NOTES: NC State Hosts Michigan Tonight

NC State faces Michigan tonight at 7PM on ESPN2 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Here are some pregame notes on the Wolfpack.

NC State has another shot at a quality win against a Power 5 opponent when Michigan comes to PNC Arena Tuesday night for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wolfpack and Wolverines will both enter the contest with a 4-2 record.

Known famously as ‘Cat’, the NC State starting point guard is playing more like the nickname his mother, Pamela, gave him when he was a baby: Big Cat. Cat Barber is averaging 21.0 points, 6.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds to lead the Wolfpack after six games. Barber dropped a career-high 37 points in Friday’s win over Winthrop, and that came averaging he scored 21.0 points per game in the Pack’s two games at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Barber is currently second in the ACC in both scoring and assists while leading the conference in minutes played per game (39.17).

With the ball in his hands, Cat Barber is in the conversation among the quickest players in all of college basketball. With an emphasis this season of less contact to offensive players, it’s nearly impossible to keep the 6-2 junior in front of you if you’re guarding him. As a result, Barber has used his speed to get to the basket more and has drawn fouls at a torrid pace. Barber currently leads the nation in both free throws made (66) and attempted (75). He knocked down 19 of his 22 free throw attempts against Winthrop and was 12-for-12 at the line against LSU. Barber is currently fourth in the ACC with an .880 free throw percentage.

This week marks the 17th ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the Wolfpack’s 16th appearance in the event (NC State didn’t play in 2008). NC State owns six ACC/Big Ten Challenge wins, including a 69-48 win over Northwestern two years ago. These two teams have met three times in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with Michigan having won twice. The last meeting was a 79-72 contest in 2012 in Ann Arbor when both teams were nationally ranked. Historically, NC State is 113-100 against the current membership of the Big Ten.

One question coming into the season for NC State would be how to replace the long-range shooting of Ralston Turner and Trevor Lacey. The duo combined for 172 made 3-pointers last season. Caleb Martin and Maverick Rowan have done the work for the Pack so far, as the two young players have combined to make all of the team’s 33 shots from beyond the arc. Martin is second in the ACC with 19 made 3-pointers and Rowan is ninth in the conference with 14 treys. Aside from Martin and Rowan, the rest of the team is 0-for-13 from 3-point range.

Under normal circumstances, a tourney-bound basketball team would pare down its rotation during the postseason. NC State hasn’t been afforded those normal circumstances. The Wolfpack is essentially playing a seven-player rotation. In the two games in Brooklyn, seven players played all 425 possible minutes (Shaun Kirk appeared for 0:06 of game time vs. Arizona State). NC State’s primary seven-player rotation has played 1,214 of the season’s 1,225 minutes (99.1 percent). Cat Barber is playing an ACC-leading 39.2 minutes per game, while Caleb Martin is third in the league in minutes (36.7) and Maverick Rowan is ninth (33.5).

Terry Henderson, a redshirt junior from Raleigh who was projected as a starter for NC State this season, is expected to miss a minimum of 6-8 weeks after tearing ligaments in his right ankle in the season opener on Nov. 13. He suffered the setback just seven minutes into his Wolfpack career after sitting out the 2014-15 season as a transfer. He averaged 11.7 points per game as a sophomore at West Virginia in 2013-14.

NC State, in its 16th season at PNC Arena, owns a 194-74 all-time record at the multi-purpose building in west Raleigh. Mark Gottfried owns a 55-18 mark at PNC Arena, which is the eighth-largest home court in all of college basketball. IRONCAT It’s been clear Cat Barber won’t have much time to rest during games this season. Barber is averaging a league-high 39.2 minutes per game and he’s played at least 37 minutes in each contest this season. He played all 40 minutes in the season opener and 43 minutes in the overtime in over LSU.

While it’s known NC State aims to be a high-scoring team, the Wolfpack has put up some efficient defensive numbers as well. The Pack currently stands fifth in the ACC in field goal percentage defense (.388). NC State has held three opponents (South Alabama, IUPUI and LSU) to worse than 37 percent shooting. MORE ON BIG CAT Anthony Barber, a second team preseason All-ACC pick, was the ‘Big Cat’ down the stretch for the Pack last season, averaging 14.6 points and 4.0 assists per game over the last 14 games of the season. Included in that run was a career-best performance of 34 points in the ACC second round against Pittsburgh.

Caleb Martin came to NC State known as a deadly long-range shooter. However, he shot just .305 from 3-point range last season and less than 36 percent on all of his attempts. In the offseason, Martin tweaked his shooting form to be “quieter” and more straight-ahead. Specifially, he now keeps the ball more the the right and has removed a hitch from his motion. The changes have paid off as he is second in the ACC in 3-pointers made per game (3.17) while shooting .404 from 3-point land.

BeeJay Anya, who led the ACC with 2.53 blocks per game last season, has moved into second place on NC State’s all-time career blocks list. He enters Tuesday with 153 career blocked shots, 54 short of the school record held by Thurl Bailey (1979-83). He swatted 91 shots last season, which was the second-highest total in NC State history.

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