There were times last season when N.C. State’s best defense was the last defense.
With big BeeJay Anya, and his 93-inch wingspan protecting the rim, the Wolfpack ranked second in the ACC in blocked shots and fifth in field goal percentage defense.
With a leaner, fitter Anya back for his junior season, and a more athletic backcourt, you might even be able to call N.C. State a “defensive-minded” team in 2015-16.
Such a label wouldn’t normally apply to coach Mark Gottfried’s N.C. State teams.
“Yeah, he loves offense,” Anya said.
But even Gottfried will admit that this N.C. State team, without high-scoring guards Trevor Lacey or Ralston Turner, might be known for its defense.
“With our quickness really all over the floor, we can be a team that can rely on our defense,” Gottfried said.
If Gottfried uses the same starting lineup from the preseason game last Sunday in the season opener against William & Mary on Friday, the Wolfpack will be smaller but quicker.
Abdul-Malik Abu was the only traditional forward in the starting lineup against Cal State-Los Angeles. He was joined by point guard Cat Barber, guard Terry Henderson and wings Caleb and Cody Martin.
“We’re undersized but we can use our quickness to our advantage,” Caleb Martin said.
This team, I think we’re going to get a lot better offensively throughout the year. Early on, our defense needs to be really, really sharp.
NC State coach Mark Gottfried
With Henderson and the Martins, the Wolfpack has more length on the perimeter than last season and might be able to cause more problems in a halfcourt set.
“We can get after (it) on defense,” said Henderson, a junior transfer from West Virginia who sat out last season.
While Lacey and Turner were the team’s top two scorers last season, neither was known for defense.
“Trevor and Ralston played no defense,” Anya joked. “None.”
While Anya racked up blocks, an ACC-best 91, N.C. State lagged behind the rest of the league in steals. The Wolfpack averaged 3.8 steals per game, which ranked last in the conference.
But Lacey (15.7 points per game) and Turner (12.8 ppg) provided consistent offense. Barber is the only returning player on the roster who averaged double-digits (12.1 ppg) last season.
This team might not have the ability to match last year’s in terms of pure scoring power.
“This team, I think we’re going to get a lot better offensively throughout the year,” Gottfried said. “Early on, our defense needs to be really, really sharp.”
N.C. State posted its best four-year defensive numbers under Gottfried last season. The Wolfpack held opponents to 40.3 percent from the field and 65.8 points per game, almost a four-point per game improvement.
In adjusted efficiency numbers, N.C. State allowed 98.3 points per 100 possessions, according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. Only Gottfried’s first team, in 2011-12, allowed fewer points (97.1) per 100 possessions. The Wolfpack ranked 87th last year in Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive rankings, down from No. 125 the previous season.
Anya thinks N.C. State has a chance to improve on those numbers across the board. He might even be able to change Gottfried’s opinion of defense.
“He’s starting to like defense a little more,” Anya said.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio