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January 25, 2013
NC State doesn't need any additional hype for its rivalry game against North Carolina, the but the ESPN College GameDay crew will create a day-long buildup Saturday.
College GameDay host Rece Davis and analyst Digger Phelps had never been to PNC Arena before this weekend. However, Phelps once took his No. 1-ranked Notre Dame squad into historic Reynolds Coliseum and won 53-52 over NC State in 1979. The show itself is coming to Raleigh for the first time in college basketball.
The GameDay show will be mixed into ESPN's coverage on 9 a.m., but then kick into high gear from 10 a.m. to Noon at PNC Arena, with the first hour on ESPNU and second on ESPN.
Basketball analyst Jay Bilas always has the pulse of college basketball, and the four ACC colleges on Tobacco Road in particular. Phelps and Bilas have been watching NC State throughout the season, and the latter considers the Wolfpack to be in the national hunt.
"There's nobody out there that they can not beat," Bilas said. "I think it's a year with a lot of good teams, and they are one of them. I don't think there is a great team out there. It's a lot like 2010 in that regard."
NC State carries a 15-4 record and 4-2 in the ACC into Saturday's game against North Carolina. Regaining the momentum that was lost after upsetting No. 1-ranked Duke 84-76 on Jan. 12 is of utmost importance for the Wolfpack. NCSU has followed with losses at Maryland on Jan. 16, and at Wake Forest on Jan. 22. In-between was a hard-fought victory over Clemson on Jan. 20.
"They beat Duke, but what is going on since defeating Duke?" ESPN college basketball analyst Digger Phelps said. "How do you lose to Maryland on a tip-in? Well, nobody boxed out [Alex] Len. How do you go out and give Wake Forest 51 points in the second half? How does Wake Forest get 44 points on second-chance points and NC State's turnovers? It's inconsistent."
Bilas knows the ACC's 18-game schedule is going to produce several peaks and valley's this season.
"People are overreacting to this week based on, 'Oh, they lost two games,'" Bilas said. "Could they have been in a better position had they won at Maryland and Wake Forest? Yes.
"In a 18-game schedule, there is a lot that is going to happen moving forward, good and bad. This won't be the last adversity they are facing or the last triumph."
NC State coach Mark Gottfried this week reiterated how the Wolfpack have been a tough out this season except for the 76-56 loss to Oklahoma State on Nov. 18 in Puerto Rico. ESPN college basketball analyst Digger Phelps said the loss to the Cowboys was an eye-opener.
"The wakeup call was in Puerto Rico when Oklahoma State beat them by 20," Phelps said. "I said, 'Wow, what is that all about?' In watching it, I said, 'Where is the toughness.' It's like the next guy is looking at the next guy and saying, 'You rebound.' Meanwhile, they [opposing team] is getting an offensive rebound and putting it in."
Bilas believes NC State has several talented players, but one needs to emerge as the most productive player, game-in and game-out.
"I think it's more C.J. Leslie myself," Bilas said. "When he is engaged and playing well, and especially when he defends, it raises everybody else's level. It's a team that has so many different weapons offensively."
Having Leslie, senior center Richard Howell and freshman combo forward T.J. Warren put pressure on opposing big men in transition is a valuable trait.
"They are so good in transition and have so many good athletes," Bilas said. "Their big guys can run and they put a lot of pressure on the opposing big guys to run the floor."
Bilas has been impressed with how explosive freshmen Warren and Rodney Purvis are in the open court in getting to the rim on the fastbreak.
"I think the most effective guy in transition is Warren, but Purvis is really fast and [Lorenzo] Brown with the ball in his hands is difficult to contain," Bilas said. "You get that initial thrust down and Scott Wood is spotting up at the three-point line."
Phelps didn't mince words on the importance of the game for the Wolfpack.
"To me, [Saturday] is a must win," Phelps said. "You have to get back on track. Carolina on the other hand, after they got slammed at home against Miami, I thought they'd lose at Florida State. Boom, that's the turn-around game. Here they are and they've won three in a row."
UNC went through its own difficult stretch, which resulted in losses to Texas on Dec. 19, at Virginia on Jan. 6 and Miami (Fla.) on Jan. 10. The Tar Heels have since won three straight at Florida State and home games vs. Maryland and Georgia Tech. Phelps likes the Tar Heels' progress and believes they've found their offensive flow.
"I'm disappointed with State's defense," Phelps said. "I'm disappointed with their inconsistency. I think Carolina has turned the corner. This is a situation where State has to win to put out the fire, otherwise, it's whoops and you slide farther. It should be a great game."
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