#20 State visits #13 Carolina tonight.
Pack is Back (The Herald-Sun):
With a new coach leading a veteran team, the N.C. State women are off to their best start in more than a decade.
That includes the program’s first national ranking since one of its final seasons under late Hall of Fame coach Kay Yow.
The No. 20 Wolfpack (14-1, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) beat ranked LSU in nonconference play, then rallied from 10 down in the second half to beat then-No. 20 Syracuse last weekend in the league opener. Now first-year coach Wes Moore is pushing his team to maintain its surprising start heading into Thursday’s game at No. 13 North Carolina (6 p.m., ESPN3).
A win would give N.C. State its first 2-0 start in ACC play since the 1999-2000 season, which was the last time the team started 14-1.
“I don’t think that’s so much about coaching or about me,” Moore said. “It’s about them. They wanted to step up and win so I think it started there. I always tell teams: It’s your team, we’re going to do as well as y’all want to do. I can’t make you buy in, I can’t make you work hard. We’re going to do as well as you want to do — and these kids have wanted to do well.”
It’s the program’s first ranking since ending the 2006-07 season at No. 18 after an emotional run to the NCAA round of 16 amid Yow’s long fight with breast cancer.
Beating the rival Tar Heels (12-3, 0-1) would mark the program’s first nine-game winning streak in 13 seasons.
Wolfpack off to winning start (ESPN):
The Wolfpack are 14-1 overall and won their ACC opener Sunday against then-No. 20 Syracuse 67-61. After going 17-17 and ending last season with a WNIT loss to James Madison and coach Kellie Harper’s departure, NC State is one of the best “surprise” stories of this college season so far.
Hey, Wolfpack coach Wes Moore needed something to cheer him up after the torturous NFL season his beloved Dallas Cowboys just put him through. NC State’s success so far has stirred a fan base eager to get behind the Wolfpack.
“It is exciting,” Moore said, but with that cautionary tone all coaches have, not wanting to be overly optimistic. “I feel like our kids did almost everything they could do to put us in good position in the nonconference. They took care of business for the most part.”
It’s different for Moore being an underdog now at NC State, as opposed to the Southern Conference favorite his Chattanooga team was for most of his 15 seasons there. NC State was picked to finish 10th in the ACC this season, and Moore seemed realistically prepared for a rough ride.
But his veteran players, in particular, have smoothed things over very well to this point. Eight of the 14 Wolfpack players are either seniors or juniors, some of the redshirt variety. Coaches who take over programs generally will admit to some worry about whether older players they inherit might be too set in their ways and/or resentful of a different regime.
That fear has not manifested itself with the Wolfpack; instead it has been the opposite.
“The seniors and juniors have played extremely well,” Moore said. “They’ve been very open to our system and way of doing things. I couldn’t be prouder of them, really.”
The question now, of course, is how good NC State really is. The Wolfpack’s biggest nonconference victory was Dec. 20 at home against LSU, which was ranked No. 12 at the time. That win got even more luster when LSU subsequently defeated Tennessee on the road.
“When we beat LSU, that’s when we started to realize we could play with pretty much any team,” Burke said. “But we’re still very grounded. We know what we’re going to have to face in the ACC. It’s really difficult.”
Next up Thursday in Chapel Hill, N.C., is NC State’s biggest traditional rival: North Carolina. The No. 13 Tar Heels are a team led mostly by freshmen and a sophomore. Even with their youth, they were expected to contend in the ACC — and nationally — this season. The older Wolfpack didn’t have any external expectations at all, really.
“We weren’t picked very high in the preseason polls in the conference,” Moore said. “So we have to climb over some people and put ourselves in position to be contenders.”
Thus far, the Wolfpack are showing they can do that.
“We just want to prove to the rest of the country,” Burke said, “that we really can play.”