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Opponent Preview: NC State with Backing the Pack

Who are the best players to ever play for the Pack? What players do the 'Canes needs to worry about tonight? Who wins? Check out our interview with SB Nation's site for North Carolina State.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Like Miami, NC State holds a marquee win over Duke.

And like the 'Canes, they too have had one of the more difficult conference slates to start the season.

Needless to say, this is a HUGE game for both teams, as the winner will find themselves in the upper echelon of the ACC and the loser will be back to the muddled middle of the pack.

We caught up with Akula Wolf from Backing the Pack, to get the scoop on NC State, the ACC, tonight's game, and more.

Check out the full Q&A below:

SOTU: Let's start with a fun one.  Give me your all time NC State starting 5.

BTP: At the risk of appearing overly biased toward recent history and players I've actually seen, I need Julius Hodge and T.J. Warren on my team. David Thompson is a given, and I also want seven-footer Tommy Burleson off the 1974 national title team. I'll round this group out with gunner Rodney Monroe, who was named the 1991 ACC Player of the Year after averaging 27 PPG that season.

No true point guard in the bunch but I figure between Hodge, DT, and Monroe we'd be fine. Hodge ran some point during his years at State.

I don't know how well we will rebound with this relatively smallish group, but I don't care because we will average 200 points per game and be super fun and solve world hunger.

SOTU:  Talk to us about Travor Lacey. The Alabama transfer has been money for the Pack this year, putting up sick numbers across the board and making big shots. What makes him so good?  For those who haven't seen him play, talk about his game.

BTP: Lacey gives NC State a little bit of everything, whether it's using his size to create scoring opportunities or grab rebounds, or run the point. This year he's shown a knack not just for making big shots but also for hitting closely contested shots. He likes to shoot off of the dribble and is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor.

Based on his production at Alabama, it was a safe bet he'd be a significant contributor for the Pack, but I definitely didn't expect him to be THIS good.

His willingness to take tough shots does get him in trouble at times--he'll hit some dry spells by relying to heavily on jump shots. But there are also times when all those jumpers are falling, and that's when he's scary. (

SOTU:  What other players on NC State have pleasantly surprised?  Who if any have been disappointing?

BTP: The three members of State's freshman class all have been pleasant surprises to varying degrees. Caleb and Cody Martin are giving the team energy off the bench, and they've both been effective scorers inside the arc. It helps that they're fearless about taking the ball to the rim.

Abdul-Malik Abu has been getting more and more time on the court as the season has progressed. He's still very raw but effort masks some of his deficiencies, and you can really see the pieces. Just gotta put 'em together.

On the other hand, I've been disappointed by point guard Cat Barber and forward Lennard Freeman in some ways. Barber is integral to the team, but as was the case last year, his shooting range is lacking, and that can be a limiting factor for him. Opponents don't respect his outside shooting, and nor should they.

Freeman is having a rough year offensively--I think most of my disappointment stems from the fact that I like the dude so much--but he has been State's best overall rebounder.

SOTU: What are the strengths and weaknesses of NCSU?

BTP: Offensively, NC State does a lot of things well, but nothing great. Shoots reasonably well, inside and out, doesn't turn the ball over too much, grabs a decent percentage of offensive boards. They can't seem to avoid spells of just standing around at the offensive end, though, which leads to some droughts. The guards also have a tendency to forget about feeding the post. So sometimes they're not making opponents work hard enough for stops.

Defensively it's a pretty typical Mark Gottfried team, which is to say that it's not going to be mistaken for Virginia any time soon. BeeJay Anya's presence as a rim protector has helped the Pack improve its interior defense, but there are still too many possessions where poor communication or slow rotations hurt them.

The most glaring deficiency for this team is its inability to force turnovers. T.J. Warren's departure is being felt here--as important as he was for his scoring, he also had the best steal rate on the team last year. His anticipation and knack for finding the ball worked pretty darn well at the defensive end, too.

NC State was bad at forcing turnovers last season; now it's REALLY bad at that particular aspect of defense.

SOTU: How many, which teams, do you see making the NCAA Tournament from the ACC?

BTP: Nine bids appears to be the max possible, with Duke, UNC, Louisville, and Virginia all certainly getting in. Could throw Notre Dame in that bunch, probably. So the question is how does the league's middle tier of NCSU, Miami, Syracuse, and Pitt sort itself out?

Out of that bunch, I think NC State and Miami eventually earn bids while Syracuse and Pitt fall short. So, seven bids for the ACC this year. 

SOTU: Which players or match-ups concern you the most Vs Miami?   What tempo does mark Gottfried want this game played at?

BTP: Angel Rodriguez is terrifying in that pesky-good-guard-who-can-
score-10-points-in-a-row sense. Seems like Miami always has a guy like this, dating back to the days of Guillermo Diaz and Jack MCClinton.

I don't trust NC State's ability to contain players like Rodriguez, even if Cat Barber is a pretty good defender.

State will be content to play a halfcourt game with Miami--it's been a halfcourt team all year and one of the nation's more lethargic teams, in terms of average possession length

SOTU:  Last but not least, who do you see winning this game, and why?

BTP: I'll take Miami at home because I don't think the Wolfpack can come up with consistent answers for Rodriguez or Sheldon McClellan. Miami takes great care of the ball, while as I mentioned State doesn't force turnovers, and that's a wince-worthy combination from our side of things.

Then again, Miami has had some weird performances and is a terribly confusing team as a result and this is college basketball so who knows.

In conclusion, Miami by five?

Thanks again to Akula Wolf for letting us catch up with him.  Be sure to check out the game tonight.

Miami vs. NC State


Jan. 22, 2015 |  8 p.m.


BankUnited Center | Coral Gables, Fla.



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