Previewing the NC State Wolfpack

A look at Iowa's Wednesday night opponent in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge

Background
Location: Raleigh, NC Enrollment: 29,957 Conference: ACC Nickname: Wolfpack Colors: Red & White Head Coach: Herb Sendek Record at NCSU: 174-122

Projected Starters:
14 Engin Atsur – 12.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.4 apg 11 Gavin Grant – 10.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.7 apg 3 Ilian Evtimov – 12.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg 40 Andrew Brackman – 8.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 bpg 33 Cedric Simmons – 13.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.0 bpg

Key Reserves:
22 Tony Bethel – 4.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.0 apg 13 Cameron Bennerman – 8.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg 23 Brandon Costner – 2.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg 34 Ben McCauley – 4.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg 4 Courtney Fells – 1.5 ppg, 1.3 rpg

QUOTABLES

"I've seen them play against Kentucky. Obviously they have a great team. They have great guards and they have big guys who are pretty good too. They have a complete team and in every position we have to do a good job defensively." -- Engin Atsur

"I think Iowa is clearly one of the premier teams in the country. I think Iowa has a legitimate chance to compete for a championship this year, both in the Big 10 and on the national level. I think they have demonstrated that level of play here early in the season." -- Herb Sendek

SCOUTING REPORT

Strengths: Balance, Versatility, and Defense. NC State has four players averaging in double figures and two others who are above eight points per game. Lacking a true star, the Wolfpack thrives on always having five solid players on the court with no weak links.

The roster is loaded with versatile players who can play a number of positions in Sendek's motion offense. Ilian Evtimov can play three positions, and Gavin Grant has played point guard, shooting guard, small forward, and power forward this season. With his recruiting, Sendek has a deep roster that gives him different options on both ends of the floor.

During Sendek's tenure at NC State, his teams have been known for their aggressive man-to-man defense. The Wolfpack won't play much zone but have done so on occasion. The Wolfpack has led the ACC in scoring defense four times in his eight seasons as head coach, and ranked second in the league last season with just 66.1 points allowed.

Weaknesses: Rebounding, Go-To Player, and Experienced Frontcourt Depth. NC State has struggled on the boards this year, surprising for a team that starts a lineup with four players over 6-foot-7. It could be due to inexperience, but NC State has had problems at times hitting the glass.

The Wolfpack starts Ilian Evtimov, Andrew Brackman, and Cedric Simmons in the frontcourt, three experienced players. However, both frontcourt reserves, Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley, are true freshman and have yet to play a true college road game. Should NC State get into foul trouble, they could be in trouble if the freshmen can't handle the hostile environment.

With Julius Hodge now a member of the Denver Nuggets, NC State no longer has a go-to player down the stretch. When it comes time to take the big shot or design a crucial play out of the huddle, who will Sendek look to? That is perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding this year's Wolfpack basketball team.

Who To Watch: Engin Atsur. The junior point guard has emerged as a steady performer offensively and a lockdown defender. Notre Dame point guard Chris Quinn came into the NC State game averaging 16 points and eight assists. Atsur limited him to just 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting and really disrupted Notre Dame's offensive flow. The matchup between Atsur and Iowa's Jeff Horner could be the key to the game.

NC State Will Win If: The Wolfpack will win if they can handle the pressure of playing an early season road game in a hostile environment and manage to control tempo. NC State faced Notre Dame in the Wooden Tradition, but that was a tournament game on a neutral floor, nothing like playing a road game against a premier team like Iowa. While the Wolfpack can play a fast-paced game, expect them to try and control tempo where they can maximize offensive possessions and play half court defense.

NC State Will Lose If: The Wolfpack will lose if they cannot compete with Iowa on the glass and struggle from beyond the 3-point line. The Wolfpack has shot well from deep early this season, but must be able to do so against the Hawkeyes. Nearly 50% of their field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc, and if they shoot that many tonight they must make a fair share. Also, NC State has had problems rebounding and Iowa is a physical team that really likes to hit the boards, led by senior Greg Brunner. If Iowa can out-physical the Wolfpack and control the paint, it could be a long night for NC State in Iowa City.

PREGAME NOTES

TAKING ‘THE CHALLENGE': NC State has posted a 4-2 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge since 1999-2000. The Wolfpack has won all three of its home games in the challenge and has gone 1-2 on the road, including a win at 19th-ranked Purdue in 1999-2000. The Wolfpack has allowed just 61.2 points per game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

PACK FACES EARLY TEST: Wednesday night's contest with 18th-ranked Iowa will mark the earliest in the season that the Wolfpack has played a ranked team under Herb Sendek and the first time the Wolfpack has faced a ranked team in November since 1986. NC State has posted a 5-5 record against ranked teams before the New Year under Herb Sendek, but has won five of its last seven.

SENSATIONAL SOPHOMORES LEAD PACK

They may be young, but they're experienced - the Wolfpack's trio of talented sophomores are currently ranked as the first, fourth and fifth-leading scorers on the squad.

Sophomores Cedric Simmons, Gavin Grant and Andrew Brackman combined to play 1,396 minutes last season, but are almost a third of the way to that total in just five games this season (385 total minutes) as all three have started all five games this season.

Simmons, who averaged just 3.5 points as a rookie, is leading the team in scoring with 13.4 ppg. Simmons also leads the team in blocked shots with 10 and ranks second in rebounds with 5.8 per game. He and roommate Gavin Grant, who averaged 4.2 points last season, each scored career highs of 22 points in the Nov. 20 win over Delaware.

Grant is now ranked fourth on the team with 10.8 points per game, but leads the team in rebounds with 6.2 and in assists with 24. HIs 4.8 assists per game rank sixth in the ACC.

Brackman led last year's rookies with 7.4 points per game, and is now averaging 8.6 per outing. He has blocked seven shots this season.

SIMMONS IS A FORCE

The center position is probably the most difficult to learn in the Wolfpack's intricate motion offense, as the big guys are playing all over the floor, not just under the basket. But early in his sophomore season, big-guy Cedric Simmons has shown that he feels at home in that role.

"Big Ced" is currently leading the team in scoring with 13.4 points per game, in blocks with two per game, and ranks second in rebounding with 5.8 per contest. He set a career-high with 22 points and tied his career-best with four blocked shots against Delaware, and shot a career- best 10-12 from the line and pulled down a career-best eight rebounds against Stetson.

Simmons, who has gained almost 20 pounds since he first came to NC State, has also greatly improved his free throw shooting this season, which is fortunate since he has been to the line 38 times in five games. He is currently shooting 71% (27-38) from the charity stripe after shooting just 54% (24-44) last season. In five games, he has gone to the line just six less times than in 31 games last season.


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