Wolfpack Will Look Much Different Next Season

Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie are both NBA-bound, leaving NC State's cupboard rather bare for next season.
Lorenzo Brown and CJ Leslie are both NBA-bound, leaving NC State’s cupboard rather bare for next season.

After being chosen to win the Atlantic Coast Conference during the preseason, NC State’s tumultuous ride to a fifth-place regular season finish and an early exit in the NCAA Tournament presented considerable disappointment. This was compounded by the feeling that it would be the Wolfpack’s last chance with its current cast of players at improving on last year’s Sweet Sixteen run.

Richard Howell and Scott Wood were the leading seniors for NC State this season. Howell was the best rebounder in the conference, averaging 10.9 rebounds per game. Howell was also third in the conference in field-goal percentage (.570). More than any number, though, Howell’s impact was felt through his all-out style of play. Usually in a sweat-drenched jersey, Howell was rarely outworked on the floor, grabbing key offensive rebounds and providing heart to the Wolfpack.

While Howell did the dirty work on the blocks for NC State, Scott Wood provided the shooting touch. A 44.1 percent three-point shooter, Wood drew plenty of defensive pressure for his marksmanship. That pressure also put him on the free-throw line at a decent rate for a “shooter,” where he made more than 90 percent of his foul shots.

Juniors C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are also leaving the team, forgoing their senior seasons to enter the NBA Draft. Neither of these are surprises, but they both mark significant losses for the team. Leslie was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.1 points per game. He also was eighth in the ACC in rebounds (7.4) and blocked 1.2 shots per contest. Meanwhile, Brown averaged 12.4 points and 7.2 assists per game.. Brown was one of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy award, given to the best point guard in the nation.

However, Rodney Purvis’ announcement that he would transfer was a surprise. Purvis averaged 25.5 minutes per game for the Wolfpack as a freshman, scoring 8.3 points per contest. A top-20 recruit in last year’s high school class, Purvis started in 23 of the Wolfpack’s first 25 games. Purvis’ playing time suffered when removed from the starting lineup for fellow freshman TJ Warren, dropping to 18 minutes per game. With no shooting guards in NC State’s incoming recruiting class and Wood’s departure, however, any issues of playing time would have been solved next year.

So who remains in Raleigh? For now, at least, Warren is the leading returning scorer on a team that will lose 78 percent of its scoring from 2012-13. As a freshman, Warren averaged 12.1 points per game, including 13.8 points during the last ten games of the season after moving into the starting lineup. Warren’s father told Joe Giglio of the Raleigh News & Observer that TJ leaving for the NBA this year could be a good decision based on the draft projections he has seen, but also believes Warren’s stock could be even higher with a full season of starting next year.

If Warren leaves, the only players left on NC State roster to average at least five minutes per game this year would be Tyler Lewis and Jordan Vandenberg. Lewis was a McDonald’s All-American point guard in the 2012 recruiting class, but his minutes were limited as a freshman with Lorenzo Brown leading the offense. However, during four games where Lewis played extensively due to an injury to Brown, the freshman averaged 12 points per game and had an 11-2 assist-turnover ratio. Vandenberg, a 7’1” junior from Australia, played sparingly throughout the season. Vandenberg checked in for 10+ minutes only three times this season, with a six-point game against Wake Forest marking his best effort of the year.

Wolfpack fans can take solace in a solid recruiting class arriving this fall. One of those players, point guard Anthony Barber, will take the floor tonight in the McDonald’s All-American Game. A five-star recruit and the 11th best player in the class of 2013 according to Rivals, Barber’s athleticism and explosiveness has wowed scouts,

Joining Barber will be two other top-100 recruits, center BeeJay Anya and power forward Kyle Washington. Anya and Washington both stand at 6’9”, but Anya weighs in at 275 pounds while the slimmer Washington checks in at 215. With the departures of Leslie, Brown, and Purvis, NC State will also have more scholarships at their disposal to pursue late commitments or transfers.

These recruits will also all be recruits of Mark Gottfried. Brown and Leslie were members of Sidney Lowe’s last recruiting class as head coach of the Wolfpack. There were often questions regarding the team’s chemistry or desire throughout the season, due in part to their inconsistent results on the court. With Gottfried now using his recruits exclusively, perhaps the team can play more cohesively moving forward.

Next year’s NC State basketball team will have plenty of obstacles to overcome, potentially losing every key player from this year’s squad. If the few returnees can step into bigger roles or the incoming recruits can have an immediate impact, the Wolfpack may not suffer too terribly much in 2014, setting themselves up nicely for a big 2015 season. However, they will have to do so with essentially a brand new roster and with much better teamwork than we saw this season.

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