Confident Wolfpack heads to ACC play

Gottfried says team has found its footing after losses earlier this season

jgiglio@newsobserver.comJanuary 5, 2013 

N.C. State's Lorenzo Brown (2) pulls in a rebound between Connecticut's R.J. Evans (12), left, and DeAndre Daniels (2) during the first half of N.C. State's game against Connecticut in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City Tuesday, December 4, 2012.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

— The ACC coaches picked N.C. State to win the conference in October and the media agreed.

That was before the season started. With ACC play set to begin Saturday – the Wolfpack travels to Boston College – and the nonconference portion of the season in the books, is N.C. State still the favorite to win the league?

Not if you go by the national rankings, the coaches and AP voters both have unbeaten Duke (13-0) at No. 1 in the country, with N.C. State (11-2) – the only other ACC team in the top 25 – at No. 23.

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was indifferent to where his second team was predicted to finish before the season started and nothing in the first 13 games has changed his mind.

“Whether you’re picked first, fifth or eighth, you’ve got to play,” Gottfried said. “You have to be very good to withstand all the things you’ve got to go through throughout a league schedule, especially a longer one, to finish on top. We’ve got a long way to go for that.”

N.C. State went 9-7 in ACC play last season, beating the seven teams it finished in front of in the conference standings and losing to the four teams it finished behind in the regular-season standings. For the first time, the ACC schedule will consist of 18 games this season.

Gottfried is hopeful his veteran team can improve on last year’s finish. Since hitting an early-season bump, two losses (Oklahoma State and Michigan) in three games, the Pack has won six straight, all at home.

“We’ve gotten better from the start of the year until now,” Gottfried said.

The confidence, and momentum, that swelled within the program from the Sweet 16 finish last March through the 38-point win over Miami (Ohio) in the opener is starting to make a comeback.

Junior stars C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown have started to find their grooves and senior forward Richard Howell has been consistent all season. Senior guard Scott Wood upped his production in December.

Wood said the players’ expectations haven’t changed since the start of the season.

“I think if we play the basketball we are capable of playing, there’s a good opportunity there and we can be good as anybody in the league,” Wood said.

Gottfried called the beginning of conference play, “Step 2” for the season. Gottfried said his team will have to be consistent, resilient and mentally tough to improve on last season’s fifth-place finish.

Gottfried stressed the only way to improve on last season’s ACC finish was to not overlook any team, including Boston College (8-5) which was predicted to finish last in the league. N.C. State beat BC in all three meetings last season but Gottfried said the Eagles are “much better than they were a year ago.”

Wood said there’s no danger of the Pack overlooking the Eagles, which some players did in last year’s trip to Chestnut Hill, Mass. The late November losses helped wake this team up, which Wood said is finding its stride.

“There are some things we can get better at but at the same time, I like where we are,” Wood said. “Hopefully, we can keep getting better.”

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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