G Dennis Smith (Fr.)
G Terry Henderson (Sr.)
G Maverick Rowan (So.)
F Abdul-Malik Abu (Jr.)
C Beejay Anya (Sr.)
Bench: C Omer Yurtseven (Fr.), G Torin Dorn (So.), F Lennard Freeman (Sr.), G Markell Johnson (Fr.), F Ted Kapita (Fr.), F Darius Hicks (Fr.)
Off the court over the course of Mark Gottfried’s tenure in Raleigh, he has gone toe-to-toe with some of college basketball’s giants and won several recruiting battles. Calipari, Self, Krzyzewski, Williams. They’ve all lost top-flight players to the Wolfpack. The issue at North Carolina State has never been the acquisition of talent. Translating said talent into large-scale success on the hardwood, on the contrary, has been a different story. Yes, the Wolfpack have reached two Sweet 16’s with Gottfried at the helm, but their ceiling has been much higher than that. Perhaps the best example can be found during the 2012-13 season. A loaded preseason top 10 team comprised of Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie, T.J. Warren, Rodney Purvis, and Scott Wood among others had all the makings of being able to etch their names next to David Thompson and Jim Valvano. However, after struggling with inconsistencies throughout the regular season, they bowed out at the hands of Khalif Wyatt and Temple as an 8-seed in the first round. The aforementioned regular season inconsistency has been a common thread in recent years for Gottfried and company. Even in the Sweet 16 years of 2012 and 2015, the Wolfpack were an 11-seed and 8-seed respectively. To avoid the same pitfalls this season, NC State will have to take care of business before the calendar flips to March, maintaining the same quality wins they have obtained in the past while limiting the resume-crushing losses they have tended to suffer, which would do themselves a favor come Spring. Gottfried may finally have the team to do just that.
The 2016-17 edition of NC State owns an ideal personnel makeup similar to that of the 2014-15 team. The Wolfpack were an easy candidate to knock off Villanova in the Round of 32 two seasons ago with imposing size on the interior, the ability to make difficult shots on the wings, and stellar point guard play. Terry Henderson, Maverick Rowan, and Torin Dorn are undoubtedly capable of duplicating what Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey were able to provide. Henderson, a former West Virginia Mountaineer, returns after a medical redshirt year and made a living in Morgantown burying contested threes. We should also expect Maverick Rowan’s second season in Raleigh to be far more efficient than his first. With the Wolfpack falling casualty to the injury bug a year ago, Rowan was given a fluorescent green light and was asked to shoulder much of the burden from beyond the arc without a ton of help, hoisting countless impossible shots from deep. With greater surrounding talent and a creative point guard more prone to create plays for others, Rowan will assuredly get cleaner looks, which only benefits NC State as a whole. Torin Dorn enters the fray as a transfer after one year at Charlotte where he was Conference-USA’s top newcomer, adding yet another shotmaker. Moreover, Dorn has the capability of acting as NC State’s backup point guard if bouncy freshman Markell Johnson falters. As for the starter at that position, the Dennis Smith era is at last under way after ample anticipation, and he will instantly compete nationally for the Bob Cousy Award and All-American honors. Adding Smith completely changes the complexion of the team, as he is quite simply the real deal. A legitimate top 10 pick in next June’s NBA Draft, Smith’s most conspicuous traits are his physical gifts. Eye-popping quickness and athleticism make it unfeasible to prevent him from getting into the paint. The only impediments to the future star’s limitless cachet are an inconsistent jumper and occasionally erratic play, but Smith can get to the rim almost at will. When his mid-range jumper is connecting, the point guard becomes nearly indefensible, and not to mention is a perpetual posterization threat even at 6-2.
The frontcourt blends experience with yet another blue chip freshman. Beejay Anya, Abdul-Malik Abu, and Lennard Freeman are the lone holdovers from the Sweet 16 team of two years ago and provide the experience. Abu’s growth from Year 1 to Year 2 in Raleigh was a promising sight for Wolfpack fans. The intrigue, though, lies with Uzbekistani freshman center Omer Yurtseven, another potential lottery pick. The questions swirling around Yurtseven’s eligibility, as what takes place with several international college imports, were answered a short while ago with the announcement of his nine-game suspension to begin the season. If anything, the suspension keeps the NC State secret for a bit longer. Yurtseven is the classic European stretch big, and his mobility and soft shooting touch have NBA scouts drooling, primarily why Smith is not the only one-and-done prospect on the Wolfpack roster. NC State’s frontcourt depth will give Gottfried numerous options based on matchups, and the committee combines to check all the boxes. Yurtseven and the extension of Abu’s range offer floor spacing. Anya, Abu, and Freeman anchor the interior, and Yurtseven has become an expert in the art of verticality. Gottfried, overall, will be running out an NBA-type lineup on a nightly basis. Without exaggeration, NC State’s talent will rival that of the likes of Duke, Kentucky, and Arizona. Love is nowhere to be found now, but the nation will quickly realize that is a mistake.
McDonald’s All-Americans increasingly rarely remain in school for four years, so the college career arc of Julius Hodge has become a lost art. Once the 7th-ranked recruit in the nation, Hodge a decade ago did what is unspeakable today, peaking in his junior season as the ACC Player of the Year. He and Herb Sendek turned the Pack into March regulars, and Hodge’s all-around game terrorized collegiate basketball for four years. Unfortunately, after being selected 20th overall in the 2005 NBA Draft, Hodge never translated to the professional level and fizzled out after two quick seasons. I have very little recollection of Hodge’s five appearances with the 2006-07 Milwaukee Bucks, a team that also saw minutes from Lynn Greer and Jared Reiner.