North Carolina State athletic director Debbie Yow took plenty of heat for her overly enthusiastic introduction of Mark Gottfried as the Wolfpack's new coach last spring.
"We're back in the game," Yow proclaimed.
It was easy for North Carolina State fans to be a little skeptical. They were hoping to see Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart or some other up-and-coming coach replace Sidney Lowe.
Instead, after Smart and others pulled their names out of contention, Yow wound up with Gottfried, who abruptly stepped down as Alabama's coach in 2008-09 and spent the last two years working as a color analyst on ESPN college basketball telecasts.
Twenty games into Gottfried's first season, it looks like Yow's exuberance was indeed justified. North Carolina State is 15-5 overall and 4-1 in the ACC, where it is in third place, a half game behind Duke and Florida State. The 15 wins are also as many as North Carolina State had last season, when it went 15-16.
However, Gottfried is very cautious when talking about his team's success. The Wolfpack is just No. 51 in the RPI and 54th in the Pomeroy Ratings.
"We feel good about what we've done so far but at the same time we're realistic about ourselves," Gottfried said. "We know there is a lot of room for improvement. We know we've still got a long, long way to go."
However, North Carolina State's advanced numbers are solid. The Wolfpack is 38th in adjusted offensive efficiency with a 110.9 mark and 102nd in adjusted defensive efficiency at 96.7. North Carolina State's fans certainly aren't complaining about a 15-5 record after Lowe, the former Wolfpack star, failed to lead the program to the NCAA Tournament during his five-year tenure.
As the stats indicate, offense is North Carolina State's strength and Gottfried has the Wolfpack playing fast at 69.9 possessions, which ranks 40th in the nation. Each of North Carolina State's five starters has scoring averages in double figures.
Junior forward Scott Wood is North Carolina State's top scorer at 13.3 points a game. He is followed by sophomore forward C.J. Leslie (12.8), sophomore guard Lorenzo Brown (12.4), senior guard C.J. Williams (12.0) and junior forward Richard Howell (11.9).
Wood is shooting 45.3 percent from three-point range and is a perfect 48-of-48 on free throws. He is fifth in the nation with a 70.0 True Shooting Percentage and his 64.9 percent effective field goal percentage ranks 18th. Wood is also third in the nation with a 138.0 offensive rating, trailing only Cal Poly's Dylan Royer (143.5) and Colorado State's Pierce Hornung (138.0).
Amazingly, Wood has taken just 18.7 percent of North Carolina State's shots and 14.9 percent of its possessions. However, Gottfried says the Wolfpack's offense isn't geared to one player and that is by design.
"Scott is a terrific shooter but he's also running the floor better and defending better," Gottfried said. "With our team, it's not so much that we're trying to get the ball to one particular guy. It has gone to him a bit more lately but all of these guys are capable scorer and we want to take advantage of that. The great thing is that Scott has really improved as the season has gone on and he can get a lot better."
Part of North Carolina State's climb to the upper portion of the ACC standings is that it has yet to play any of the four conference teams ranked in this week's Associated Press top 25. That changes tonight, though, when the Wolfpack visits No. 7 North Carolina and continues Saturday night when it hosts No. 19 Virginia. A win in either game would go a long way in boosting Gottfried's credibility with his new fan base.
"This game is different, there's no question," Gottfried said of facing the archrival Tar Heels. "The feel is different. The players, the fans, the students on campus are all more excited than for a normal game. For us, it's a great opportunity and I think our players view it as that.
"We talk all the time about where we want go, where we want to take this program, where it's been and where it's going. It's a process and it's going to take time but winning breeds confidence and you've to win big games to really see that confidence grow."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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