Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. Especially when that head belongs to North Carolina State, a college basketball outfit unaccustomed to managing lofty preseason expectations.
The preseason favorite to win the ACC, the Wolfpack on Sunday had the look of a team wishing to be written off and relegated to their usual role as underdog. Oklahoma State—a team decimated by backcourt attrition over the last year and picked to finish fourth in the Big 12—snatched the crown right off N.C. State’s brow, thumping what was supposed to be a more mature and experienced Wolfpack squad 76-56 in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
The Pack played with fire throughout the three-game tournament, relying too heavily on a pair of freshmen to overcome so many youthful mistakes by their upperclassmen. In the finale, they finally got burned for it.
N.C. State’s appointed leaders were outdone once again by the new kids on the block. Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren were supposed to be role players who filled very specific niches—Purvis as a starting 2-guard asked to serve as a secondary scoring option, Warren as the team’s top forward reserve. Instead, the two touted freshmen have shouldered the lion’s share of the scoring load for N.C. State, accounting for more than 42-percent of the team’s total points scored in Puerto Rico.
Preseason All-ACC first teamer Lorenzo Brown certainly didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Brown’s careless, and at times even lazy, point guard play during the tournament was largely responsible for the team’s poor showing. The junior floor general committed more turnovers (7) than he scored points (6).
C.J. Leslie, the ACC’s preseason player of the year, should be fresh and energized next week after his four-day-long nap in Puerto Rico. Leslie was quiet throughout the tournament, most glaringly so in Sunday’s final game, in which he tallied just two points and fouled out early in the second half. The most noise Leslie made all night earned him a technical foul, his fifth overall, and forced him to the bench for the rest of the night.
Scott Wood too was a no-show. The unreliable senior sniper, who has a knack for disappearing in big games, lived up to his notorious reputation against Oklahoma State. He hit just one of his 11 shots in 36 minutes of action.