Most casual basketball fans saw N.C. State as the ACC favorite this season, but the Wolfpack are finding the road to an ACC championship isn’t as easy as they thought. Despite the fact that they haven’t lived up to preseason predictions, N.C. State is still a dangerous tournament team.
Sure the dream of winning an ACC regular season championship this season is over. That was little more than a pipe dream all along, as Duke was looking like the favorite before Kelly’s injury and Miami’s drastic improvement. The ACC tournament is a different story.
Miami is playing at a very high level this season, but it is hardly unbeatable. Five teams have a realistic chance of running the table in Greensboro, with North Carolina joining the party Wednesday night. Roy Williams finally gave his best player a chance to play against Duke, and P.J. Hairston delivered. That change will unleash Carolina’s potential, adding even more fuel to the UNC/N.C. State rematch in Chapel Hill that could be for third place in the ACC.
Scott Wood’s game-winning three-pointer against Clemson was an enormous shot. Dropping that game would have put N.C. State at 5–6 in the conference and extended its losing streak to four. It escaped again Saturday at home in overtime against Virginia Tech, and now the Wolfpack are 7-5. The Wolfpack sits in a tie for fourth place entering an extremely easy six-game schedule to end the regular season. Every game is winnable, and State is only one game back of third-place Virginia.
Regardless of what seed N.C. State gets in the ACC and NCAA tournament, it will be very dangerous in both. Richard Howell has developed into the rock for this team. He’s a virtual lock for a double-double every night, and he’s playing great in every facet of the game. Lorenzo Brown is back and picking up right where he left off. Wolfpack fans now know they can even function without him thanks to the play of freshman Tyler Lewis.
The X-factor is C.J. Leslie. Sometimes Leslie shows the ability to dominate a game and be the best player on the floor. At other times, he seems lost and disinterested. If he keeps his turnovers down and his head in the game, the Wolfpack will be very tough to beat. If he doesn’t, State could be one and done in both tournaments.
N.C. State basketball is on the rise, and Wolfpack fans should just sit back and enjoy the process. Gottfried is recruiting at a high level, and an ACC championship shouldn’t be too far down the line. State is still capable of beating anyone in the country on a given night, and with some consistent defense this team could make a deep run in March.