NC State Men's Basketball 2013-14 Season Preview

by J. M. Pressley
First published: September 6, 2013

NCSU begins a new season without five of last year's top seven scorers. The new-look Wolfpack will need to grow up fast.

If the trend in the last two decades is any indication, the NC State Wolfpack mens' basketball program may benefit from lowered expectations. Last year the team was picked to compete for the conference title. Instead, they finished with a 24-11 record overall, going 11-7 in conference play in a tie with Virginia for fourth place. On the other hand, the team was two last-second tip-ins away from going 13-5 in the ACC (which would have qualified as third place but likely better seeds in the ACC and NCAA tournaments). There were plenty of "what-ifs" to go around at the end of a moderately disappointing season. And this year, Mark Gottfried has an even bigger transition to make than when he first accepted the job a couple of years ago.

Key Returns

The cupboard is pretty bare. This year's roster features only two returning players, both rising sophomores, from last year's rotation: forward T. J. Warren (12.1 PPG, .622 FG%) and point guard Tyler Lewis (3.5 PPG, 1.4 APG). Warren will have to assume the lead role in the offense this year. Lewis needs to progress enough to solidify the point guard position while the incoming freshmen adjust to life in the ACC. Jordan Vandenberg (0.7 PPG, 5.4 MPG) provides the only experience at center, which is, mildly put, a concern. After that, the most experience on the bench is junior walk-on Staats Battle, who ended last season suspended from the team after a DWI arrest.

Key Losses

Where to begin with a team that lost its entire starting lineup from the last year's season opener? Seniors Richard Howell (12.7 PPG, 10.9 RPG) and Scott Wood (12.6 PPG, .441 3P%) graduated. Juniors C.J. Leslie (15.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG) and Lorenzo Brown (12.4 PPG, 7.2 APG) both declared for the NBA draft. And freshman Rodney Purvis (8.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG), who ended the season coming off the bench and sulking, transferred to Connecticut. So all Gottfried has to do is replace roughly 61 points, 28 rebounds, and 13 assists per game from last year. Even the staff is openly acknowledging that this season will be "difficult."

Key Additions

The youth movement continues in Raleigh. Anthony Barber gives the Pack a top-20 point guard with speed and gritty defense. Incoming freshmen forwards Beejay Anya and Kyle Washington should provide some interior presence, but both will need to polish their games and are expected to be part-time contributors this year. Power forward Lennard Freeman also joins the frontcourt with a reputation for hustle and rebounds. Transfer guards Ralston Turner (11.0 PPG at LSU) and Desmond Lee (20.3 PPG at New Mexico J.C.) are projected as starters going into the season and should at least give the Pack more experience in the backcourt.

What to Expect

There are an awful lot of factors conspiring against the Wolfpack this year. Internally, the team faces a steep growth curve; the incoming class will need to mature and learn to play together pretty quickly. Duke and UNC have reloaded as usual, and the ACC has added three prominent teams this year in Pitt, Notre Dame, and Syracuse. More than half the games on NCSU's schedule will be against teams that played in the NCAA tournament or NIT last year. And the ACC did the Wolfpack no favors in February, when the team has to play five out of seven conference games on the road. By the way, that stretch begins with UNC in Chapel Hill on February 1 and ends with the Tar Heels coming to Raleigh on the 26th. February will most likely make or break the Wolfpack's season.

Prediction

Pack fans are going to need to buckle up for this ride. About the only thing going for this team is the Wolfpack's recent habit of underachieving when there are high expectations (see last season) and overachieving when expectations are low. And this is definitely a season of lowered expectations. If the team jells and plays well together, NC State has a chance to be in the middle of the ACC pack with a strength of schedule that could parlay into a third consecutive NCAA tournament trip. On the flip side of that, this is a team fully capable of imploding into an ACC bottom feeder. The best-case scenario probably sees the Wolfpack finish the regular season at 19-12 with an ACC record of 10-8. The worst-case scenario is around 14-17, 5-13 in the conference. It's hard to say before the season has even started that the NIT is the ceiling for this year's squad—but it most likely is.