North Carolina (23-4, 9-3) vs. NC State (14-11, 4-8)
Chapel Hill, N.C. - Dean E. Smith Center
9 p.m., TV - Raycom/LFN
Season to Date: Picked to finish at the bottom of the ACC, it's no surprise to find the Wolfpack a game away from last place. However, in the last three weeks, NC State has posted three impressive ACC wins -- two versus Virginia Tech and one against UNC. In between were three straight losses to Georgia Tech, Miami and Maryland. What can be concluded from that? The Wolfpack, with only one legitimate ball handler, is going to commit double-digit turnovers -- that's pretty much a given. So it becomes a matter of whether it can overcome them. NC State has averaged 15.1 turnovers over the last six games (and is ranked last in the ACC in turnover margin). Against UNC, the Pack committed 22 turnovers, but shot 76.5% in the second half. Even more impressive was the 66.7% shooting display (including 11-15 3pt) on Sunday in the second win over Virginia Tech -- no amount of turnovers is going to prevent a win when you shoot like that. To stop the Pack, defenses must try to force turnovers early in the possession and then be committed for the full 35 seconds, as the starting five is an efficient, smart-passing group in the halfcourt offense.
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. Four of the top seven in the ACC's "Minutes Played" statistic are members of the Wolfpack.
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 are starting to get more reliable ball-handling from its backcourt and Atsur, Fells and Grant are all averaging double-digits in points.
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 134-75 margin, including a 15-5 record in the Smith Center. Since Roy Williams took the reins in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels are 6-1 against the Wolfpack.
14 Engin Atsur (6-4, 200, Sr.) – 11.5 ppg, 5.0 apg
4 Courtney Fells (6-5, 194, So.) – 11.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg
11 Gavin Grant (6-7, 212, Jr.) - 15.1 ppg, 4.2 apg
33 Brandon Costner (6-8, 230, Fr.) – 16.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg
34 Ben McCauley (6-9, 235, So.) – 16.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg
31 Dennis Horner (6-7, 200, Fr.) – 4.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg
20 Bryan Nieman (6-6, 215, Sr.) – 2.0 ppg, 1.7 rpg
15 Trevor Ferguson (6-5, 185, Fr.) – 2.0 ppg, 1.1 apg
Roster & Bios
Grant ....... McCauley
Atsur ....... Costner
Fells ....... Lowe
(Photos courtesy Jason Cole/Pack Pride)