Mar 8, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack center DeShawn Painter (0), Richard Howell (1), C.J. Williams (21) and Lorenzo Brown (2) celebrate on the bench against the Boston College Eagles late in the game during the first round of the 2012 ACC Men

NC State Wolfpack Basketball Season Preview


The college hoops season is right around the corner, and Busting Brackets is here to whet your basketball-starved appetite. Over the next five weeks, we are publishing season previews team by team, conference by conference, to offer a glimpse into the upcoming season. Busting Brackets is giving you the lowdown on the biggest storylines, offseason changes and x-factors for each team and each league as we roll into the 2012-13 season. Our complete season preview archive can be accessed here. Buckle up, peeps.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

Last Season 24-13 (9-7 ACC)
Lost to North Carolina in semifinals of ACC tournament
Lost to Kansas in Sweet 16 of NCAA tournament
Key Returning Players: C.J. Leslie, F
Lorenzo Brown, G
Scott Wood, F
Richard Howell, F
Jordan Vandenberg, C
Key Additions: Rodney Purvis, G (Upper Room Christian Academy)
T.J. Warren, F (Brewster Academy)
Tyler Lewis, G (Oak Hill Academy)
Key Losses: C.J. Williams, G/F
DeShawn Painter, F (Transferred to Old Dominion)
Alex Johnson, G
Top Non-Conference Games: Nov. 15 vs. Penn State (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
Nov. 16 vs. Providence or UMass (Puerto Rico  Tip-Off)
Nov. 27 @ Michigan
Dec. 4 vs. UConn (Madison Square Garden, Jimmy V Classic)
Dec. 8 vs. Cleveland State
Dec. 15 vs. Norfolk State
Dec. 18 vs. Stanford
Top Conference Games: Jan. 12 vs. Duke
Jan. 16 @ Maryland
Jan. 26 vs. North Carolina
Feb. 2 vs. Miami (FL)
Feb. 7 @ Duke
Feb. 19 vs. Florida State
Feb. 23 @ North Carolina
Mar. 9 @ Florida State
Breakout Player: Lorenzo Brown. Judging by all the attention CJ Leslie received last season, you wouldn’t have known that the guy feeding him the ball was actually the team’s most indispensable player. Brown will do his best to ensure fans don’t make that same mistake again. Given how good he was as a red-shirt sophomore, the Wolfpack point guard would need to have a season in consideration for All-America honors to truly have a “breakout” year. And that’s exactly the kind of year I expect him to have. Phil Pressey (Missouri), Isaiah Canaan (Murray State) and Trey Burke (Michigan) are the sexy picks for the top point guard in college hoops, but don’t forget about Brown when compiling your list of candidates. Brown was second in the ACC in assists per game last season—trailing only his counterpart at Chapel Hill, the since-departed Kendall Marshall. He’s the best rebounding point guard in the conference and is adept at getting into the lane and scoring. With a strong pull-up jumper and above average mid-range game, Brown is hands down the most complete point guard in the ACC, and one of the top three or four most well-rounded floor generals in all of college hoops. Freshman Rodney Purvis may have the biggest breakout season relative to general expectations—though folks in Raleigh are expecting big things out of the blue chip prospect—but Lorenzo Brown, overshadowed by Leslie and even Scott Wood last season, has the best chance of reaching the highest level of stardom.
X-Factor: Freshmen impact. NC State has enough in the way of seasoned vets and upper classmen to be a really solid team, but if the Pack are to meet lofty expectations as the best team in the Triangle, the freshmen class will have to produce immediately. It all starts with the aforesaid Purvis, who will challenge Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon for ACC Freshman of the Year honors. The electrifying shooting guard is a dynamic athlete who constantly plays in attack mode. He’s smooth in transition and can fill up a stat sheet even on days where his jump shot isn’t falling. Purvis’s perimeter game needs work, as does his, pull-up jumper, and the Wolfpack’s success this season will partly hinge on how much he’s improved his shot since arriving on campus. The Raleigh native will likely start from day one, filling in for departed senior swingman C.J. Williams; Williams, unlike Purvis, was a knockdown outside shooter, so Purvis must pick up the scoring load to atone for his absence. T.J. Warren, though less highly touted coming out of high school than his fellow classmate, will take on an equally critical role. Deshawn Painter, State’s top frontcourt reserve last season, has since transferred to Old Dominion, punching a sizable hole into the team’s frontcourt depth this season. If freshmen contributions are x-factor No. 1, frontcourt depth is x-factor No. 1a. And the freshman Warren will have a big say in how much of an issue that depth [or lack thereof] is. Tyler Lewis, meanwhile, replaces unheralded backup point guard Alex Johnson, who did an admirable job off the bench during his one year in Raleigh. Lewis is the purest point guard in his class—blessed with tremendous court awareness and passing ability—but the rest of his game (namely scoring, athleticism and on-ball defense) is suspect. He’ll only be asked to chip in about ten minutes this season playing behind the top point guard in the ACC—which should aid his development—but Lewis, like his other two classmates, will play a pivotal role on this year’s team. The Wolfpack, overall, lose three role players from last year’s team; conveniently, their three incoming freshmen will each be charged with filling one of those roles. Hence why they’re, collectively, the x-factor. State is a good team regardless of what the freshmen bring to the table, but it cannot become Final Four good (and that is the program’s stated goal) without significant contributions from the rookies right off the bat.
Best Case: Brown and Leslie vie for ACC player of the year honors, and the friendly, internal competition fuels the pair to equally stellar seasons deserving of All-America mention. Scott Wood doesn’t shy away in big games, as he did for much of last year (he was nonexistent in three meetings versus North Carolina, nonexistent versus Syracuse and Duke and M.I.A. against Kansas in the Sweet 16). Richard Howell, quite possibly the most underrated big man in the league, is consistent double-double threat and the glue of State’s top-heavy, but thin frontcourt. Purvis is the best freshman in the ACC, and as a result of his strong season, some Duke assistants wonder behind the scenes if targeting Sulaimon over Purvis (who the school backed off of) was the right choice. Tyler Lewis is a solid backup point guard who does the bare minimum of what he’s asked—namely, distribute the ball to Leslie, Wood and Howell in the right spots. While not the most impactful freshman, Warren is a huge boost off the bench as a high-energy sparkplug. With no bad losses out of conference (it’s a manageable non-conference schedule to say the least) and a signature win over Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Wolfpack roll into ACC play wielding a top-three ranking. State parlays that momentum into ACC riches as well, sweeping the season series with North Carolina (yes, that would entail snapping the 12-game losing spell versus UNC), splitting with Duke and handling all the teams it should. The Pack win the ACC outright, capture the ACC tournament crown and cruise into the NCAA tournament with a No. 1 designation in front of their name. A national championship is highly improbable, but a Final Four appearance is within reason.
Worst Case: State, which hasn’t garnered expectations this high since the late 80s, poorly handles the spotlight and folds under the pressure. If you don’t think the combination of undue hype and pressure can break a team down, see 2010-11 Michigan State (preseason No. 2, finished unranked) and Kansas State (preseason No. 3 finished No. 23 after up-and-down season) for recent examples. Brown and Leslie turn in very strong seasons, but the weight of carrying the team catches up by season’s end. With the book now out on the two of them (Brown was more of an unkown commodity nationally before last year) and expanded scouting reports aiming to take both players out of the offense, the star Wolfpack tag-team is less effective than initially predicted. Wood continues to “slump” (read: disappear) during the biggest moments, and State is without a dependable 3-point presence in the toughest games of the year. Frontcourt depth is an issue for State, which sorely misses the presence of Painter inside. As a result, any games in which Howell gets into foul trouble are problematic for the Pack. Purvis is good, but not “best freshman in the ACC” good. He still can’t shoot from outside and is befallen by natural freshman mistakes (turnovers, offensive ofuls, defensive lapses, missed assignments, not switching on a pick-and-roll, etc.). The weight of sky-high expectations and a community rallying (or Raleigh-ing, to make a bad joke) around the team ultimately brings State closer to the pack (another bad joke) in the ACC. State can only manage a split with North Carolina, struggles against the likes of Miami and Duke and falls to third in the conference. (As an aside: Five years ago, State fans would have given an arm and a leg for a best case scenario that included a third place finish in the ACC. Now, third place is the league is filed under the “if everything doesn’t go according to plan” category. The outlook sure could be worse in Raleigh.) NC State is an early-round upset victim in the NCAA tournament, and the war of words between Pack fans and Tar Heels nation carries on into the summer, with both fan bases arguing who had the better season relative to expectations.
Projected Finish: Regular Season: 25-5 (14-4 ACC), First place ACC
Lose in championship game of ACC tournament
NCAA tournament No. 2 seed

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