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Why NC State Will be an NCAA Tournament Spoiler

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BarberCat.jpg

Selection Sunday may yet be a dramatic day for NC State. Yet if and when the Wolfpack get into the field, NC State may be one of the most dangerous teams in the bottom half of the bracket.

A team that lacked back-to-back wins for more than two months is suddenly riding a three-game win streak. The latest was NC State’s biggest statement of the season as the Wolfpack defeated North Carolina 58-46 for the Pack’s first win in Chapel Hill since 2003.

The uneven resume — including losses to Wofford, Clemson and Wake Forest — means NC State will be in the bottom half of the bracket. But wins over teams like Duke, Louisville and now North Carolina signal a team solid enough on a good day to beat some of the nation’s best.

If you’re a fan of a top-five or -six seed, here’s why you don’t want your team to have any part of NC State.

Cat Barber is the Cat Daddy

No one has been more instrumental to NC State’s turnaround than Anthony “Cat” Barber, Mark Gottfried’s top recruit from the 2013 class.

During the last six games, he’s averaged 18 points per game. He’s taking more shots. He’s getting to the free throw line (10-of-13 against Louisville alone) and he’s become a more efficient distributor.

Compare his last six games to his first 21 this season:

Cat Barber

PPG

FGM

FGA

FG%

A/TO

Last six games

18

6.5

13.8

47.0

3.1

First 21 games

10

3.2

7.4

44.2

1.72

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And about that nickname? Does Gottfried call him Anthony or his childhood nickname Cat?

“I call him the Cat Daddy, and I want him to play like the Cat Daddy,” Gottfried said during the ACC conference call last week. “I think there's been times where he's tried so hard to run a team and get our team into the offense that he hasn't utilized that great speed and quickness that he has. Lately my message to him has been to turn it loose, cut it loose, let's go.”

BeeJay Anya is a rim protector

Barber’s 2013 classmate has been a fan favorite through his two seasons, but like Barber, he’s just now heating up. The 6-9 forward has 17 blocked shots in his last four games.

His six blocked shots contributed to an overwhelming defensive effort against North Carolina, which averaged just 0.77 points per possession against the Wolfpack. The Tar Heels make their living in the lane, but scored just 22 points in the paint — six in the first half — against NC State.

Trevor Lacey is a rock

The Alabama transfer has scored precisely 14 points in each of his last four games and 19 points in each of the two before that. That’s pretty remarkable when you think about it.

The larger point, though, is that Gottfried has a veteran forward on whom he can rely to score about 15 points in every game. Only two teams since December have held Lacey to fewer than 10 points, and they’re both low-possession, defensive-minded teams — Virginia and Cincinnati.

History may be on Gottfried’s side

While NC State and Gottfried have been part of some epic flameouts — a team ranked sixth in the preseason in 2012-13 lost as a No. 8 seed, for starters — the Wolfpack are four years removed from a surprise Sweet 16 run.

NC State went to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed in 2012 and upset No. 6 San Diego State and No. 3 Georgetown before giving No. 2 Kansas all it could handle in a 60-58 Sweet 16 loss.

At Alabama, Gottfried was just as erratic in the tournament. In 2003, he led a team that was ranked No. 1 in December but ended up losing as a No. 10 seed to Indiana in the first round. A year later, he presided over a team that went 8-8 in the SEC yet upset No. 1 seed Stanford and No. 5 Syracuse on the way to the Elite Eight.