"We've been scratching and clawing all year," Wolfpack guard Scott Wood said. "We've played these teams that are really good."
First-year coach Mark Gottfried took an approach in which he wanted to upgrade the schedule so the Wolfpack would be better positioned to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament if other factors lined up.
N.C. State came up short with a chance to make a splash during a three-game February stretch against Duke, Florida State and North Carolina. That was followed by a loss at Clemson before the Wolfpack recovered to win four consecutive games.
N.C. State finished tied for fourth place in the ACC regular season, going 9-7 in conference games. The Wolfpack was within striking distance of first place going into mid-February and that generated an excitement level that might have been missing in recent seasons.
That was enough to push the Wolfpack into the NCAA Tournament field and it added to what was already deemed a season of improvement for a program that had been spinning its wheels.
As it turns out, one-third of N.C. State's losses (three times to North Carolina, once to Syracuse) came to teams holding No. 1 seeds for the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolfpack will have a chore with the first-round game against San Diego State, which isn't shy about playing at a frantic pace. N.C. State tends to like a brisk pace as well, though it could expose the Wolfpack's depth concerns.
-- The Wolfpack will take a balanced scoring attack into the postseason with five players averaging double-figure point totals. The five starters are the ones doing the bulk of the scoring for N.C. State. They've all had considerable improvements in scoring average, with the smallest gains coming from G Scott Wood, whose upgrade is less than 3.0 points per game from a year ago.
-- Coach Mark Gottfried gained his 300th career coaching victory when the Wolfpack defeated Virginia in the ACC tournament quarterfinals. Gottfried, who's in his first season with N.C. State, has been largely lauded for helping turn around the Wolfpack and has the team in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. N.C. State picked up its first 20-win regular season since that 2005-06 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When he's out of the game, I'm the best scorer on the team." -- G Lorenzo Brown on the Wolfpack's makeup without F C.J. Leslie on the floor.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING REPORT: The Wolfpack has a good blend of interior and perimeter scoring options and that balance has been reflected with five players averaging in double-figures for most of the season.
C.J. Leslie has raised his performance in the last few weeks as he's the team's leading scorer for the second year in a row.
Scott Wood is one of the ACC's active leaders in 3-point shooting as a junior and he's had an ACC record of consecutive made free throws earlier in the season.
Lorenzo Brown has made a relatively smooth transition to point guard as a sophomore and his athleticism adds another element at that position.
Richard Howell is the second-best rebounder in the ACC.
FUTURES WATCH: The Wolfpack has made it to the postseason with a limited amount of depth, going with a seven-player rotation for the most part. Even with senior G C.J. Williams' impending departure and the uncertain status of F C.J. Leslie, who could be tempted to jump to the professional level, there should be a replenished roster as coach Mark Gottfried's first full recruiting class will arrive highly rated.
Gottfried adapted well to the limited number of players in his rotation, though foul troubles, especially for junior F Richard Howell, tended to complicate matters at times. The influx of new players, though, should fill in the gaps.
REGULAR SEASON REVIEW: The Wolfpack took care of business in most games they should have won and that tended to be an upgrade from some past teams. Playing a rigorous schedule at times, the rap on the Wolfpack is that it didn't win enough of the big-time games, but at least it was competitive in those contests and performances such as those might have created a good foundation.
It was a breakthrough season for senior C.J. Williams and it eventually became a season during which sophomore C.J. Leslie lived up to his reputation.
ROSTER REPORT: Sophomore F C.J. Leslie had two double-doubles in the ACC tournament before finishing it with a 22-point, seven-rebound outing in 29 minutes before fouling out against North Carolina. He shot 23-for-33 from the field in the tournament
-- Junior G Scott Wood has 223 career 3-point baskets to rank third all-time at N.C. State in that category. Yet he's coming off a game in the ACC tournament semifinals when he went 0-for-4 on threes against North Carolina.
-- Sophomore G Lorenzo Brown was the Wolfpack's second-leading scorer in each of its three ACC Tournament games. He averaged 14.3 points per game in those outings along with a team-high 7.3 assists in those games as well.