Monday, January 9, 2012

Wolfpack's NCAA path: One down, 10 to go

Thanks to the posterizing play of C.J. Leslie and others, the Wolfpack beat Maryland to move to 1-0 in the ACC. They need 10 more ACC wins to get to the 11 coach Mark Gottfried says are needed to reach the NCAA tournament. Ethan Hyman photo
Three points from N.C. State's 79-74 win over Maryland on Sunday evening:

1. A little transparency can go a long way

Mark Gottfried told his team before the Maryland game that it needed to win 11 games in the ACC to make the NCAA tournament.

He told the media the same thing on Friday and then repeated his goals after the win on Sunday.

"That's our goal, I'm not afraid to say it," Gottfried said Sunday night.

It's one thing to say it to the team but it's another to tell the media, which is a rare piece of transparency, and honesty, from a coach (even if it is a motivational device to show his team his faith in them.)

For example, a day earlier, North Carolina coach Roy Williams took the traditional coach-to-media stance when asked what he told his team during a lengthy postgame talk after a lackluster win over a Boston College.

"It's like Vegas," Williams said Saturday. "Things you say in the locker room need to stay in the locker room."

That's not to condemn Williams, it's the coach's prerogative to share what he wants with the media (which across the board in 2012 is typically as little as possible), rather to commend Gottfried on a good move.

Gottfried never got the chance to "win" his press conference, that went out the window with the "sabotage" subterfuge from his boss, but N.C. State's coach made up for the lost public-relations opportunity after Sunday's win over the Terps.

"I didn't come here to play in anything other than the NCAA tournament," Gottfried said. "Now, whether we get there or not, that's a whole another story. We do probably do have a long, long way to go but I'm not ever going to hide from that."

He continued:

"I have a job to do. I'm here to do a job. I was hired to do a job. I know what that job is. We just have to grind them out, get tough and get better."

That's the kind of talk that endears a coach to a fan base, especially after beating an ACC rival it hadn't since 2006.

2. C.J. Leslie keeps getting better

With 20 points and 11 rebounds, Leslie was the best player on the court.

His assist was noteworthy as well, since it came on the fast break and he was willing to give the ball up, to Scott Wood in this instance, rather than force an ESPN highlight.

Leslie's biggest issue last season as a freshman was consistency. He has had no such problems as a sophomore and with a new coach.

Shot selection has been Leslie's biggest on-court area of improvement. The increase in his shooting percentage is proof of that, 53 percent (68-128) compared to 43 percent (123-284) last season.

In Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, N.C. State has two talented, All-ACC caliber players 10 other ACC teams don't (yes, even Duke).

That's why the stated goal of 11 wins is not as far-fetched as the historical precedent (once since 1975) suggests.

3. Terrell Stoglin can go

N.C. State tried every different defensive combination on Maryland guard Terrell Stoglin and contested almost every one of his 16 field goal attempts but the Pack couldn't stop him.

Stoglin poured in 25 points, with six 3-pointers, and did so while being defended primarily by a  taller C.J. Williams (6-5) but also a shorter Alex Johnson (5-10).

Now, Stoglin's not 6-1, as he's listed by Maryland, but he's strong and quick and understands how to use his body to get his shot off.

Pe'Shon Howard had a relatively quiet game, eight assists aside, which is why State won, but it wasn't for Stoglin's lack of effort.

Forward Richard Howell put it best when asked about Stoglin: "That kid can score."

-- J.P. Giglio