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A more mature C.J. Leslie returns with ACC title aspirations
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The first practices of college basketball season begin in mid-October, and Athlon Sports 2012-13 preview annuals are starting to arrive on newsstands all over the country.
To prepare for the start of college basketball season, we will preview one team each weekday, counting down to the first official day of basketball practice on Oct. 15, or for some teams on Oct. 12.
We continue our countdown with a preview of No. 11 NC State.
Scott Wood is a true believer. When almost everyone else was talking about NC State rebuilding under new coach Mark Gottfried, the Wolfpack shooting guard was focused on making the NCAA Tournament.
NC State not only made the Tournament, for the first time since 2006, but also advanced to the Sweet 16. With four starters back, and three McDonald’s All-Americans arriving, Wood has bigger goals for the Wolfpack in 2013.
“I think we have the components to be a Final Four team,” the senior guard says.
Gottfried, after a 24–13 debut season, is not quite ready to declare his team a national contender, despite early top-10 projections.
“We had a nice run at the end of the year, and that was great, but we have to do a lot more during the year before we’re really considered a contender,” says Gottfried, who left a job as an ESPN analyst in April 2011 to replace Sidney Lowe.
After an uneven freshman season, junior C.J. Leslie delivered on the spectacular promise of his prep career as a sophomore. Leslie, a wiry, athletic 6-9 forward, led the Pack in scoring (14.7 ppg) and blocked shots (1.6 bpg) and ranked second in rebounding (7.3 rpg).
The inconsistencies, and mood swings, from his freshman campaign were gone, replaced with maturity, and Leslie got better as the season progressed. He averaged 17.1 points over the final 16 games, about five points per game better than he averaged over the first half of the season.
Leslie will have help up front in senior Richard Howell, the team’s leading rebounder (9.2 rpg) a year ago, but frontcourt depth is a concern for Gottfried’s second team. Howell’s scoring numbers jumped last season, to 10.8 points per game — and he had 22 in the second-round NCAA win over San Diego State — but he also struggled with foul trouble.
With forward DeShawn Painter, the safety net for either Leslie or Howell off the bench last season, gone to Old Dominion (he transferred closer to home to be near his ailing grandmother), Howell and Leslie both have to stay out of foul trouble.
Without Painter, and after missing out on the recruiting trail on Amile Jefferson, the Wolfpack will have to rely on junior Jordan Vandenberg, a 7-footer who redshirted last season, and sophomore Thomas de Thaey, who played sparingly as a freshman. Freshman T.J. Warren, a McDonald’s All-American, prefers to play on the wing but might have to be used to defend the post.
Lorenzo Brown, who played off the ball as a freshman in ’10-11, erased any doubts about his ability to run the point with one of the best all-around seasons by an ACC guard. He averaged 12.7 points, 6.3 assists (second in the ACC), 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals (first in the ACC) in his first full season as the starter. His confidence grew toward the end of the season and he’s expected to only get better as a junior.
Wood, one of the best shooters in the country, returns for his fourth year as a starter. The Pack was 10–0 when he hit at least four 3-pointers last season,and his game meshes well with Brown’s skill set, particularly in transition.
Freshman Rodney Purvis is the leading candidate to replace departed senior C.J. Williams in the starting lineup. At 6-3 and 190 pounds, Purvis showed the physical maturity in the prep all-star circuit and with the USA Basketball program, to be able to step in add scoring and defense to the lineup.
Freshman Tyler Lewis, a McDonald’s All-American like Purvis, has the potential to relieve Brown at the point, or play with him. Warren could also be used on the wing to back up Wood and provide another threat from the 3-point line.
The door’s wide open for NC State to win the ACC’s regular season for the first time since 1989. North Carolina and Duke lost six first-round picks to the NBA between them and are both vulnerable to a veteran team, with new talent, like State’s.
But Gottfried’s right. The Wolfpack went 9–7 in the ACC and will have to make a leap to the 12- or 13-win range . With elite talent like Leslie and Brown, Gottfried and the Wolfpack will have a chance “to do more” during the 2013 season. Just how much more will depend on if the Pack can pick up where it left off after a surprising NCAA Tournament run.