In the past three weeks, N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie has outplayed North Carolina's John Henson, Duke's frontcourt and Florida State's Bernard James. Leslie added another big game on Friday against Virginia's Mike Scott. Leslie scored 19 points, hitting 9-of-11 shots, and added 14 rebounds and three assists, while mostly being defended by Scott. "He has lifted his game a level, which is impressive to me," N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. "I thought there were times today where he just took it over." Scott did score a game-high 23 while being defended by Leslie, but he needed 23 shots and also had four turnovers, without an assist.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett has absolutely maximized what he has been able to get out of his team -- 22 wins, nine in the ACC and likely a spot in the NCAA tournament -- this season. Virginia is the definition of a team that is worth more than the sum of its parts. The Cavaliers defend and they play hard; that will be a given as long as Bennett is there, but you have to be somewhat concerned about what that team will look like next year without Scott. Who's going to score for them?
N.C. State shot 54 percent in Friday's win, 14 percentage points better than the 61-60 loss to Virginia in Raleigh on Jan. 28. State was 27-of-50 on Friday, including 22-of-35 from 2-point range -- which was the team's focus, to go inside and take advantage of Virginia, which was missing its top post defender in Assane Sene.
There is something about N.C. State and its first-year coaches in the ACC tournament. Herb Sendek went 3-1 in 1997, and Sidney Lowe was 3-1 in 2007. Both Sendek and Lowe lost to UNC in the championship round. Gottfried is 2-0 with the Tar Heels next in the semifinals. The Wolfpack hasn't beaten UNC in the ACC tournament since the 1987 championship game. The two coaches who a national title at N.C. State, Jim Valvano and Norm Sloan, by the way, both went 0-1 in their first ACC tournament.