Raleigh, N.C. - RBC Center
3:30 p.m., TV - ABC
Season to Date: NC State was picked to finish in the bottom of the ACC, so you'll find few fans that are disappointed with the 12-8 (2-5) record heading into Saturday's game. The Pack have won the games it was supposed to win and lost the games they were supposed to lose ... until Wednesday. This past week the Wolfpack did something that the Tar Heels were unable to accomplish -- win at Virginia Tech. Sidney Lowe's team shot 53-percent from the field and used effective, varying defenses to hold the Top 25-ranked Hokies to a season-low 35 percent.
Depth: The biggest weakness of this team is its glaring lack of depth. The return of senior point guard Engin Atsur has helped a great deal, but Lowe's still playing his five starters well over 30 minutes per game with minimal contributions from the few reserves off the bench. Against Virginia Tech, Ben McCauley played 40 minutes (because NCSU has no reserve post players), Gavin Grant, Brandon Costner and Engin Atsur played 35 minutes and Courtney Fells was in for 33 minutes. The only other player to see significant minutes was walk-on Bryan Nieman.
Five Strong: While they don't get much help off the bench, NC State does have a solid lineup that can be competitive with any team in the conference. Costner is having an All-ACC freshman campaign at the four spot and Ben McCauley is far exceeding expectations in the middle. The Wolfpack aren't yet getting reliable ball handling or consistent outside shooting from its backcourt, but Atsur, Fells and Grant are all averaging double-digits in points.
ACC Struggles: Except for the stunning win at Virginia Tech, NC State has struggled on the offensive end within the conference this season. Through seven conference games, the Wolfpack is averaging 66.7 points per game, 33.6-percent three-point shooting, and with 14.6 turnovers per game. Their in-conference rebounding margin is also -5.7. NC State is ranked last in the conference in three important statistical categories -- three-point percentage, rebounding margin and turnover margin.
New Era: Wolfpack fans grew impatient with Herb Sendek, whose teams were usually good (five straight NCAA Tournament appearances), but never great. Enter Sidney Lowe. The former Wolfpack standout has begun to re-energize the program with his fresh approach and although expectations are low this season, hopes are high that he can eventually take NC State a step or two farther than Sendek could. He's had some early success on the recruiting trail, but just as important, his offensive game plan is a stark contrast from his predecessor.
Series History: UNC leads the all-time series again NC State by a 134-74 margin. Since Roy Williams took the reins in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels have won six in a row over the Wolfpack. In the two meetings last year, UNC won 82-69 on Jan. 7 in Chapel Hill thanks in part to a career-high 17 points from Bobby Frasor and then UNC won in a 95-71 rout in Raleigh on Feb 22., getting 25 points and 11 rebounds from David Noel.
14 Engin Atsur (6-4, 200, Sr.) – 11.5 ppg, 4.5 apg 4 Courtney Fells (6-5, 194, So.) – 11.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg 11 Gavin Grant (6-7, 212, Jr.) - 15.2 ppg, 4.4 apg 33 Brandon Costner (6-8, 230, Fr.) – 16.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg 34 Ben McCauley (6-9, 235, So.) – 16.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg Key Reserves: 31 Dennis Horner (6-7, 200, Fr.) – 5.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg 20 Bryan Nieman (6-6, 215, Sr.) – 2.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg 15 Trevor Ferguson (6-5, 185, Fr.) – 2.3 ppg
Grant ....... McCauley
Atsur ....... Costner
Fells ....... Lowe
(Photos courtesy Jason Cole/Pack Pride