Different 'State' Of Mind

Although the rosters for West Virginia and North Carolina State are no different now than they were back in December, both teams have undergone some serious transformation over the past few months.

When the Mountaineers and Wolfpack met in Charleston back on December 6, neither team was really sure what they had. For John Beilein's team, they were just looking to win a few games here and there before conference play began. The Mountaineers won that game by a final of 71-60, improving to 6-1 on the young season.

And the Wolfpack? They were still in the "getting to know you" stage with first-year head coach Sidney Lowe, who had yet to even bust out his now-trademark red sport coat. So, when the two teams meet tonight in the third round of the MasterCard NIT, don't expect to see a carbon copy of what happened in the Capital City on that chilly night in 2006.

For starters (literally) the Wolfpack will have the services of starting point guard Engin Atsur, who did not play in December due to an injured hamstring. The 6-4 senior from Turkey has been the engine that has driven State's success over the past few weeks. Lowe's club has won five of their past six games, with the lone loss coming in the ACC Championship game to Final Four contender North Carolina.

Mountaineer head coach John Beilein, for one, sees the addition of Atsur as just one of the big reasons for the late-season turnaround in Raleigh.

"There are two really big things: number one, their point guard has returned," Beilein said on Monday. "He's really one of the better point guards in the country, let alone the ACC. The other thing is that they're much more familiar with the style of play that Sidney wants to play with them.

"They have so many different pro-type of sets that they like to run. I think in November or early December when we played them, they were still feeling out who does what."

While most of the big wins for the 'Pack have come late in the season, Beilein believes that it was the time spent playing without their leader that helped them find their winning ways over the past month.

"I think that, if anything, it helped the team's maturity level," said Beilein. "They would have like to have had Atsur, but when he came back everybody got so many more minutes during that time.

"You put Atsur in there, and (junior forward Gavin) Grant's putting in a lot of minutes, and they have a lot more experienced team than us. Really, if Atsur hadn't been hurt earlier in the year they probably would have been sitting on the (NCAA Tournament) bubble like us."

Though Atsur is the unquestioned leader of Lowe's squad, there are certainly more pieces to the puzzle. In fact, of the seven players in the Wolfback rotation that see regular playing time, five average double-figures in scoring. Redshirt freshman forward Brandon Costner is State's go-to-guy, averaging about 17 points and eight rebounds per game. Costner scored 15 and grabbed six boards in the December loss to the Mountaineers.

"I think if you look at Costner and you look at (sophomore guard Courtney) Fells, they're like (West Virginia sophomores) Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff," explained Beilein. "They didn't play a lot last year because it was a team that went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Now, they're getting their chance. I think that's what you see over these first two semesters: they have just gotten comfortable with the way they're playing and comfortable with how good they are."

So, suffice to say, Beilein is not expecting the Mountaineers to breeze through tonight's game with the relative ease of which they dispatched the Wolfpack back in December. With reservations in New York City for the NIT semifinals awaiting the winner, there's certainly more on the line this time than there was before. And, with both teams playing what is probably their best basketball of the season, it all adds up to what should be an entertaining affair inside the WVU Coliseum.

"They're just a completely different team right now from when we played them earlier," said Beilein, who is 2-0 against N.C. State as head coach at West Virginia. "I think we're a much better team from when we played them earlier. It's going to be a great game, no question about it."

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