Expectations are going up — way up — for Wolfpack hoops next season.
It seems as soon as the last notes of “One Shining Moment” are played in the NCAA Tournament, pundits start releasing their “way too early” polls for next season. Usually, the top of their lists features blue-blood programs and others that have performed exceptionally well in the past couple of years, and this year is not exception.
ESPN has Kentucky as #1, Virginia as #2 and their favorite program, UNC as #3. Those aren’t bad selections, really, as Kentucky will have most of the 2016 NBA Draft’s lottery pick in for their mandatory one-and-done year, while UNC and Virginia will also have their teams return essentially intact. But this year’s crop of early favorites included NC State as well, albeit as a mid-teens ranked squad.
The Wolfpack revealed their true talent in March, upending No. 1 seed Villanova on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. A week later, they pushed Louisville — whom NC State beat on the road in February, just before losing to Boston College, which pretty much sums it up — to the brink. Now the fun really begins. Ralston Turner is the only significant departure to account for. Everyone else is back. The biggest name involved is Trevor Lacey, who would be a nightmare to guard even if he weren’t playing alongside the insanely fast, appropriately nicknamed Anthony “Cat” Barber. Freshman forward Abdul-Malik Abu‘s bullying performance against Villanova prefaced greater things to come; fellow big man Beejay Anya is one of the nation’s best shot-blockers. If these guys can just guard consistently — something Mark Gottfried’s teams almost never do — they’re scary-good. Just ask Villanova.
CBS Sports has the same top 3 in a different order. UVA is #1, UNC is #2 and Kentucky a #3.
16. NC STATE
- Notable players definitely gone: Ralston Turner
- Others expected to leave: None
- Notable players expected to return: Cat Barber, Trevor Lacey, Kyle Washington, Abdul-Malik Abu, BeeJay Anya, Cody Martin, Caleb Martin, Lennard Freeman
- Others expected to join the roster: Terry Henderson
Why the Wolfpack are ranked here: Remember that talented N.C. State team that eliminated Villanova from the NCAA Tournament? Most of the best pieces from that roster should be back — including Cat Barber.
SB Nation is a lot higher on the Pack. They have UNC and UVA as their one and two, but NC State as a Top 10 squad:
2014-15 Record: 22-14
2014-15 Finish: Sweet 16Potential was never an issue for a 2014-15 N.C. State team which notched wins over Duke, Villanova, North Carolina and Louisville. Finding consistency will be the key next season for Mark Gottfried, who returns every key contributor from his Sweet 16 squad outside of Ralston Turner.
22. N.C. State (22-14, 10-8): There’s a chance Cat Barber turns pro, but if he comes back the late-peaking Wolfpack have a chance to pose a bigger threat early in 2015-16. Barber and Trevor Lacey will make for a fearsome backcourt tandem, and N.C. State’s frontcourt should be much better thanks to a year of maturity. If coach Mark Gottfried’s cast plays at the level it did in the NCAAs — knocking off top-seeded Villanova to reach the Sweet 16 — they’ll be a darkhorse contender in the ACC.
Recruiting grade: Incomplete. The Pack has three scholarships open and no commitments. This could change quickly, especially if they can get Ingram or Malik Newman.
Me, I am going to take these lists with a grain of salt that only confirms what I’ve said for some time: NC State should be a very good team next year so long as it returns its key players. The team’s schedule has not been released yet, but it surely promises to be a challenging one both in and out of the conference, and that alone will make the roller coaster ride that is Wolfpack basketball another year of great highs and great lows.