Preview: West Virginia - N.C. State

North Carolina State will still feature a short bench, but will be at full strength, when it faces the Mountaineers for the second time this season.

UPDATING THE WOLFPACK

Following WVU's win over North Carolina State in Charleston, it didn't look as if the Pack would be playing anywhere in the postseason in 2007. However, under first-year coach Sidney Lowe, NC State forged enough wins in the regular season and ACC tournament to earn a bid to the NIT, and are now, like WVU, one win away from a trip to the final four at Madison Square Garden.

The biggest difference for the Pack was obviously the presence of guard Engin Atsur, who missed the first contest against the Mountaineers. Atsur (Sr., 6-4, 200 lbs.) has averaged 11.4 points in the 22 games he has played this year, and his presence has made a difference, according to Wolfpack head coach Sidney Lowe. While N.C. State's record didn't necessarily take a huge jump upward (the Pack was 5-1 before losing to WVU, and is currently 20-15), it has certainly played better, and with more consistency, since Atsur returned. The native of Istanbul, Turkey has an excellent all-around game, as he can score inside and out, defend, and run the offense with equal flair. His presence would have been helpful during the first contest, when the Wolfpack's offense operated in fits and starts at best.

Overall, the Wolfpack struggled during much of the ACC season, finishing 5-11. A pair of wins over Virginia Tech and an upset of North Carolina highlighted their regular season, but a three-game run in the ACC tournament wiped away some of that disappointment. The Pack knocked off Duke, upset Virginia and took a third game from the Hokies to make it to the championship game, where they finally bowed out to North Carolina. Those three wins, however, were enough to earn an NIT berth.

After winning five consecutive games to open the season, N.C. State never won or lost more than three games in a row. While that speaks well of the Pack's ability to respond to adversity, it also showed their inability to build on success and create the type of winning streak necessary to finish with a winning record in the conference or make a strong bid for the NCAAs.

Brandon Costner leads the Pack with a 16.9 points per game scoring average, and is joined in double figures by Gavin Grant (14.8), Ben McCauley (14.6) and Courtney Fells (11.2). Costner and McCauley lead the rebounding brigade with averages of 7.2 and 6.8, respectively.

OUTLOOK

While much of the focus will be on Atsur's impact on the game, West Virginia will be more concerned with countering the balance of the Wolfpack.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Tue Mar 20
9:00 p.m.

WVU Coliseum
Records
WVU 24-9
NCSU 20-15
Series
WVU 8-7
TV
ESPN
Sirius Channel: None
All five Wolfpack starters average in double figures, and in only going seven players deep in the rotation, they keep a lot of pressure on their foes by keeping their best players on the floor for long stretches. That should make for an interesting matchup with the Mountaineers, who also typically feature a short bench. Will this contest see a total of only 14 or 15 players on the floor, or will Mountaineer head coach John Beilein try to wring an advantage from N.C. State's limited rotation by getting more minutes from his eight and ninth players?

That's a tantalizing tactic, as the Wolfpack played six games in nine days before getting three days off between their win over Marist and their trip to West Virginia. While five of those games have been wins, one has to wonder how much gas the visitors will have in the tank.

West Virginia will also have the advantage of the home crowd again, but the mood and tenor of the Mountaineer fans will be in question. A very tame crowd turned out for Delaware State, while an amped gathering two days later treated the contest as if UMass and West Virginia were still Atlantic 10 combatants. While WVU did have a few more days to sell tickets for the rematch with N.C. State, will that be enough to get 10,000 fans into the Coliseum for a late weeknight game? And more importantly, will they be fired up in light of the fact that their team already owns one win over the opponent this season? Or will the curse of expectations – that of another double digit win – keep the crowd sitting on its hands? It could be the difference in what figures to be a very close battle.

The Wolfpack shoots the ball very well, making 49.4% of their shots on the season. They don't win more, in part, due to their 503 turnovers, which cut into the number of offensive possessions that resulted in shots. If they take care of the ball, and shoot at their normal rate, they are difficult to beat. West Virginia will likely have to force at least 15 turnovers in order to keep them from lighting up the scoreboard.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: None

NCSU: None

FAST BREAKS

This contest will mark the third time West Virginia has faced N.C. State in the NIT – the most times the Mountaineers have faced any opponent in that tournament. The only other team WVU has faced more than once in the NIT is Providence. WVU won at NC State, 76-73, in the 1997 NIT while the Wolfpack defeated WVU 64-52 in New York in 1947.

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The Pack's high number of turnovers, combined with their excellent shooting percentage, combine to yield a surprising stat for a team with 20 wins. North Carolina State has taken 309 fewer shots this year than their opponents. That's the kind of number you'd expect to see on a team with about 10-12 wins.

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Barring a game like WVU's first matchup with Providence, the Mountaineers will likely need to get to New York to have a chance to break the single season record for three-pointers attempted. That mark, which was set last year and currently stands at 967, is 45 ahead of the current season total of 922. This year's team has already taken possession of the team record for made three-pointers, having drained 340 to break the old mark (also set last year) of 337.

That record is the second seasonal mark to fall this year, as WVU has also racked up 580 assists to break the 2005-06 mark of 578.

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Darris Nichols is making 49.5% of his shot attempts, an outstanding number for a guard. It also should be a spur for him to take 3-4 more shots per game. That doesn't mean he should force shots outside the offense – there's little danger of that. But there are a handful of times per game when he could get shots away or get into the lane for short attempts that would have good chances of success.


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