NOTES: Huge Test For State

Here are some pregame notes on the Wolfpack as they prepare to face Virginia tonight at 7:00 pm in Charlottesville.

NC State, now 2-0 in ACC play, begins a three-game stretch against nationally-ranked teams Wednesday, Jan. 7 when the Wolfpack visits No. 3 Virginia. NC State-UVa is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

1. Wolfpack 2-0 Atop The ACC Standings

With double-digit wins over Wake Forest and Pittsburgh at home, NC State is off to a 2-0 start in conference play.

The Wolfpack got a head start in league play when it defeated Wake Forest 78-65 at home back on Dec. 6. On Saturday, NC State controlled most of the game in a 68-50 rout over Pittsburgh.

It marks the 19th time NC State has started 2-0 in ACC play and second time under Mark Gottfried.

2. Pack Playing The Nation's Elite
Wednesday’s contest at Virginia starts a stretch that will see NC State play three nationally-ranked teams in eight days, all in a row.

The Wolfpack (RPI 52) will play at third-ranked UVa (RPI 3) before hosting No. 2 Duke (RPI 4) and No. 18/17 UNC-Chapel Hill (RPI 16).

Enter the upcoming game vs. Virginia, NC State already stands with a strength of schedule at 34 and a nonconference strength of schedule of 44. As of Monday, only four ACC teams have played a more challenging schedule than NC State.

3. Ralston's Rebound
In NC State’s Dec. 17 victory over Tennessee, Ralston Turner made eight 3-pointers en route to a 33-point career performance. In the three games after that, he scored 16 points total on 5-for-16 shooting.

Turner bounced back in NC State’s win over Pittsburgh, scoring 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting and four 3-pointers. He buried a trey on consecutive possessions in the second half against Pitt that gave NC State an insurmountable double-digit lead.

4. Make 'Em Shoot Over You
NC State coaches implore their post players to make their opponent shoot over them, and not let them go around them. The result of that advice has been a Wolfpack squad that ranks second in the ACC and ninth in the nation with 6.20 blocked shots per game.

NCSU is led in this area by BeeJay Anya, who stands ninth in the country with 3.20 blocks per game. The Pack has six outings with seven or more blocked shots.

Among ACC teams, only Louisville (6.43) has more blocks than NC State.

5. Cat, Trevor, Ralston Lead The Attack
NC State is led by its three-guard attack, with Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner and Cat Barber combining to score 42.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Lacey is fourth in the ACC in scoring with 17.1 points per game. Turner, the team’s leading long-range shooter, scores 13.1 points per contest. Barber, State’s starting point guard, is scoring 12.2 per game and leads the team in assists.

Wednesday’s game pits two of the ACC’s best defensive rebounding teams against each other. Virginia is third in the ACC grabbing 76.7 percent of available defensive rebounds, while NC State is fourth at 72.3 percent.

Virginia leads the ACC with 28.7 defensive rebounds per game, while NC State is third with 27.9 per game.

Trevor Lacey’s play is critical to the Wolfpack on the court. As a result, his name is littered all over the ACC leadboards. Lacey currently ranks fourth in the league in scoring (17.2), is third in 3-point percentage (.433), eighth in 3-pointers made (2.07) and third in minutes played (34.86).

Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey combine to make the most prolific 3-point shooting duo in the ACC. Turner and Lacey combine for 64 made 3-pointers and a .410 3-point percentage. Turner and Lacey both appear among the ACC leaders for 3-point percentage and treys made. State is the only team to have two guys on both lists.

NC State routed Pittsburgh last weekend by giving the Panthers a taste of their own medicine. The Pack held Pitt to .327 shooting and just 18 made field goals on the day. The Pack blocked nine of Pitt’s shots and owned a 36-14 points in the paint advantage.

Athletic freshman Abdul-Malik Abu has improved and, as a result, has earned more playing time. Abu made his first career start in the Pitt game and is averaging 24.6 minutes over the last five games after playing 12.4 minutes in the season’s first 10 games. Abu is scoring 7.4 points on .583 shooting and grabbing 4.2 rebounds over the last five games. That’s not to mention seven games ago when Abu had a season-high 11 points vs. Charleston Southern.

Winning away from home helped NC State get into the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The Pack captured wins at Tennessee and Pittsburgh among its six road wins last year, which ultimately got NC State into the bracket. NC State owns eight ACC road wins in three seasons under Mark Gottfried.

NC State finished the 2014 calendar with a 22-15 record. State was 12-11 after New Year’s last year and 10-4 this season before Jan. 1.

While hundreds of players transfer schools each spring in college basketball, few coaches have been able to capitalize on that better than Mark Gottfried. His first squad at NCSU included transfer Alex Johnson (CSU Bakersfield), a key component in the team’s 2012 Sweet 16 run. Next came Ralston Turner (LSU), a double-digit scorer and starting wing player. Trevor Lacey (Alabama) is currently NC State’s on-court leader and leading scorer.

Down 18 in the second half, NC State rallied with a flurry to defeat Louisiana Tech on Dec. 23. The Wolfpack trailed 50-32 at the 14:11 mark and rallied with an 18-2 run to cut the deficit to 52-50. NC State took a 61-60 lead with 4:25 left and never trailed again. In all, State held La Tech to .292 shooting in the second half and to just three field goals in the game’s final 9:39.

NC State is shooting .535 in ACC play after two games, and has been better than 51 percent in each contest. State shot .553 from the floor vs. Wake on Dec. 6, the first ACC game with 55% shooting since on 2/27/13, when the Pack shot .559 in a win over Boston College. NC State converted on 51.9 percent vs. Pittsburgh.

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