Steven Muma, a.k.a. Akula Wolf from SBNation's N.C. State site Backing the Pack was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the Wolfpack and their rise to the top of the ACC in the pre-season. Let's see what he had to say.
Streaking the Lawn: I assume you must be thrilled with what Mark Gottfried has done so far in his limited time in Raleigh. How has he gotten State to the top of the pile so quickly?
Backing the Pack: For one thing, Sidney Lowe brought in a lot of good talent--the entire core of this team was recruited by the previous staff. So to some extent, Gottfried was simply fortunate to walk into a team that had big--but unharnessed--talents like C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown. Lowe was only around for their freshman seasons and didn't get the payoff that would come from their maturation.
But I would also say that there is no way this team would have been as successful as it was last year had Lowe still been around. Gottfried not only got the holdovers to buy into what he was trying to do, he also installed an actual plan with rules and strategies and all that good stuff. Sidney Lowe was, shall we say, a bit more hands off.
Having Bobby Lutz on staff didn't hurt either. Lutz was a head coach for a long time, and I think his experience helped considerably.
STL: What was your biggest loss from last season's team?
BTP: Arguments could be made for C.J. Williams or DeShawn Painter. Williams, who was a senior last season, was an incredibly efficient secondary scorer for us. His mid-range game was money, he hit over 80% of his free throws, and I think his leadership helped the team.
Painter transferred unexpectedly to be closer to a sick family member, and while he was not someone we relied on to score a lot, he was the only reliable backup forward we had on the roster. He'd have reprised that role this season, and given Richard Howell's foul troubles, he someone we really could have used. In his absence, we have T.J. Warren (freshman), Thomas de Thaey (sophomore who played sparingly last year), and Jordan Vandenberg (junior who missed all of last season). So now we have a whole lot of question marks behind C.J. Leslie and Howell, and that is a big concern.
As much as I'd love another year of Williams, I think we're better positioned to replace his production than we are Painter's.
STL: Who is the freshman that you think will make the biggest impact this year?
BTP: Shooting guard Rodney Purvis is likely to get the most minutes of the bunch--he should be plugged into Williams' vacant spot in the starting lineup. He's certainly the guy most expect to have the biggest impact, as evidenced by the preseason ACC Rookie of the Year nods he got from the coaches and media. Tyler Lewis will be a reserve all year and doesn't figure to score a lot, but T.J. Warren is an interesting possibility. Warren likely will be a reserve all season as well, but he has the sort of pure scoring ability that could lead to a surprisingly big season. We'll see.
STL: The Wolfpack were picked to finish first in the ACC this year. How do you think the pack handles the target on their back?
BTP: I think they'll be fine. This is all brand new for these guys, and expectations like these make me uncomfortable because of how foreign they are, but I believe in this team. This isn't like the year Lowe's team was ranked in the preseason after making a run through the ACC tournament but missing the NCAAs...the coaching is there this time, and so are the legit all-conference players.
STL: Who does Virginia need to watch out for most this year?
BTP: You could probably take your pick between Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie. They'll both be big parts of the offense.
STL: Which of Virginia's players gives you the most concern?
BTP: I'm just relieved that Mike Scott isn't back this year. That guy was terrifying. As for returning guys, Joe Harris would be near the top of the list. Maybe Jontel Evans for his defensive ability.