North Carolina (8-2) vs. NC State (12-1)
Chapel Hill, N.C. -- Dean E. Smith Center
Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN2 (Brad Nessler, Len Elmore)
"They've got seven out of their top eight players back and are more experienced, they're better defensively, they're more comfortable offensively. [Cedric] Simmons is really improving and gives them more of an inside scoring threat." -- Roy Williams
"We're going to see how good we are. We're going to see how well we're put together." -- Cedric Simmons
Season To Date: The Herb Sendek critics among the Wolfpack faithful have grown awful quiet. Sendek, now in his 10th season in Raleigh, has amassed a 62 percent winning percentage as the NCSU head coach and has his team ranked No. 13 in the nation with a 12-1 record heading into Saturday's game in Chapel Hill. The Wolfpack have a number of solid wins on their resume thus far, including Notre Dame, George Washington and Miami -- all of which were won by double-digits. The only blemish on the record is a loss at Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, an ugly affair five weeks ago in which both teams combined for 32 percent shooting and 43 turnovers. Sendek's club should have a better idea of where they stand after the next two weeks, which includes games at UNC, at BC and at Duke, as well as home games against Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
Simmons' Emergence: No player on the Wolfpack team has had a bigger positive impact on the season thus far than Cedric Simmons. After playing limited minutes his freshman season, he has emerged as a dominant low post presence on defense, blocking three shots per game - and will be the best low-post defender UNC has faced to date. But he's also greatly improved NCSU's offense. "You can't name one offense ever constructed that isn't better when there's good low-post play," Sendek said. "Cedric has shown great improvement and is not only scoring himself but making his teammates better from that spot." Simmons is the leading scorer (12.0 ppg) on a well-balanced team and is shooting 62 percent from the field.
Stretching the Defense: While Simmons has ruled the paint, almost every other Wolfpack player is a threat from beyond the arc. Engin Atsur (47%) leads the way, followed by Tony Bethel (43%) and Illian Evtimov (39%) and Cameron Bennerman has hit 20 threes on the season. The starting lineup has combined to shoot 42 percent on three-pointers, while even post player Andrew Brackman is shooting 38% percent off the bench. In the win over Miami, those five took all 18 three-point attempts and connected on 12 of them (67%).
Smart Basketball: Sendek's teams might not play the most exciting brand of basketball, but they are almost always well-disciplined on both ends of the court. This year's Wolfpack team is no different, with four upperclassmen in the starting lineup complemented by solid youngsters. On the defensive side, NCSU leads the ACC in scoring defense (58.0), blocked shots (6.2) and field goal percentage defense (36.5%) -- and is second in three-point percentage defense (28.5%). On offense, the stats are skewed by the dismal outing at Iowa, but if you remove the Iowa game (which was an anomaly in many aspects), NCSU would be ranked atop the in ACC assist-to-turnover ratio and second in turnovers. Engin Atsur has been the catalyst for the steady play. In addition to his aforementioned stellar three-point percentage, he's sporting a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio and has a team-high 23 steals.
Series History: The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with NC State, 132-74, and have won the last four matchups, which means Roy Williams is 4-0 against the Wolfpack as UNC's head coach. Carolina has won 15 of the last 20 games against NCSU dating back to early 1997, which includes a four-game winning streak by the Wolfpack during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. The Heels are 14-5 against the Pack in the Smith Center and won in a rout last season, 95-71, in Chapel Hill.
Location: Raleigh, N.C.
Colors: Red & White
Head Coach: Herb Sendek
Record at NCSU: 244-149
22 Tony Bethel (6-1, 185, Sr.) – 7.8 ppg, 2.4 apg
14 Engin Atsur (6-4, 200, Jr.) – 11.5 ppg, 4.7 apg
13 Cameron Bennerman (6-4, 205, Sr.) – 11.4 ppg
3 Illian Evtimov (6-8, 222, Sr.) – 11.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg
33 Cedric Simmons (6-9, 233, So.) - 12.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg
40 Andrew Brackman (6-10, 235, So.) – 9.6 ppg, 5.1
11 Gavin Grant (6-7, 212, So.) - 8.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg
34 Ben McCauley (6-9, 235, Fr.) – 3.6 ppg, 1.7 apg
4 Courtney Fells (6-5, 194, Fr.) – 1.8 ppg
Roster & Bios
Simmons ... Atsur
Brackman ... Evtimov
Bethel ... Bennerman