Raleigh, N.C. - RBC Center (19,700)
3:30 p.m., ABC (Brad Nessler, Jimmy Dykes)
"I definitely see the team progressing and getting better. Now we're trying to get over the hump and win some of those close ballgames, which we did the other night. I've seen some progression with our team and some maturity, but not quite where we need it to be. We're putting ourselves in the position to win, which is the difference from last year to this year. Last year we didn't put ourselves in the position to win. Hopefully, we can build on wins like the Miami game." – NCSU head coach Sydney Lowe
"Their fans are kind of crazy. A lot of country guys over there. They're pretty harsh. They speak their mind - they say whatever comes to mind. They'll try to hurt your feelings. It's probably one of the toughest places to play. And you've got that wolf howling in the background, which is kind of annoying." -- UNC forward Danny Green on playing in Raleigh
Season to Date: N.C. State enters Saturday's contest with an 11-7 (2-4 ACC) record. The Wolfpack has struggled to finish close games all season long, but flipped that trend on Tuesday, defeating Miami with a Julius Mays' buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime. Sidney Lowe's third squad in Raleigh has lost 13 of its last 15 ACC games, but has won its last two conference outings at the RBC Center.
Post Players Producing: Former head coach Herb Sendek left Lowe with a pair of low-post gifts upon his arrival in the form of Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner. The fourth-year players have been instrumental in the Lowe era to date, and both have proven their diversity on the court, becoming only the eighth and ninth players in school history to record 1,000 career points, 500 career rebounds and 150 career assists. Costner is averaging 14.5 points and 6.1 rebounds on the season, while McCauley is contributing 13.1 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Big Lineup To Stay? Lowe has used nine different starting lineups this season, with only McCauley and Costner starting every game. But recently moving Costner to small forward and inserting Tracy Smith in the post has provided an interesting alternative look for the Wolfpack. That trio has combined for 77 points on 54.2 percent shooting (32-of-59) over the past two contests. Lowe was noncommittal on Thursday on whether or not he would stick with that lineup.
Turnover Turnaround? After averaging just 12.5 turnovers through their first 11 games of the season, the Wolfpack took a turn for the worse when the calendar switched to 2009, coughing up 18.6 turnovers over the next five contests. But thanks to steady improvement by Farnold Degand at his point guard spot, N.C. State has reduced its turnover average to 10.0 over the past two games. The red-shirt junior tallied 14 assists against just four turnovers during that stretch, while averaging 8.5 points and 32 minutes per outing.
Stats That Doesn't Bode Well for the Home Team: N.C. State ranks 11th in ACC play in field goal percentage defense (45.6 percent). In the Tar Heels' two losses this season, their opponents held them to 36.7 (54-of-147) percent shooting. It also doesn't help that the Wolfpack ranks dead-last in the league in turnover margin with a minus-2.67 mark.
Last Meeting: The Tar Heels defeated the Wolfpack, 84-70, at the RBC Center in Raleigh on Feb. 20, 2008. Tyler Hansbrough posted 32 points and 12 rebounds, and Wayne Ellington contributed 21 points and eight rebounds. North Carolina used a 31-7 run to blow the game open after trailing 31-25 in the first half.
Series History: North Carolina leads the all-time series with N.C. State, 138-75. UNC has won the last four meetings, and 10 of the last 11. The Tar Heels have won nine of its last 12 games against the Wolfpack in Raleigh, only losing in 2002, 2003 and 2007 since 1996.
Projected Starters: 12 Farnold Degand (6-3, 185, Jr.) – 4.9 ppg, 2.5 apg 4 Courtney Fells (6-6, 210, Sr.) - 11.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg 33 Brandon Costner (6-9, 231, Jr.) – 14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg 23 Tracy Smith (6-8, 240, So.) - 8.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg 34 Ben McCauley (6-9, 237, Sr.) – 13.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg Key Reserves: 15 Trevor Ferguson (6-5, 190, Jr.) – 6.1 ppg 31 Dennis Horner (6-9, 218, Jr.) – 4.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg 24 Julius Mays (6-2, 188, Fr.) – 4.6 ppg
Costner ... McCauley
Fells ... Smith
Degand ... Ferguson
(Photos courtesy Getty)