CJ Leslie led NC State in rebounding last season. (Icon SMI)
By Robb Jacobson
Sunday, July 17, 2011
NC State Wolfpack
Last Season: 15-16 (5-11)
Key Losses: Tracy Smith, Javier Gonzalez, Ryan Harrow
Head Coach: Mark Gottfried
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Lorenzo Brown 6-5 So.
SG: Alex Johnson 5-10 Sr.
SF: Scott Wood 6-7 Jr.
PF: C.J. Leslie 6-8 So.
C: DeShawn Painter 6-9 Jr.
Key Reserves: Richard Howell 6-8 Jr. PF, C.J. Williams 6-5 Sr. PG, Tyler Harris 6-8 Fr. SF, Jordan Vandenberg 7-1 Jr. C, Jaqawn Raymond 6-4 Fr. SG
After three years of starting for the Wolfpack, Tracy Smith leaves NC State an accomplished graduate. Teaming with freshman C.J. Leslie last year, Smith leaves the team in battle-weathered, capable hands. Smith served as a booster, rather than a crutch the team was forced to lean on, preparing them for the day he would be forced to part ways.
However, Smith isn't the only one forcing NC State to move through change. Sidney Lowe's famous red blazer was the icon of the sideline during famous rivalry wins against Duke and North Carolina over the past few years, but last year the Wolfpack found no such luck. Rumors were spread about a possible hot seat firing, but Lowe wouldn't wait with that kind of pressure. After going 86-78 in five seasons, including a 25-55 record in the ACC, Lowe stepped down, leaving an open spot for Mark Gottfried to try his luck as team leader.
The Wolfpack have a strong squad this seson, headed by 3-point powerhouse junior Scott Wood, a versatile, athletic forward in Leslie, who averaged 11 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, and a potential dark horse transfer from Cal State Bakersfield in Alex Johnson, who had 13.3 points per game and 79 3-pointers last season (to put it in perspective, NC State's leading 3-point shooter from last year was Scott Wood with 72).
Leslie is the key for the Wolfpack. When the 6-foot-8 sophomore forward gives it a full effort, he's one of the best talents in the ACC. He can use his length and athleticism to score in the paint, or he can handle the ball and attack the basket like a wing.
Ryan Harrow's departure to Kentucky raised a few concerns early after the end of NC State's season, but perhaps a savior can be found on the bench. Lorenzo Brown is next in line for the starting point guard position, and there's good news: he's potentially a better player than Harrow. With exactly the same number of points per game, Brown had a higher field goal and 3-point percentage, more rebounds per game, and has a 4-inch height advantage. With the new talent coming to fill Smith's departure, and last year's depth preventing a lost step from Harrow's transfer, the only facet of the Wolfpack game looking to take a blow is the bench.
NC State rarely used a center to start in their frontcourt last year, and when they did, DeShawn Painter and Jordan Vandenberg contributed at about the same level, which was nearly none. They are the team's tallest players, however, which, coupled with the new coach and possibly a different strategy for the frontcourt, could mean more playing time for the two.
Richard Howell is an experienced power forward who contributed 7.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season. Howell had the highest field goal percentage (51.8) among key players last season.
Tyler Harris will contribute immediately for the Wolfpack. The highly coveted recruit is a 6-foot-8 small forward with serious talent. He is long, athletic and versatile. Harris can handle the ball, run the floor and shoot like a guard, but has the size and length to score in the paint as well. Other than Leslie, Harris certainly has the most potential of any player on the Wolfpack roster.
The ladder to the top of the ACC isn't going to be easy to climb; there are a few too many rungs with great distance between them, but the Wolfpack are heading in the right direction. NC State may never compete with Duke and North Carolina anytime soon, but with the exciting young talent on the Wolfpack roster there's no reason they can't at least climb into the upper echelon of the ACC.