Cincinnati is a different team from the one that beat N.C. State last season.
The Bearcats don’t have star guard Sean Kilpatrick, and forward Shaquille Thomas is the only returning starter.
Even coach Mick Cronin will miss Tuesday’s game at N.C. State with a medical issue. Assistant coach Larry Davis will take over for the third time this season.
But there will always be one constant with the Bearcats (8-3), N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said Monday.
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“Their style is the same,” Gottfried said. “They’re going to slug it out. They’re going to shoot and go get it and be very physical.”
N.C. State (10-3) has already lost to a pair of physical teams in Purdue and West Virginia.
The Wolfpack comes into Tuesday’s 4 p.m. game (ESPNU) with a chance to prove it can handle contact. With its next two ACC games against Pittsburgh and Virginia, it will be a good test of N.C. State’s toughness.
“They’re going to hit us,” N.C. State junior guard Trevor Lacey said. “We can’t step down and let them impose their will on us. We have to fight back and match their intensity.”
Purdue and West Virginia pushed around N.C. State’s guards and forced them out of their collective comfort zone. Given how much N.C. State has had to rely on its backcourt for scoring – Lacey, Ralston Turner and Cat Barber account for 43.7 points per game – that’s a quick way to beat the Wolfpack.
Lacey, an Alabama transfer, leads the ACC in scoring with 18 points per game. He had 15 points at Purdue and 24 against West Virginia.
Consistency has been more difficult for the rest of the Wolfpack. Turner and Barber have had their moments but need to be more level with the ACC schedule about begin Saturday.
“We’re still learning,” Lacey said.
Gottfried has been encouraged by how his team has handled setbacks this season. It followed the loss to Purdue with a home win against Wake Forest. A win against Tennessee followed a loss to Wofford, and the Wolfpack bounced back after falling to West Virginia with a win against Louisiana Tech.
N.C. State trailed Louisiana Tech by 18 points in the second half. That was the Wolfpack’s last game before the Christmas break. Gottfried actually gave the players three days off, one more day than usual.
“They came back and we had a lot of energy in practice,” Gottfried said. “We know we’re playing a really good team in Cincinnati so our guys have been locked in.”
Gottfried said he has been pleased with the team’s defensive improvement and believes the chemistry among the players has been good.
He’s hoping that like last season, the team will continue to get better as the season goes along and peak by the end of the season.
“We’re a team that hopefully is a lot better in February than we are in November, December because we’re playing so many young guys,” Gottfried said. “We have to make sure we’re getting better so we can become a really good team by the end of the year.”