|Mark Gottfried has NC State as the preseason ACC favorite for the first time since 1974. (US Presswire)|
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The expectations are high. So much, in fact, that North Carolina State was tabbed to win the ACC by the coaches and the media.
Now, after getting a first-hand, close-up look at Mark Gottfried's team, I think those guys know what they are talking about.
Here are my observations after catching N.C. State practice on Saturday:
1) These guys have more overall talent and fit together better than those teams down the road in Chapel Hill and Durham, but what honestly puts N.C. State over the top is at the point guard position. When you compare Lorenzo Brown to either Marcus Paige or Quinn Cook, it's not even close.
2) Brown is an elite point guard. Not just in the ACC, but in the entire country. There's nothing this kid can't do. He's got the physical tools -- the size and scoring ability, but now he's added command of the point guard position. He simply does it all: He makes his teammates better, can shoot it from deep, gets into the lane, is able to post-up smaller point guards and also defends. If N.C. State wins the ACC this season, Brown will be the primary reason. "I wouldn't trade him for anyone," Gottfried said. Coaches say that about their guys all the time, but I honestly believe Gottfried on this one.
3) Freshman Rodney Purvis is much further ahead than I expected him to be at this point. Remember, he missed the overseas trip and wasn't cleared by the NCAA until mid-September. He is a prolific scorer who is used to getting 20 or so shots per game. Now he'll probably average 10 -- if he's lucky. Anyway, Purvis was extremely unselfish for most of the practice -- until Brown and backup point guard Tyler Lewis were paired with one another -- and that's when Purvis decided to do work and put points on the board. Purvis can get 20 on any given night, but I'm not sure how often it'll happen this season with four veterans around him. "I understand people have questions about us and whether we will accept our roles," Purvis said. "We just have to do what's best for the team and we're all willing to do that."
4) I'm still not sold that C.J. Leslie is a first-team All-American, but here's what he is: A tremendous athlete who has become a much better basketball player. He's not just a pogo stick anymore. He is making better decisions and his skill level has improved. He may put up better numbers than Brown, but Brown is this team's best and most valuable player.
5) Scott Wood, despite missing a wide-open 3-pointer that would have won the third scrimmage segment in regulation, is one of the elite shooters in the nation. He's not Rotnei Clarke, but I'll put him up there with anyone else in the country. With Brown, Leslie, Purvis and Richard Howell, it'll be interesting to see how teams defend the Wolfpack. One thing is for certain: You can't double off Wood because he'll make you pay nearly half the time.
6) I'd heard that freshman T.J. Warren, one of the three McDonald's All-Americans who arrived on campus this year, was playing extremely well. He was second on the team in scoring on the overseas trip this past summer. He struggled to make shots on Saturday and I'm actually more concerned after his performance on the trip. Now Warren may possess unrealistic expectations regarding his role this season due to the trip. Purvis needs to be on the court, and Warren will likely fill a reserve scorer's role. He's the one I worry about most in terms of the freshmen "buying in."
7) I couldn't help sit there and wonder what might have happened if Ryan Harrow hadn't left for Kentucky right when Gottfried arrived in Raleigh. Would Brown have been the full-time point guard? Gottfried says so, but it's debatable. Harrow's departure may have helped this program. In fact, I think it did.
8) Freshman Tyler Lewis was a McDonald's All-American and will get minutes backing up Brown and also playing alongside Brown, but it may be difficult for him to ever become the full-time starter in Raleigh. The kid is scrappy and talented, but he's small and somewhat limited. He'll obviously be a reserve this season and he'll have to battle more talented Anthony "Cat" Barber, one of the top point guards in the Class of 2013, next season. However, if Lewis can somehow buy into his role as a four-year backup, N.C. State will be really, really good.
9) While he never lived up to the expectations, former coach Sidney Lowe and his staff deserve a measure of credit. Remember, four of the team's five starters were Lowe recruits: Brown, Leslie, Howell and Wood. Gottfried and his staff have developed those four guys and also added talented young kids, but Lowe & Co. definitely deserve some props for putting the core of this team together.
10) There hasn't been this much pure talent in the program in a couple of decades. Even former N.C. State Julius Hodge, the ACC Player of the Year in 2004 and a first-round draft pick, agreed that his teams couldn't compare to the current group. "Before me," he answered when asked the last time the Wolfpack were stacked like this. "We never had this much talent when I was here. I wish I did. This team right here -- WOW."