N.C. State had to start over this season. Next season, with so many of the same parts expected back, the Wolfpack hopes it won’t have to.
With seven of the top eight scorers expected to be back, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried believes the team can build off the success of a surprising Sweet 16 finish.
“This should be something that motivates them,” Gottfried said. “We tasted it. We tasted what it’s like to be in this situation. Now it’s got to be one of those things where they should want it more.”
Gottfried talked often this season about being a young team. Next year, the Wolfpack could start one senior and three juniors, which qualifies in this day and age of college basketball for an AARP discount.
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Senior Ralston Turner, the team’s second-leading scorer and top 3-point shooter, will have to be replaced and so will reserve guard Desmond Lee.
There’s the possibility in today’s transient climate of a player transferring or potentially sophomore guard Cat Barber testing his pro potential.
But N.C. State could have seven of its top eight regular rotation players back, with guard Trevor Lacey poised to be one of the best players in the ACC. Plus, coming in is junior guard Terry Henderson, a West Virginia transfer, and there are still four open scholarships.
The Wolfpack hasn’t signed a player in the 2015 recruiting class but is still in the running for two of the best players in the country: guard Malik Newman, ranked No. 3 in the class by Rivals, and Kinston guard Brandon Ingram, No. 19 in Rivals’ top 150.
Turner was disappointed Friday night after the Wolfpack’s 75-65 loss to Louisville in the regional semifinals. It was Turner’s last college game, but he also understood how much of a makeover the team underwent to get back to this point.
In 2013-14, T.J. Warren accounted for 35 percent of N.C. State’s scoring, and he led the ACC with 24.9 points per game.
The offense had to be overhauled without Warren, the school’s first lottery pick since 1996. Lacey stepped in after transferring from Alabama, and led the Wolfpack with 15.7 points per game.
Turner and Barber also upped their scoring production.
Throw in the complementary parts of forwards Kyle Washington (scoring), BeeJay Anya (defense), Lennard Freeman (rebounding), and the formula added up to a 22-win season and second trip to the Sweet 16 in four years.
“We lost T.J. and people were counting us out, even before the season started,” Turner said.
“Next year, there’s a lot of talent coming back, and with the addition of Terry, they’re going to be fun to watch.”
Henderson, a 6-4, 200-pound shooting guard who transferred from West Virginia, will be eligible next season. He’s expected to take Turner’s place as a primary 3-point shooter. He averaged 11.7 points per game as a sophomore at West Virginia in 2013-14 and made 37.6 percent (47 of 125) of his 3-pointers.
“Terry is a ‘Ralston,’ but he can dribble a little more,” Lacey said.
Given Gottfried’s track record with transfers, Alex Johnson in 2011-12 then Turner and Lacey, there’s confidence that Henderson can step in and help right away.
The Martin twins, Caleb and Cody, are also perimeter options to complement Lacey and Barber.
Inside, the three sophomores will be a year older, and freshman Abdul-Malik Abu, who had a breakout game against Villanova in the Round of 32, are all expected to return.
“We’ll pretty much be in the same position as this year,” Barber said.
One issue for N.C. State is there will be higher expectations. As a school, across sports (football, baseball and basketball), N.C. State has struggled in the role of the favorite.
As Gottfried was quick to note after the Villanova upset, this team was picked to finish 10th in the ACC.
But Gottfried’s second team, after a Sweet 16 finish in 2012, was picked to win the ACC but finished fifth and lost its opening NCAA tournament game.
But that’s a worry for another day. Gottfried was encouraged by how the team climbed out of a hole in February and played its way into the tournament and then won two games. He was also confident about the future.
“There are a lot of good things on the horizon for us,” Gottfried said.