1) Two for two
In two games, N.C. State is 2-for-2 in answering off-season questions.
Q: How will the Wolfpack handle the all the hype and pressure of the expectations?
A: Just fine.
Q: What will the Wolfpack do when Richard Howell gets into foul trouble?
A: Turn T.J. Warren loose.
Howell, as he was prone to do last year, picked up two fouls in the first 2 minutes and 56 seconds of Thursday's win over the out-manned Nittany Lions. Howell went to the bench at 17:04 and might as well have grabbed a pillow and a blanket.
Warren came in and, after a flurry by fellow freshman Rodney Purvis, had a three-point play and a steal, which led to a layup. Warren played the final 17 minutes of the half and scored 12 points, on 5-of-7 shooting, and had three rebounds.
Instead of gambling and leaving Howell in the game, or bringing him back before the end of the half, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was able to park Howell on the bench.
"I was never forced to put Richard back in there, that was nice," Gottfried said.
Penn State was undersized and not particularly skilled at the forward position, but that's not the point. N.C. State was 1-4 when Howell fouled out last season, it was not good when it had to adjust without him. N.C. State had a Plan B after Howell and it worked. It won't always work but it did Thursday.
Warren, by the way, finished the game with 22 points on 12 shots (he made nine).
Next question: What happens if/when Warren gets in foul trouble or both Howell and C.J. Leslie are in foul trouble at the same time?
2) Whither Wood and Brown?
N.C. State played 37 games last season, only once did both Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood score with less than 10 points. Not surprisingly, the Wolfpack lost that game (at home to Virginia, 61-60).
Brown had seven points on Thursday and Wood finished eight but the Wolfpack won by 17 points. What gives?
Again, Penn State's a limited team and the Wolfpack cannot rely on such a formula against better teams but it found a way on Thursday, which is a positive sign.
Brown finished just 1 for 10 from the floor and 0-3 from 3-point range. Brown's missed all five of his 3-point attempts in the first two games. At some point (See: 3 Points: Miami, Ohio), Brown is going to have hit his outside shots. "I thought Lorenzo just tried to force a little bit too much," Gottfried said. "He needed to settle down a hair."
Wood's problems were more mental. He was not locked into the game for the first 30 minutes. His first shot was blocked and then he had a turnover and was tied for a jumpball the next two times he touched the ball in the flow of the offense.
Wood only took one shot in the first half, a stat Gottfried lamented after the game.
"I thought in the first half, Scott could have worked a little harder to get open," Gottfried said.
Wood ended up catching fire midway through the second half with eight points in less than 2 minutes.
Wood spent a lot of time in the offseason working on putting the ball on the floor. His two 3-pointers were of the catch-and-shoot variety, sometimes you just have to remember what your fastball is.
"Those two guys are aging to be alright," Gottfried said. "There's no reason for me to panic with those guys."
3) Different strokes
What Penn State lacked in skill, it made up for in effort. The Nittany Lions, which went 12-20 a year ago, played hard despite being on the wrong end of the talent equation on Thursday.
Penn State was aggressive, especially in rebounding (despite being smaller, the Nits finished with 14 offensive rebounds, seven more than N.C. State).
"They are a physical basketball team," Gottfried said. "It was good for us to play against a physical team that was going to challenge us around the basket."
With five games against Georgia Tech, Virginia and Clemson, N.C. State is going to see a lot of that this season.
The Pack will get a different look from UMass today. The Minutemen prefer to press and play at a higher tempo. That should be good for N.C. State and likely will increase the production of Brown and freshman point guard Tyler Lewis.