Mark Gottfried feels good about the progress the NC State program has made under his watch. The Wolfpack have been to the NCAA Tournament four years in a row and twice have reached the Sweet 16, including last year’s run highlighted by an upset of Villanova, a No. 1 seed.
And Gottfried feels good about his team’s potential this season. “I like where we can get to,” he says.
But Gottfried would have felt better about his team’s chances — in both the ACC race and the postseason — if guard Trevor Lacey had returned for his senior season. Lacey, the team’s top scorer (15.7 ppg) and emotional leader, caught Gottfried by surprise when he opted to turn pro. There’s still talent in place to contend without Lacey; it will just be a learning process.
“Trevor was such a big part of what we did last year,” Gottfried says. “We’ve got to figure out how to win without him.”
All ACC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
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NC State got to the NCAA Tournament on the strength of its guard play last season. Then in the biggest win of the season — a 71–68 upset of Villanova in the Round of 32 — forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman both delivered double-doubles. The Wolfpack are counting on more from their forwards this season, especially Abu, who averaged 6.4 points per game as a freshman. With strong hands and a soft touch, Abu has the potential to double his scoring average with a little more consistency. He’ll have plenty of minutes. Kyle Washington transferred to Cincinnati, leaving only three scholarship forwards on the roster.
Freeman, the team’s top rebounder, was instrumental in the Wolfpack’s late-season run. Gottfried has compared him to Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson for all the little things he does to help the team win. But a leg injury will keep the junior off the court until mid-September at the earliest. It might take him the first month of the season to catch up physically.
Junior BeeJay Anya led the ACC in blocked shots (87 in only 19.4 minutes per game), but he has struggled with his weight. With only three options at forward, Gottfried says that the Wolfpack need Anya to get down to about 280 pounds (he’s listed at 295) to be effective this season. If Anya can get in better shape, he also could be more of a factor on offense. NC State’s best regular-season wins (vs. Duke, at UNC, at Louisville) coincided with Anya’s best games.
NC State Facts & Figures
Last season: 22-14, 10-8 ACC
Postseason: Sweet 16
Consecutive NCAAs: Four
ACC Projection: Ninth
Postseason projection: First Four
NC State has had a clear go-to player in each of the past two seasons in Lacey and T.J. Warren, the ACC Player of the Year in 2014, and Gottfried expects junior point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber to follow in their footsteps. “Our team starts with him,” Gottfried says of Barber, who averaged 12.1 points and 3.7 assists per game last season. “I think that Cat is in a position to have an unbelievable year.”
Barber really came on in the last three months of the season, improving his 3-point shooting and his decision making. Without Lacey, Barber’s role will expand, but he will have plenty of help on the perimeter from junior guard Terry Henderson, sophomore twins Caleb and Cody Martin and freshmen Maverick Rowan and Shaun Kirk.
Henderson, who’s from Raleigh, sat out last season after transferring from West Virginia. He averaged 11.7 points and made 37.6 percent of his 3-pointers for the Mountaineers as a sophomore in 2013-14.
Rowan, who reclassified and committed in August, should help offset the loss of top 3-point shooter Ralston Turner. The Martins and Kirk give Gottfried some flexibility to go “small,” with a four-guard lineup, and really get after teams defensively.
Gottfried says he could potentially use Cody Martin at every position, including as Barber’s primary backup at point guard. “He might be the most unique guy in the country,” Gottfried says.
Key Losses: G Travor Lacey, G Ralston Turner, F Kyle Washington
Top Players: G Cat Barber, G Terry Henderson, F Lennard Freeman, F Abdul-Malik Abu, F BeeJay Anya
Terry Henderson, a transfer from West Virginia, will step into the starting lineup and be counted on to supply 3-point shooting. He will probably also have to help at backup point guard. Shaun Kirk was ticketed for a low-major program before his stock took off at an AAU event in Indianapolis in April. Maverick Rowan, a skilled swingman, was a late addition after reclassifying to the 2015 class.
With Lacey, NC State would have been one of the favorites to win the ACC regular-season title for the first time since 1989. Without him, the Wolfpack still have an experienced group with potential stars in Barber and Abu. But there are only eight scholarship players on the roster, so the Wolfpack will have to stay healthy.
NC State isn’t likely to contend in the ACC, but it should be back in the NCAA Tournament for a fifth straight year under Gottfried.