NOTES: Cards Up Next

NC State returns to action today at 4:00 against No. 9 Louisville. Here are some pregame notes on the Wolfpack.

The NC State men’s basketball team has an opportunity to earn a quality win Saturday afternoon when the Pack takes on No. 9/8 Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center. It’s NC State’s first trip to the arena at Louisville, and the first meeting between the two schools since 1988.

1. Wolfpack Strength Of Schedule: 4th

Only three teams in the country (Kansas, Missouri, UNC-Chapel Hill) have played a more challenging schedule than NC State. According to’s Daily RPI, NC State has played the nation’s fourth-toughest schedule. After 12 ACC games, NC State’s conference strength of schedule is 12th in the nation.

The Pack has already played nine games against the current RPI top 50, highlighted by wins over Duke and Boise State. Overall, the Wolfpack has four wins against top 80 teams (Duke, Boise State, Pitt, Louisiana Tech) and nine of NC State’s 11 losses are to teams in the top 70 of the RPI.

2. Our ACC Legend Could Help
Saturday’s contest at Louisville comes 27 years and one day after the last NC State-Louisville meeting, which was played in 1988. Vinny Del Negro, who will be NC State’s ACC Legend at next month’s ACC Tournament, scored 29 points to lead the Wolfpack to a 101-89 win in that contest. Del Negro, who went on to play 11 seasons in the NBA, shot 8-for-11 from the floor and made 12 of his 14 foul shots. Chucky Brown, another Wolfpacker who enjoyed a successful NBA career, added 23 points. Louisville was led by Pervis Ellison’s 20 points.

3. Competitive Grind Every Night
Win or lose, NC State has seen some razor-thin margins in ACC play. The Wolfpack is second in the conference with four losses by four or fewer points (Georgia Tech has five). The Wolfpack also recently captured an 81-80 overtime win at Georgia Tech after a buzzer beater 3-pointer by Trevor Lacey. Overall, NC State has played seven games this season that have been decided by no more than four points.

4. Big Numbers For Cat
Mark Gottfried called Cat Barber’s 23-point, 7-assist game at Georgia Tech on Jan. 31 his best game as a college player. Barber did one better in the next outing, going for a career-high 28 points at Wake Forest on Feb. 3. Over the past three games, Barber is averaging 20.7 points and 4.3 assists with just one turnover.

5. A Break, Play Twice, A Break
For much of this season, NC State had been playing a high volume of games in a short period of time. That trend has leveled out in February, with NC State benefitting from having two bye weeks. NC State has played just once in the last 11 calendar days, and went eight days in between playing Wake Forest and Virginia. In addition, NC State won’t play again for seven days after Saturday’s contest at Louisville.

The Wolfpack finds itself in its second ultra-challenging stretch in the last month. In January, NC State played Virginia, Duke and North Carolina all in a span of eight days. It was the first time in five years NC State had played three consecutive ranked opponents. The Pack is again playing a stretch of nationallyranked teams, playing three ranked squads in four gamees. After a week off and a home game vs. Virginia Tech, NC State then travels to nationally-ranked UNC on Feb. 24.

Saturday’s game will pit the ACC’s two top shot blocking teams. NC State is second in the ACC with 5.52 swats per game, trailing just Louisville (5.88). NCSU is led in this area by ACC blocks leader BeeJay Anya, who averages a league-best 2.56 rejections per game. The Pack has eight outings with seven or more blocked shots. Meanwhile, Louisville has three players ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in blocks.

It’s no secret NC State’s on-court success is driven by its perimeter players, primarily leading scorers Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner. In NCSU’s 14 wins this season, Lacey and Turner combine for 33.0 points per game on .463 field goal shooting and 8.7 rebounds per game. In 11 losses, the duo combines for 24.9 points on .426 shooting and 5.9 rebounds.

Cat Barber is averaging 20.7 points per game over the last three outings, including two of his top three career scoring performances back-to-back. After scoring 23 points on 9-for-12 shooting at Georgia Tech, Barber dropped 28 points on 11-for-20 shooting at Wake Forest. He has 13 assists against one turnover and seven steals over the last three games.

NC State trailed at Georgia Tech 80-76 with 19.4 seconds left in overtime. That’s when Trevor Lacey went to work. He drove to the rim and scored with 6.5 seconds left to make it 80-78. NC State then had to foul, putting Tech’s Quinton Stephens on the line. He missed both. Cody Martin rebounded the miss and passed to Lacey, who took two dribbles and drilled the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

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 sixth in the league in scoring (16.6), fifth in 3-point percentage (.419), seventh in 3-pointers made (2.38), eighth in field goal percentage (.462) and fourth in minutes played (35.96).

Trevor Lacey has produced seven outings with 20+ points, and NC State is 6-1 in those games. The only loss came on Dec. 20 to West Virginia, a game the Pack lost but got 24 points from Lacey. NC State owns a 5-2 record when Lacey makes seven or more field goals and 7-4 when he makes three or more 3-pointers.

Under Mark Gottfried, NC State owns 13 ACC road wins (13-16). The Pack earned six ACC road wins over the past two seasons, including four last year. NC State has won at Florida State and Georgia Tech this season.

Abdul-Malik Abu was personally affected by the tragedy this week in Chapel Hill. One reason Abu, a highly- recruited forward out of Boston, chose to attend NC State was for its Muslim community. Abu was personal friends with victims Deah Barakat and his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and attended their wedding.

Before last season, The Sporting News evaluated the prominent college basketball coaches related to their presence on Twitter. TSN named Mark Gottfried (@Mark_ Gottfried) the ACC’s King of Twitter. As of this week, Gottfried has 36,636 followers. He ranks 15th among college coaches in Twitter followers.

Socially, the NC State Twitter account boasts 38,146 followers. That total ranks 17th in all of college basketball.

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