Pack Improved, But Cautious About Optimism

The Wolfpack has made strides through the first month of the season and appears capable of placing in the upper half of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That would be a considerable upgrade for a team that's coming off a 10th-place finish last season -- a fact first-year coach Mark Gottfried is prone to point out, whether as a remainder to his team that it has a long way to go or a refresher for fans who might have developed an unrealistic level of optimism.

After all, the Wolfpack was in good positions to pull out victories against Indiana and Stanford until late-game shortcomings resulted in losses in both instances.

"It's very frustrating (to let leads slip away), but we have to keep our heads up," guard Lorenzo Brown said.

But those games demonstrated the potential that exists for the Wolfpack. It has competed toe-to-toe with every team it has come across, so it's a matter of completing the tasks.

"We have to learn how to finish games," Gottfried said.

That tends to be one of the points of emphasis for the Wolfpack, which will be left unfulfilled if it can finish the tasks by the time conference games roll around.

"We have to play the entire 40 minutes and not let down," guard C.J. Williams said.

There's also the flip side for the Wolfpack. It made clutch plays down the stretch to upend Princeton and pulled off a big second-half comeback to defeat Texas.

-- The Wolfpack has been foul-prone at times and that could catch up to the team when conference play starts. Even against non-major teams, the post players have fallen into foul trouble, with F C.J. Leslie and F Richard Howell guilty against North Carolina Central. "Almost every game it appears that one of our bigs are in foul trouble," coach Mark Gottfried said. "The good thing is we have some depth, and maybe I should play some guys with two (first-half) fouls more."

-- G Scott Wood's shooting is often under close monitoring because he's one of the top proven long-range shooters in the ACC. He's shooting at a 56.8 percent clip (25-for-44) from 3-point range, which is better than his 33.3-percent mark (4-for-12) on 2-point attempts. He also made his first 17 free-throw attempts of the season.

-- Mark Gottfried arrived as the new coach in the spring and vowed to upgrade the non-conference schedule while knowing there would likely be some highly ranked teams (North Carolina and Duke at the very least) on the ACC slate. But one game he inherited on the schedule was a Dec. 17 home date with Syracuse, which moved to No. 1 in the Dec. 12 AP poll and ESPN/USA Today polls.

PLAYER TO WATCH: G Lorenzo Brown -- He has a scorer's mentality at the point guard position and it will be important for the Wolfpack that he finds the right balance. His athleticism might mean that he draws some key defensive assignments, too, so he'll have to be capable of a sizeable workload.

KEY CONFERENCE GAME: Jan. 8 vs. Maryland -- This is the conference opener and it looms large for several reasons. It's comes against a team that defeated the Wolfpack twice last season, including in what became a season-ending loss in the ACC Tournament. It also marks the only meeting this season with Maryland. The Terrapins didn't visit Raleigh, N.C., last year, so it's the first time the Terrapins play at N.C. State in men's basketball since Debbie Yow left her position as athletics director at Maryland to take the same position at N.C. State.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The difference between winning and losing is a big deal, and we're always excited to win." -- Coach Mark Gottfried, a first-year coach whose team started with a 6-3 record. That's the same mark the 2010-11 team had after nine games under former coach Sidney Lowe.

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