NC STATE BASKETBALL
Joe Giglio (N&O)
Unsung hero Richard Howell leads Pack into NCAA tournament
There’s a certain snarl that comes with every one-handed Richard Howell rebound.
It fits with the N.C. State senior forward’s gruff, “get out of my way” on-court persona.
There have been ups and downs for the Wolfpack this season, but Howell has been the constant. The Wolfpack would not be preparing for Temple on Friday in the NCAA tournament without that surly version of Howell, who turned in an All-ACC senior season.
There’s also a softer side to Howell, one he showed with the way he held his 2-year-old daughter, Milani, when he was honored on Senior Night before N.C. State’s last home game.
And if you look closely at Howell’s right wrist, he has the words “love, live, laugh” tattooed in honor of his late sister, Brianna.
You could say, off the court, Howell is something of a softie.
“I don’t know about all that, do that at your own risk,” N.C. State forward C.J. Leslie said. “I wouldn’t call him a softie. He’s not like a teddy bear or anything.”
One final act
The physical changes the past two seasons – Howell has dropped almost 25 pounds since his sophomore season – aren’t the only differences in Howell’s makeup since he arrived four years ago.
There’s a level of urgency to Howell’s game. Some of that can be chalked up to being senior and making the most of a last opportunity. Some of that can be attributed to the universal motivation to take care of your family.
“Richard has matured and not just physically but emotionally, too,” Gottfried. “He has become very reliable, steady, consistent.”
With his improved play, Howell has put himself in position to find a home in the NBA, maybe not as a first-round pick but as a rebounding specialist. Kenneth Faried and DeJuan Blair have found a niche in the NBA, and Howell’s senior season has had its moments when he looks like Charles Oakley’s younger brother.
Howell fits the undersized yet effective rebounder mold, but he has ways to make up for his lack of height.
“He’s so strong and he has quick hands,” Leslie said. “I’d say about 75 percent of rebounding is just the will and the mentality that you want to get it.”
There’s no denying Howell has played with that will and edge all season. He hopes the NBA notices, but he’s more concerned about the NCAA tournament.
He shone in the early rounds last season in Columbus, Ohio, with 22 points in the Pack’s first win over San Diego State. He wants to make sure Temple gets his best shot.
“I’ve just got to go out with a bang,” Howell said. “And then hopefully the NBA will come calling.”
KEITH POMPEY (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Temple increases focus on North Carolina State
“Nothing should be on our minds beside N.C. State right now,” guard T.J. DiLeo said. “I think that’s what they are trying to do with that. I think that’s good. I think you can’t lose focus. And I think that’s going to help us.”
On paper, the Owls will have their hands full – especially if post player Anthony Lee is unable to play because of concussion symptoms. The 6-foot-9 redshirt sophomore is listed as day-to-day.
“We will just have to do a lot of managing our lineup” if Lee can’t play, Dunphy said. “Probably play small on occasion, which probably won’t be a whole lot of fun. But that’s what we will do.”
“If we play hard and smart, we will be all right,” Temple forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson said. “We can pretty much play with any team when we come to play.
“And I’m pretty sure we’ll come to play, because none of us want our season to end.”
Bret Strelow (FayObserver.com)
NCAA tournament: Cinderella’s slipper rarely a good fit for Final Four
N.C. State authored the NCAA tournament’s signature moment in 1983, but a barrage of upsets can lead to a watered-down Final Four devoid of star power.
“I think it’s the gift and the curse,” college basketball analyst and former Duke star Jay Williams says.
One true Cinderella
Thirty years after winning the national championship as a member of the “Cardiac Pack,” Mike Warren has a soft spot for upsets.
Does he watch tournament games differently because of his experience? Absolutely, he says.
Does he root for the underdog? All the time, he responds.
“One of the best things is the ‘One Shining Moment’ at the end,” Warren says. “It wraps everything up. To see these teams, I don’t know that they think they have a chance, and they have a chance. That’s the beauty of the whole thing.”
There was no “One Shining Moment” back in 1983, no “You’re running for your life” lyric to accompany coach Jim Valvano’s frantic sprint across the floor at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M.
The tournament field featured 52 teams that season, with four play-in winners sliding into a 48-team bracket. Over the course of the final 47 games, there were more than a dozen upsets, and sixth-seeded N.C. State was responsible for several of them.
There would have been no storybook ending if Pepperdine, coached by Jim Harrick, had pulled its own. The 11th-seeded Waves had possession and a six-point lead with a minute left in overtime, but N.C. State rallied to win 69-67 in the second extra period.
The Wolfpack defeated third-seeded UNLV, coached by Jerry Tarkanian, by one point in the next round, then cruised past 10th-seeded Utah, which had upset UCLA, in the Sweet 16.
A third meeting with ACC rival Virginia awaited. N.C. State held on for a 63-62 victory against the top-seeded Cavaliers and 7-foot-4 center Ralph Sampson, the Naismith Award winner for the third consecutive season.
The Final Four could have pitted Michael Jordan against Sampson in one semifinal and No. 1 Houston vs. No. 2 Louisville in the other. Instead, Georgia upset North Carolina in the East Regional championship, and N.C. State slayed mighty Phi Slamma Jamma after eliminating the fourth-seeded Bulldogs.
“They were the first and only Cinderella that actually won the thing,” says ESPN’s John Saunders, who attended last week’s Reynolds Coliseum viewing of the “Survive and Advance” documentary about N.C. State’s title run. “People talk about Villanova, but they had played Georgetown twice that year and played them very, very close. They weren’t afraid of Georgetown from being in the same league.
“This is the real Cinderella.”
Jacey Zembal (TheWolfpacker.com)
Five questions with OwlScoop.com’s John Di Carlo
What has been the mental toughness of the Owls to finish with nine out of 11 wins, and how much did the win over VCU validate it?
The win over VCU validated Temple’s late-season run, although the loss to UMass in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament led Fran Dunphy to say Sunday that he felt his team disappointed a lot of people, so it will be interesting to find out how the Owls respond Friday.
But things really started to turn around after Temple lost at home to a bad Duquesne team Feb. 14 at the Liacouras Center. This was a Duquesne team that had not won since December and had never beaten the Owls at the Liacouras Center. The players were visibly despondent after the game, and things honestly could have gone one way or another at that point.
That’s when the team’s seven-game win streak started, and the mental toughness part of things came from virtually everyone on the team. Scootie Randall, who had been mired in a slump, started hitting big shots again and found his confidence. Jake O’Brien, in addition to hitting from three-point range, began showing signs of improved rebounding and shot-blocking. Starting point guard Will Cummings started to drive to the basket with more confidence and authority. And forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, who has always been a mentally-tough player, has been playing some of his best basketball.
In the Feb. 21 win over La Salle that also went a long way in solidifying the Owls’ NCAA Tournament resume, Hollis-Jefferson posted 23 points, 18 rebounds and five assists and played the best game of his four-year career.
They’ve been in a lot of close games, 13 contests within six points or less. Does Temple turn to senior star guard Khalif Wyatt to make big plays down the stretch?
If Temple ever has the last possession of the first half or the last possession of the game, you can almost take it to the bank that Dunphy will give Wyatt the freedom to get the ball at the top of the key, let the clock wind down and break down his defender for a shot.
Wyatt has been the best clutch player for Temple since perhaps Lynn Greer or Quincy Wadley, who were part of the 2001 Elite Eight team. He’s never been the quickest or fastest player, but Wyatt has an uncanny way of getting to the basket by implementing an old man’s game of misdirection, play fakes and using his body to draw contact.
Wyatt has had some of his best performances in Temple’s biggest games this season. He had what was then a career-high 33 points in the Owls’ win over then-No. 3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden back on Dec. 22, scored 26 at Kansas, had 24 in a win over Saint Louis and got 30 in the win over VCU.
ACC Coaches Not Pleased With Just 4 Tourney Teams
It marked the second time in three years that the ACC got just four bids and fourth time in the eight seasons since the league’s expansion to 12 teams in 2006. The league has gotten as many as seven teams twice, in 2007 and 2009.
“I think it’s a really good conference and I was just hoping it would garner a little more respect than that,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after learning his Cavaliers would head to the NIT.
“The perception of our league just wasn’t great,” Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said. “Our league was much better than last year. … (The ACC) had some bad losses early and it just stuck with us. And teams like us and Virginia just didn’t get it done on the road. If we just would have won on the road a little bit more I think both of us would have gotten in. But we didn’t.”
The ACC will have its chance to prove the selection committee wrong in the next three weeks. The league has more Final Four appearances since 1995 (14) than any other league and is tied with the Southeastern Conference with the most titles (five) during that span.
“Seeds aside, the ACC always does damage in March,” Miami senior Julian Gamble said. “I don’t think it’s going to come down to what seeds or what ranking. … We haven’t had all the respect league-wide that we want, but I know when the tournament starts we’ll definitely get that.”
Joe Ovies (WRALSportsfan.com)
Forget tournament locations and seeding. Just win.
West: No. 2 Miami
What to expect: The Hurricanes actually have a winnable draw. The only reason why they wouldn’t get to the regional finals is because Butler will do what Butler keeps doing in March under Brad Stevens.
#goacc quotient: Mild. The Hurricanes won the ACC regular season and the ACC Tournament, but they were denied the No. 1 seed that usually comes with it. If only Miami wore a shade of blue instead of their typical orange and green, am I right?
Midwest: No. 2 Duke
What to expect: Duke’s buzzword since the loss to Maryland in the ACC Tournament his “hunger.” The Blue Devils have only played once in the last 13 days, so they should be rested and ready to take on the NCAA Tournament “group of death.”
#goacc quotient: High. If you listen closely, the echoes of Lehigh are still bouncing around and haunt the Blue Devils. It doesn’t matter if Duke had an incredible start to the season and only lost once with Ryan Kelly in the lineup since tournament success is the true measure for the program. If Duke gets Creighton in the third round, be on the lookout for winking players.
South: No. 8 North Carolina
What to expect: Villanova isn’t a slouch, but the Tar Heels have been playing more to their potential in the last 4 weeks. The maturation of Marcus Paige has been the undersold story, overshadowed by the play of P.J. Hairston.
#goacc quotient: High. Kansas awaits in the third round, causing an overload of Roy Williams sticker talk and a philosophical discussion of the “triangle and two.”. If the Heels win and Virginia Commonwealth is still in the bracket, expect “sources” to emerge over Shaka Smart. It’s not that he’s scouting the Tar Heels for their upcoming game, he’s simply getting an assessment of the program since he’ll be taking over once Williams suddenly doesn’t understand today’s basketball again.
West: No. 8 N.C. State
What to expect: Richard Howell will sweat, C.J. Leslie will break the “Calvinometer,” and Scott Wood will drop a few three-pointers. You know, the usual. The Wolfpack’s success will come if Lorenzo Brown and Rodney Purvis break out of their respective mini-slumps. Defense and keeping turnovers down are the key.
#goacc quotient: Extremely high. NC State will beat Indiana and spark an intense flame war between Julius Hodge and Dan Dakich. With confidence at an all time high, the Wolfpack should be able to beat an uninspiring Syracuse squad. Right? Wrong. NC State “Stuff” is always lurking.
Lauren Brownlow (accsports.com)
The Pioneer mascot was chosen by the students in 1925 to honor the school’s pioneer founders, who established the school 12 years before Colorado even became a state. When Denver had a football team (until 1960), he was represented by Pioneer Pete. But then Denver Boone came along, drawn by a Disney cartoonist. As you can see, he’s very Disney-esque, even today:
When Denver went D-I in 1998, they decided that the mascot wasn’t inclusive enough of women. Oh, and there’s that whole Daniel Boone symbolizing bad things for Native Americans thing. There is that. Ruckus the Red-Tailed Hawk was thus born, but not for long. The push to bring back Denver Boone was strong, and it’s now back in an unofficial capacity. But it’s still controversial, and there is still a fight on campus to get rid of it.
Denver averages 58.8 possessions per game, 346th nationally (out of 347) and yes, slower than even the likes of Virginia and Wisconsin. … Sophomore 6-5 forward Brett Olson is shooting 63.2% eFG and 65.6% true shooting, both of which are top-15 in the country. … Four different Denver players rank in the top 460 in percentage of minutes played (all at 76.6% or higher), and Denver uses just 22.2% of its minutes with the bench, 329th nationally. …. Not Mfon’s Brother Chris Udofia ranks nationally in a ton of Ken Pom categories, including eFG%, true shooting percentage, assist rate, turnover rate, block percentage and steal percentage. Oh, and ORtg, percentage of minutes, possessions and shots. Busy guy.
Maryland Win: Maryland is going to be so good next year and the Terps totally should have made the Tournament and they’re playing like they have been capable of playing all year long!
Maryland Loss: Once again, Slow-Tempo Efficient Offense > YOLO Offense.
Denver likes to limit possessions, and Maryland is going to have to be patient. But teams with a lot of athleticism have given Denver trouble, and Denver is just so awful at rebounding that it would seem to play right into Maryland’s strengths.
Stephen Schramm (FayObserver.com)
NCAA tournament: ACC players share their most memorable tourney moments
Levi Watkins, N.C. State
When the bus carrying N.C. State’s basketball team pulled up to the practice facility on a March night in 2005, it was swarmed by Wolfpack fans. This wasn’t unusual, as it happened the three previous seasons when the team returned from playing in the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend.
But this time, there was one key difference.
“This was the first time to come home and know that we were going to play again that next weekend,” said Levi Watkins, who was a senior forward on that team.
These days, Watkins is the Wolfpack’s assistant director of basketball operations. But as a forward for the Wolfpack roughly a decade ago, Watkins got to experience the NCAA tournament four times. His first and final trips gave him two vastly different perspectives on the kind of upsets that give the event its excitement.
Watkins blew out his ACL as a freshman and watched the Wolfpack secure the school’s first NCAA bid since 1991 with a strong run in the ACC tournament.
After winning its opening-round game, the No. 7 seed Wolfpack faced No. 2 seed Connecticut in the second round but lost 77-74, thanks to some late clutch plays by the Huskies’ Caron Butler.
“We were all young pups,” Watkins said. “. To play them tough and have a chance to win at the end and fall short, it was tough.”
The Wolfpack had a first-round exit the next season and blew an 11-point lead in the final minutes in a second-round game with Vanderbilt the next season to deprive it of a rematch with Connecticut in the Sweet 16.
The Wolfpack got the rematch the following season, again facing second-seeded Connecticut in the second round. This time, a late basket by Julius Hodge gave the Wolfpack a dramatic 65-62 win, setting the stage for the team’s celebratory return to campus.
“There were so many people at the hangar where we flew in,” Watkins said. “When we came back to our practice facility, there were another couple thousand people. It was a fun time.”
NCAA tournament: 5 players to watch
Kendall Williams, New Mexico
First opponent: Harvard
Williams was named the player of the year in the Mountain West Conference, which put five teams in the 68-team field. The 6-foot-4 guard averages 13.5 points and 5.0 assists for the Lobos, highlighted by a 46-point showing in a win at Colorado State. Only South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters (53 points against IPFW) and Oakland’s Travis Bader (47 points against IUPUI) have scored more in a Division I game this season.
Mike Muscala, Bucknell
First opponent: Butler
The 6-11 senior has an NBA future, but the current focus is leading a Patriot League team to an NCAA tournament upset for the second straight season. Bucknell finished two games ahead of Lehigh, which lost McCollum to a foot injury in early January, and Muscala leads the nation with 22 double-doubles. He had 25 points and 14 rebounds during a two-point loss at Missouri, and he ranks in the top 30 nationally in points (19.0), rebounds (11.2) and blocks (2.4) per game.
NCAA tournament: 5 coaches to watch
Jim Crews, Saint Louis
First opponent: New Mexico State
Crews joined the staff at Saint Louis in 2011 when his longtime friend, Billikens coach Rick Majerus, was in need of an assistant. Crews, 59, had spent 24 seasons as head coach at Army and Evansville and figured he’d merely be another veteran voice on the team’s staff. But when Majerus died of heart failure in early December, Crews was named interim coach and became the face of a grieving program. In the wake of Majerus’ death, Crews guided the Billikens (27-6) to an Atlantic 10 title and 15 wins in their last 16 games.
Ben Howland, UCLA
First opponent: Minnesota
Howland took UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours within the last eight years, but even after a Pac-12 regular season title, there is still unrest among the Bruins’ fan base. UCLA (25-9) has not reached the Sweet 16 since 2008, and that hasn’t gone over well among those who pull for one of college basketball’s most successful programs. The Bruins, who missed the tournament in two of the last three seasons, head into the tournament without high-scoring guard Jordan Adams – he broke his foot earlier this month. Unless fellow freshman Shabazz Muhammad and the rest of the Bruins can put together a solid run, Howland’s time in Westwood could be up.
Stephen Schramm (FayObserver.com)
NCAA tournament: South Region breakdown
Favorite: Top-seed Kansas (29-5) will play its first two rounds less than an hour from campus. Three of the other high seeds in its region – Georgetown, Florida and Michigan – had stumbles in the past two weeks. That means the Jayhawks, who are led by freshman guard Ben McLemore and senior center Jeff Withey, should be able to make it to Atlanta and potentially get another shot at the title that they fell one win short of last season.
Upset potential: Fourth seed Michigan (26-7) spent most of the season ranked near the top of the polls, but losses in three of their last six games have the Wolverines trending in the wrong direction. If the seeds hold and the Wolverines get past No. 13 seed South Dakota State (25-9), fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (26-8) could be waiting in the next round. Rams guard Treveon Graham and forward Juvonte Reddic both average double figures in points and could help give the Wolverines an earlier-than-expected trip home.
Stephen Schramm (FayObserver.com)
NCAA tournament: East Region breakdown
Upset potential: Butler (26-8) has become known as the school nobody wants to play this time of year. But in Bucknell, the sixth-seeded Bulldogs have an opponent they might not be so thrilled to face. No. 11 seed Bucknell (28-5) won the Patriot League – the same conference that produced Lehigh – and has only dropped one of its last 13 games. The Bison also features a player capable of stealing the show in 6-foot-11 senior center Mike Muscala, who averages 19 points, 11 rebounds and ranks second on the team in assists.
Top player: If you only know Indiana’s Victor Oladipo from his highlight-reel dunks, you can already tell he has some ability. But the junior guard does a lot more for the top-seeded Hoosiers (27-6). Oladipo was named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year, leading the league with 2.2 steals per game. He also ranks second on the team in points, rebounds and blocks.
Stephen Schramm (FayObserver.com)
NCAA tournament: Midwest Region breakdown
Sleeper: The fact that Saint Louis won the Atlantic 10 title and has only one loss since Jan. 19 – and that came in overtime – may not be the most impressive thing about the fourth-seeded Billikens (27-6). In December, coach Rick Majerus died, leaving interim coach Jim Crews in charge. Look for senior guard Kwamain Mitchell and junior forward Dwayne Evans to make Saint Louis the story of the tournament’s early rounds if it can string together a few more wins.
Cinderella: No. 14 seed Valparaiso (26-7) doesn’t have an easy assignment. No. 3 seed Michigan State (25-8) is 3-4 in its last seven games, but coach Tom Izzo, who has taken his team to the Final Four six times, has a knack for getting it done this time of year. But don’t count out the Crusaders, who have won 10 of their last 11 and are coached by Bryce Drew, who hit one of the tournament’s most-replayed buzzer beaters to beat Mississippi in 1998.
Catherine Pritchard (FayObserver.com)
Productivity down as March Madness tips off
Financial planner Eric Nobles worked through lunch Tuesday, an unusual move for him.
He expected to do the same today and Thursday.
It was all in the name of making up time that he will take off Friday afternoon to watch N.C. State play its first game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The game starts at 1:40 p.m., and Nobles, a State graduate and enthusiastic fan, said he’ll be parked in front of his TV at home to watch the Wolfpack take on the Temple Owls.
Since he owns his business, he can make that call.
Others who cannot leave work to satisfy their cravings for March Madness will have to satisfy themselves with on-the-job peeks – or open looks – at TVs and websites that show the games, their scores and how they might be doing in one, two or a dozen basketball pools.
Brandon Plotnick, the marketing and communications coordinator for the Fayetteville Regional Chamber, said he always has the games on his computer, even during work time. Luckily, he said, he has two monitors, so he can multitask. And, he said, his boss, chamber President Doug Peters, is understanding.
It probably also helps that the tournament’s playing schedule overlaps with just two regular workdays – Thursday and Friday. Later games are either on weekends or weeknights.
Some bosses are more than understanding about March Madness – they’re fully involved in it.
Fayetteville lawyer Hilton “Hutch” Hutchens has run the pool at his law office for a number of years. The winner gets bragging rights only and Hutchens noted, no money. Hutchens is a Wake Forest graduate, N.C. State fan and dedicated “ABC-er” – Anyone But Carolina.
Matt Norlander | Senior Blogger (CBSSports.com)
Your Thursday NCAA tournament viewing guide
Valparaiso vs. Michigan State, 12:15 p.m. ET (CBS), Auburn Hills, Mich. — The tourney gets underway with a Tom Izzo team that’s actually getting way too little Final Four buzz. We should know better. Valpo’s Ryan Broekhoff has the ability to shoot from deep, and if you’re telling me he has 30, I’m telling you this game is close with two minutes to go.
Bucknell vs. Butler, 12:40 p.m. ET (TruTV), Lexington, Ky. — The battle of the B schools will be a brutal affair in terms of physicality. Brad Stevens knows his team has no gimme here; in fact, Mike Muscala of Bucknell is the best player on the floor. Will be close and low-scoring.
Wichita State vs. Pittsburgh, 1:40 p.m. ET (TBS), Salt Lake City — This game should’ve been getting more pub. It’s a real toss-up. Wichita State has the bigs to go against Pitt. The Shockers and the Panthers know about early exits; who follows the pattern again this year?
New Mexico State vs. Saint Louis, 2:10 p.m. ET, (TNT) San Jose, Calif. — New Mexico State has a dude who’s 7-5 and will win Twitter when this game is happening. SLU is the most dangerous No. 4 seed — and deepest four — in some time.
Belmont vs. Arizona , 7:20 p.m. ET (TNT), Salt Lake City — A very popular upset pick here, Arizona has the athletes and Belmont has the guards. I think this stands to be one of the three best games on Thursday.
California vs. UNLV , 7:27 p.m. ET (TruTV), San Jose, Calif. — A rematch from earlier this season (something the selection committee normally dodges for the Round of 64), UNLV won the first won 76-75. I don’t think it’ll be that close again. But Cal, the lower seed, gets to play close to home, in San Jose. Could be interesting.
Missouri vs. Colorado State, 9:20 p.m. ET (TBS), Lexington, Ky. — The best of the 8/9 games, in my opinion. Colorado State can rebound and Missouri can score. Might just come down to that.
NC STATE FOOTBALL
R. Cory Smith (N&O)
NC State’s Wolff emerging from the shadows at the right time
Earl Wolff was never the biggest, fastest or most popular player for N.C. State during his four years, but between his combine and his pro day on Wednesday afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium, he has emerged as a potential middle-round pick in late April in the NFL Draft.
Wolff walked around on the sidelines after his position drills joking with his former teammates and coaches like Buffalo Bills wide receiver T.J. Graham and former offensive coordinator Dana Bible. At one point, he showed off the t-shirt that he had worn during his workouts – which had his last name spelled incorrectly as “Wolfe.”
Despite posting the best broad jump (11’2”), second-best 40-yard dash (4.44 seconds), and fourth-best vertical jump (39.0 inches) among all safeties at the combine, Wolff, the consummate leader, said he came back to enjoy his pro day more for others than for him.
“Honestly my reason for wanting to come out here was to keep the guys motivated,” Wolff said. “C.J. (Wilson), Mario (Carter), a lot of seniors and guys who are working out here, just to keep them motivated and hope and pray that they do well.”
The Audible: NC State, UNC both have shot against 1 seeds
Adam and Joe discuss the likelihood that NC State, UNC or both win out this weekend and advance to the Sweet 16.