Either Mark Gottfried has the NBA on his mind, or he’s overwhelmingly impressed with North Carolina.
With the seventh-ranked Tar Heels (22-5, 11-3 ACC) coming to Raleigh on Wednesday night, the fifth-year N.C. State coach recently watched the game tape of UNC’s 96-71 win over Miami.
“I thought I was watching the (San Antonio) Spurs as good as they played,” Gottfried said, comparing the ACC first-place Tar Heels to the NBA powerhouse.
And Gottfried’s take on UNC senior guard Marcus Paige, who has had his struggles against other ACC teams but has scored 58 points and shot 70.6 percent (12 of 17) from the 3-point line in his past two trips to PNC Arena: “He has played like he’s Stephen Curry against us. The guy has been amazing.”
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Like most coaches, Gottfried can be prone to hyperbole when talking about the upcoming opponent, but there’s no exaggerating UNC’s recent road success in the series.
The Tar Heels have won 10 of the past 12 games in Raleigh and 12 of 16 games since the Wolfpack (14-13, 4-10) moved into its off-campus arena during the 1999-2000 season.
I’d love to have a team that’s 10, 11-deep with about six or seven All-Americans and that type of thing, but we don’t have that right now.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried
N.C. State’s best chance at knocking off UNC is to not let the Heels play their game, Gottfried said. Last year, N.C. State picked up a rare win in Chapel Hill by playing at a deliberate pace, in almost a “Four Corners” homage, in a 58-46 upset.
N.C. State limited UNC to 60 offensive possessions in that game, the Heels’ fewest in an ACC game last season, according to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics. Gottfried tried to use the same formula in this year’s first matchup in Chapel Hill on Jan. 16. UNC had 62 possessions, its fewest in an ACC game this season.
The game was tied at the half at 29, and the Wolfpack led briefly at the start of the second half before UNC forward Kennedy Meeks took over. Meeks had 18 of his 23 points in the second half to lead the Heels to a 67-55 win.
UNC and N.C. State are two of six ACC teams that average more than 70 possessions per game, but don’t expect a track meet on Wednesday. N.C. State, with a seven-man rotation, can’t match depth with the Tar Heels, who regularly go 10 deep.
“I’d love to have a team that’s 10, 11-deep with about six or seven All-Americans and that type of thing, but we don’t have that right now,” Gottfried said. “We have to figure out how we’re going to best attack them and keep them from doing what they do best.”
The Wolfpack will try to match its defensive intensity from the first meeting. UNC shot 37.9 percent, its third-worst shooting game of the season, and the 67 points were its second-fewest in an ACC game.
N.C. State doesn’t like the slower pace, and Gottfried doesn’t want to make it a habit, but discretion can be the better part of valor for a reason.
“We don’t want to set up in the halfcourt; we want to run,” sophomore forward Abdul-Malik Abu said. “But if that’s the game we have to play, we can do that, too.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio