The difference between N.C. State and Pittsburgh is more than just four games in the ACC standings.
Pittsburgh, 4-1 in the ACC, has one of the most experienced lineups in the conference. The Panthers (15-2) have been able to rely on veterans to bounce back from a subpar 2015 NIT finish.
That’s a luxury N.C. State (10-8, 0-5 ACC) does not have. The Wolfpack is one of only two ACC teams that doesn’t have a senior in its regular rotation and the only one ACC team without a healthy, fourth-year player.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried looks at the ACC standings and sees Pittsburgh and Clemson in the top 3 and is not surprised.
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“The biggest problem with younger players is inconsistency,” Gottfried said. “You look at Pitt and Clemson and their improvement this year and experience makes a big difference.”
Clemson (5-1) is a half-game behind North Carolina in the ACC standings. Pitt is tied for third with Virginia Tech.
Five of Clemson’s seven regular rotation players are either juniors or seniors. Eight of Pitt’s nine-man rotation are juniors, seniors or graduate transfers.
The Panthers have nine players who average more than 10 minutes per game, six of them have been in college for at least four years.
Their top two scorers, forwards Michael Young (17.2 points per game) and Jamel Artis (16.1 ppg) are juniors.
That leaves guard Damon Wilson, who averages 11.8 minutes per game, as the only underclassmen in the nine-man rotation.
Pitt has the highest percentage of upperclassmen in its rotation of the 15 ACC teams (8 of 9, 88.9 percent). Clemson is second at 71.4 percent (5 of 7).
Pitt finished 8-10 in the ACC last year and went to the NIT. Clemson was also 8-10 last year and didn’t make the postseason.
The Wolfpack finished 10-8 in the ACC last year, and went to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, with senior guard Ralston Turner and fourth-year junior Trevor Lacey as the team’s top scorers.
“Those two guys were consistently reliable for us,” Gottfried said. “You knew exactly what you were going to get from them on a game-to-game basis.”
N.C. State has three upperclassmen out of seven players in its regular rotation, or 42.8 percent, which ranks 11th out of 15 teams.
N.C. State does not have a scholarship senior on its roster. Junior Terry Henderson, who injured his ankle in the season opener and has been out since, is the only fourth-year scholarship player on the roster.
“In this league, the toughest part of having a young team, that’s not quite ready, is there’s just no forgiveness,” Gottfried said.
You can also tell the difference in experience between Pitt and N.C. State by looking at their last meeting at Pittsburgh.
T.J. Warren scored 41 points and led the Wolfpack to a key 74-67 win on March 3, 2014. Warren, who would have been a senior this season, left for the NBA after that season. He was the ACC player of the year and a lottery pick.
Guards Tyler Lewis and Rodney Purvis came into college in the same class as Warren. Purvis transferred after one season to Connecticut. Lewis left the same year Warren did and transferred to Butler.
Pitt will start two of the same players from that last home meeting with the Wolfpack — Young and point guard James Robinson. Artis played 18 minutes off the bench in that game.
N.C. State only has juniors Cat Barber, Lennard Freeman and BeeJay Anya from the last trip to Pitt in 2014.
Gottfried would like to have more roster consistency but the way the college basketball landscape has changed, with more transfers and players leaving early for the NBA, it’s easier said than done.
“It’s hard to predict how roster will change from year to year, let alone four years out,” Gottfried said.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
The difference in experience
Clemson and Pittsburgh might be surprise teams in the ACC but they both have experienced rosters. A comparison of each ACC team and the class of the players that average 10 minutes or more per game:
Jr. or Sr.
* Number of players who average 10 minutes per game; x-total does not include injured players