.

North Carolina needed overtime to defeat No. 13 seed Ohio 73-65 in Friday's other Sweet 16 matchup in St. Louis. The Tar Heels are coached by Roy Williams, who spent 15 years as Kansas' head coach before leaving after the 2002-03 season for Chapel Hill.

Even though North Carolina could be without injured point guard Kendall Marshall, the Jayhawks will need to play much better than they did against NC State if they hope to defeat the Tar Heels. Kansas - which shot just 33.9 percent in last week's 63-60 victory over Purdue - got off to a horrendous start and trailed 13-3 early in the first half.

The Jayhawks were down 33-32 at intermission. All but two of their opening-half points came in the paint. Kansas, though, opened the second half on a 12-2 scoring run that led to a 44-35 cushion. From there, Self's squad managed to stave off the Wolfpack until the game's closing minutes, when NC State made it interesting.

With Kansas leading 58-52, Jayhawks guard Elijah Johnson fouled Scott Wood as the Wolfpack guard was attempting a 3-pointer. Wood made all three free throws to pull his team within 3, 58-55. Tyshawn Taylor turned it over on Kansas' next possession, and NC State capitalized with a fast-break layup with that made it 58-57.

Wood then missed a 3-pointer for NC State. The Wolfpack got the rebound, but C.J. Leslie's put-back attempt was blocked by Jeff Withey. Taylor came away with the ball and was fouled, but he missed the front end of the one-and-one. NC State, though, knocked the ball out of bounds on the battle for the rebound with 13.5 seconds left. Kansas took advantage when Taylor found a cutting Johnson for an easy layup on the inbounds pass that provided the final score.

Turning point: Kansas didn't feel good about the win until Wood stepped out of bounds with 4.3 seconds remaining, just before he attempted a 3-pointer that would've forced a 63-63 tie and, most likely, overtime.

Key player: Withey had 8 points and 10 blocks for No. 2-seeded Kansas. Thomas Robinson had a game-high 18 points and 15 rebounds. Leslie led NC State with 18 points.

Up next: The Jayhawks have played UNC just once - in the 2008 Final Four - since Williams' departure. Kansas stormed out to a 40-12 lead in that game and eventually prevailed 84-66. Two nights later, Kansas won the NCAA title with an overtime victory against Memphis.