Notebook: Iowa Presents A Challenge

Pregame notes as NC State prepares for a huge road game against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

NC State has posted a 4-2 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge since 1999-2000. The Wolfpack has won all three of its home games in the challenge and has gone 1-2 on the road, including a win at 19th-ranked Purdue in 1999-2000.

The Wolfpack has allowed just 61.2 points per game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

NC State has faced Iowa on the hardwood five times, but has never played on the Hawkeyes' home court.

In 1957, the two squads played in Raleigh in the legendary Dixie Classic. Everett Case's Wolfpack squad won that one, 84-70.

The other four meetings between the Pack and the Hawkeyes have all come on neutral courts. In 1980, Norm Sloan's team lost to Iowa in the NCAA East Regionals second round in Greensboro, 64- 77. Jim Valvano's squad faced Iowa in the first round of the 1986 NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis, winning 66-64 (the Pack would advance to the regional finals that year).

In 1986-87, the Pack lost a squeaker to Iowa in the Alaska Shootout, 89-90. The last meeting between the two schools was on March 19, 1989, when NC State defeated Iowa, 102-96, in the second round of the 1989 NCAA Tournament in Providence, Rhode Island.

Wednesday night's contest with 18th-ranked Iowa will mark the earliest in the season that the Wolfpack has played a ranked team under Herb Sendek and the first time the Wolfpack has faced a ranked team in November since 1986.

NC State has posted a 5-5 record against ranked teams before the New Year under Herb Sendek, but has won five of its last seven.

They may be young, but they're experienced - the Wolfpack's trio of talented sophomores are currently ranked as the first, fourth and fifth-leading scorers on the squad.

Sophomores Cedric Simmons, Gavin Grant and Andrew Brackman combined to play 1,396 minutes last season, but are almost a third of the way to that total in just five games this season (385 total minutes) as all three have started all five games this season.

Gavin Grant

Simmons, who averaged just 3.5 points as a rookie, is leading the team in scoring with 13.4 ppg. Simmons also leads the team in blocked shots with 10 and ranks second in rebounds with 5.8 per game. He and roommate Gavin Grant, who averaged 4.2 points last season, each scored career highs of 22 points in the Nov. 20 win over Delaware.

Grant is now ranked fourth on the team with 10.8 points per game, but leads the team in rebounds with 6.2 and in assists with 24. HIs 4.8 assists per game rank sixth in the ACC.

Brackman led last year's rookies with 7.4 points per game, and is now averaging 8.6 per outing. He has blocked seven shots this season.

Solid defense has been the calling card for Herb Sendek teams over the years. The Wolfpack has led the ACC in scoring defense four times in his eight seasons as head coach, and ranked second in the league last season with just 66.1 points allowed. Heading into this season, Wolfpack opponents had averaged just 65.0 points per game under Sendek.

NC State has been particularly effective when holding its opponent to 60 points or less in recent campaigns. During Sendek's tenure, the Pack has held the opponent under that scoring mark 106 times, including 10 times last season and four times already in 2005-06. In other words, in 37% of its games under Sendek (110 of 296), the Pack has held the opponent to 60 points or less. In the past nine campaigns, the Pack posts an 94-16 mark when holding the opposition to 60 or less and has won 40 of its last 44 games when doing so.

Every team needs a Packhorse - the guy who may not be the flashiest player on the court, but who carries the load.

Junior guard Engin Atsür may not be a stallion, but he has definitely been NC State's Pack Horse in the last couple of seasons. Atsür was the only player to start every game for NC State last season and ranked second in minutes played.

Engin Atsur

This season, he leads the team in minutes (30.8 per game), is shooting 51% from the field, 39% on three's and 71% from the charity stripe. He ranks second on the team with 22 assists (to just 12 turnovers).

Atsür ranks eighth in the ACC in assists, 15th in steals. and ninth in assistto- turnover ratio.

But Atsür's biggest contributions come on the defensive end of the court. He leads the team in deflections (32), in steals (11) and ranks fifth on the team with 3.4 rebounds.

NC State's opponents have averaged a whopping 17.4 turnovers per game in the early season, with all five foes turning the ball over at least 15 times. The opposition has tallied just 50 assists (10 per game) for a 0.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.

NC State's turnover tally stands at 11.8 per game, but the team's 16.8 assists gives the Pack a solid +5.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Last Saturday's game against Notre Dame in the Wooden Tradition marked NC State's fifth game in nine days.

The Wolfpack opened the season with three games in three days in the Hispanic College Fund Classic, then had two days off before facing VMI, then two days off before the Notre Dame game. This marked the most games the Pack has played in the least amount of days to open the season since 1978-79, when Norm Sloan's squad played five games in nine days, posting a 4-1 record. That squad ended up the season with an 18- 12 record.

The center position is probably the most difficult to learn in the Wolfpack's intricate motion offense, as the big guys are playing all over the floor, not just under the basket. But early in his sophomore season, big-guy Cedric Simmons has shown that he feels at home in that role.

Cedric Simmons

"Big Ced" is currently leading the team in scoring with 13.4 points per game, in blocks with two per game, and ranks second in rebounding with 5.8 per contest. He set a career-high with 22 points and tied his career-best with four blocked shots against Delaware, and shot a career- best 10-12 from the line and pulled down a career-best eight rebounds against Stetson.

Simmons, who has gained almost 20 pounds since he first came to NC State, has also greatly improved his free throw shooting this season, which is fortunate since he has been to the line 38 times in five games. He is currently shooting 71% (27-38) from the charity stripe after shooting just 54% (24-44) last season. In five games, he has gone to the line just six less times than in 31 games last season.

NC State has opened the 2005-06 campaign with a 5-0 mark, marking the fifth time in Herb Sendek's 10 seasons that the Pack has posted a 5-0 start. Last season's 8-0 record to open the season was the best start for the Wolfpack under Sendek and the best for the Wolfpack since 1981-82, when Jim Valvano's squad opened 9-0.

The Wolfpack opened the 2005-06 campaign with three victories in three days, sweeping the field at the Hispanic College Fund Classic. The Wolfpack posted a 30-point win over Stetson (91- 61), defeated The Citadel 91-59, then won over Delaware, 73-57.

NC State has taken 146 trips to the charity stripe in its first five games, including 39 against Delaware and 37 against The Citadel.

NC State has now hit at least one threepointer in 505 straight contests, a streak that dates back to the Wake Forest game on March 4, 1989.

That streak looked to be in jeopardy on Nov. 20 versus Delaware, however. The Pack missed its first nine three-pointers and didn't connect until the 3:50 mark in the second half, when Ilian Evtimov nailed a three. The team ended up going 1-11 from behind the arc, marking the lowest three-point field goal total for the Wolfpack since Feb. 22, 2003, when the team shot just 1-10 against Duke. The Pack must have used up all its three's the night before. State connected on 14 three-pointers against The Citadel, the most since Nov. 26 of last season against Campbell.

For the season, the Pack is averaging eight three-pointers made per game (9.75 if you take out the Delaware contest).

NC State has posted a 96-31 record against non-conference competition under Herb Sendek (86-22 in the regular season) and posts an impressive 52- 5 home record against non-conference opponents since the Wolfpack began playing in the RBC Center in 1999-2000. That gives NC State a 91 percent winning mark against non-conference competition at home. The squad has also won three games against non-conference opponents in Reynolds Coliseum during that time frame.

Overall, Sendek's squads have won 77% of their games in the RBC Center, posting an 81-24 mark.

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