ACC Basketball Preview: N.C. State

2015-16 N.C. State record: 16-17 (5-13 ACC)

The 2015-16 edition of the Wolfpack was the first group to miss the NCAA Tournament in Mark Gottfried’s five seasons in Raleigh. That leaves the faithful itching for a bounce back season, despite losing one of the best players in the country.

Point guard Cat Barber left early for the NBA — which turned out to be a mistake, but that’s another article — and took with him his 23.5 points and 4.5 assists per game average. The first-team All-ACC selection leaves a huge whole in the lineup that will be filled by a true freshman.

Dennis Smith Jr. is one of the biggest recruits in the history of the program and the highest rated player since the rise of recruiting services. Smith was ranked the #6 overall recruit in the country by the 247 composite rankings and will have to be the guy despite tearing his ACL in August of last year. He now appears healthy and ready to go after enrolling at State in January.

“In my opinion, he’s coming in with a little bit of time under his belt even though he didn’t play last year,” Mark Gottfried told the media.

“… he’s a phenomenal passer, he can score, he’s gotten bigger and stronger, but on top of all that, you’ve got a guy that’s got a competitive nature…and then there’s another group of guys that they kind of have another level of wanting to win, and he shows that in practice every day.”

For his part, Smith certainly handled the frenzy of the ACC media at Operation Basketball like a savvy veteran.

“Coach Gottfried insisted that I be the leader of the team and kind of gave me the keys,” Smith told reporters.

“He trusted in the fact that I can maximize every guy’s potential on this team, because we have some great players. So he believes in me to do this. So I feel like it’s my job to fulfill that role.”

His fellow freshmen will be equally important, that is if they can all get eligible.

The much-ballyhooed 7-footer and five-star prospect from Turkey, Omer Yurtseven, will miss the first nine games of the season after a qualifying issue. He’s thought by many to be a likely one-and-done NBA lottery pick, but time will tell on that. Fellow frehsman Ted Kapita has made an impression early but he’s ineligible and with the season about to start it’s unclear when, or even if that’s going to change. The frontcourt will either get a huge boost when both become eligible, or it will be pretty thin.

The good news is that Abdul Malik-Abu returns after a strong sophomore season where he averaged 12.9 points per game and 8.8 rebounds. Lennard Freeman (3.2 points, 5.0 rebounds) is going to redshirt in order to completely heal from a leg injury which leaves BeeJay Anya (4.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) as the other returning post player. After that, there isn’t much bulk on the roster.

The plethora of talented wings on this team and lack of depth up front may force Gottfried to go with some small, but athletic lineups.

One of the key wings is sophomore Maverick Rowan who averaged 12.9 points and 3.1 rebounds last season. He shot 34% from outside which was important for a team that lacked outside shooters.

Two transfers will have an impact as well. Torin Dorn sat out last season after transferring from Charlotte where he was the 2014-15 Conference USA Freshman of the Year. Terry Henderson played two seasons at West Virginia where he averaged 9.8 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, but played in just seven games last season before injuring his ankle. Both started in the Wolfpack’s first exhibition game.

The schedule isn’t very challenging and could even hurt the Wolfpack come postseason selection time. The non-conference slate features only one road game at Illinois for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with the remaining contests featuring mid-major schools that hovered around .500 last season coming to Raleigh.

The ACC slate features two games against North Carolina, but the Wolfpack play Notre Dame, Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, and Louisville only once. Winning 20 games shouldn’t be a problem, but strength of schedule might be.

Ultimately, this team should be good and could be very good if Kapita can join Yurtseven and become eligible. Even without both young talents, State has loads of potential to make a move up the ACC standings.

Follow me on Twitter@BestCates and follow @InsideTheACC for more Atlantic Coast Conference coverage.


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