Mark Gottfried’s not going to turn down a compliment, but when he runs into N.C. State fans who describe the 2011-12 season as “great” to the Wolfpack coach, he does add a slight modification to the praise.
“The truth of the matter is it really wasn’t a great year, it was a great finish,” Gottfried said. “Our year wasn’t great, we were just OK.”
To Gottfried’s point, N.C. State went 9-7 in ACC play, which was good enough to make the NCAA tournament, but only as one of the last at-large teams in the tournament.
Once in the tournament, the 11th-seeded Wolfpack won two games (and 24 for the season) and reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005, where it was eliminated in a tight game by Kansas, the national runner-up.
With four starters back from last season’s team, optimism and expectations for this season, Gottfried’s second, are in rarefied air. When the conference media meets next Wednesday in Charlotte, there’s a chance – as Sports Illustrated and ESPN already have – the Wolfpack will be named the favorite to win the ACC for the first time since 1974.
Not that Gottfried is putting much stock into what he calls preseason “jibber jabber.”
“It’s fun, I mean I read the paper, you know I don’t live under a rock,” Gottfried said. “I think all that’s fun but I’ve also been around long enough to realize outside of that kind of being some fun jibber jabber, after that, you’ve got to go play and we’ve got to work.”
Freshman improve strong roster
Who’s back: The top four scorers return in guard Lorenzo Brown (12.7 points per game, 6.3 assists per game), forward C.J. Leslie (14.7 ppg, 7.3 rebounds per game), forward Richard Howell (10.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and guard Scott Wood (12.4 ppg).
Brown and Leslie emerged at the end of the season as two of the best players in the ACC.
Who’s not: Guard C.J. Williams (10.6 ppg) is the only loss in the starting lineup. His consistency, as Gottfried put it, will be missed the most and his leadership.
Top reserves DeShawn Painter (6.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and guard Alex Johnson (29 3-pointers) also have to be replaced.
Who’s new: N.C. State added three McDonald’s All-Americans in guard Rodney Purvis, guard Tyler Lewis and forward T.J. Warren. Purvis, a combo guard, and Warren are the leading candidates to fill Williams’ spot in the starting lineup. Lewis is a true pass-first point who will backup Brown and also give him a chance to play off the ball when the two play together.
Practice priorities: The starters are set at forward but the rotation off the bench needs to be sorted out. Veterans Jordan Vandenberg, Thomas de Thaey are the returning options while Warren also has the size to defend the post, although his preference is to play on the wing.
The leadership void, left by Williams and Johnson, will also have to be filled, which Gottfried said Monday will be a collective effort but it will start with Brown.
What they’re saying: “Is North Carolina State really the ACC favorite? Why not. North Carolina and Duke are taking on serious losses, and the Wolfpack overachieved under Mark Gottfried to get to the Sweet 16. It took a little while, but C.J. Leslie announced he’s returning, which basically means the entire team returns. In addition, Gottfried has one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming in with Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. This program has a lot to look forward to.”
– ESPN’s Andy Katz, who has N.C. State No. 6 in his preseason top 25.