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March 19, 2013
Temple guard Khalif Wyatt to test Pack defense
NC State coach Mark Gottfried doesn't expect one of his players to shut down Temple star guard Khalif Wyatt on Friday in the Wolfpack's first game of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, Ohio.
Gottfried said Tuesday that a collective effort will be need to slow down Wyatt, who won the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year award. A similar approach was used against Virginia Tech point guard Erick Green and Virginia small forward Joe Harris during last week's ACC Tournament.
NC State junior point guard Lorenzo Brown will likely be the first line of defense against Wyatt, who averaged 19.8 points and 4.1 assists per game this season.
"With Wyatt, Lorenzo has a tough order, but it has to be our team," Gottfried said. "We have to help Lorenzo a lot.
"We have to do a good job on him as a team. That's what we did a lot today and worked on today."
Brown and the Wolfpack didn't have to face many score-first point guards in the ACC last year. The league was going through a new cycle of point guards, but did include UNC's Kendall Marshall, who went pro after his sophomore season.
Duke's Quinn Cook and Miami's Shane Larkin were still growing through the maturation stages, and Green wasn't quite the high-level scorer he became this season. Vanderbilt's Brad Tinsley, Stanford's Aaron Bright, Indiana's Jordan Hulls and Syracuse's Scoop Jardine littered the 2011-2012 non-conference slate, but not the murderer's row of this season.
Wyatt is just the latest in a long line of distinguished point guards that goes beyond Green, Larkin and Cook. Michigan sophomore Trey Burke, Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart, Penn State senior Tim Frazier before he got hurt and UConn sophomore Ryan Boatright, all are accomplished point guards.
"With Wyatt, what is different from probably anybody we've played this year, is just how big and strong he is," Gottfried said. "He creates contact and gets to the foul line when he drives. He's a crafty one-on-one player."
Brown has battled a nagging ankle injury since injuring it against Virginia on Jan. 29. He earned one vote from an ACC coach for league defensive player of the year, and did a superb job in holding Green to 5 of 19 last Thursday in the ACC Tournament.
"Lorenzo is still struggling with his ankle at times," Gottfried said. "Even today, he re-tweaked it again, which is one of those things for him. It's just not very strong."
Wyatt shot a team-high 218 three-point field-goal attempts - making 71 - for a 32.6 percentage. Fifth-year seniors Scootie Randle, a small forward, and post player Jake O'Brien have also launched well over 100 three-point field-goal attempts.
Wyatt has also gone 188 of 226 at the free-throw line for 83.2 percent. Temple's next two players who reached the foul line the most each had 99 free-throw attempts apiece.
"I think they shoot the three-pointer, and shoot the three well," Gottfried said. "They get to the line a lot. Wyatt gets to the line a lot. They are typical tough-minded Philadelphia type team. They'll take you some off the dribble."
Gottfried recalled watching Temple play at Kansas on television Jan. 6. The Jayhawks won 69-62, but the game was close throughout. Wyatt had 26 points in 31 minutes in the contest.
"They had a chance to win and were right to the wire," Gottfried said. "I realized real quick that we had to play a heck of a tough team."
Senior wing Scott Wood helped slow down Joe Harris last Friday in the win over the Cavaliers, and expects a good game plan against the Temple perimeter players.
"We just have had really good energy," Wood said. "We are reading our scout really well and know what to do, and how to execute it. Any time we have that great energy and are helping each other, we are a tough team."
NC State is ready for NCAA run
The ACC is universally known as one of the best basketball conferences in the country. That didn't appear to be the case on Selection Sunday, when the league nabbed just four bids to the big dance, but Gottfried felt that even in a down year, the conference deserved more. He also though regular season and Tournament champion deserved more than a two seed.
"I was surprised Miami wasn't a one seed, and disappointed, to be honest, for our league," he said. "I felt like they deserved to be a one seed, period. I would've like to have seen Maryland and Virginia get into the NCAA Tournament, I think those guys hurt themselves with the non-conference schedule because the sad part about Maryland and Virginia is they are good enough teams right now to play in the NCAA Tournament. I certainly would've liked to have seen five or six get in - we only got four - but hopefully in years to come, we'll make it more than four."
Gottfried still feels the always challenging slate against ACC foes has prepared NC State for the NCAA Tournament, and they bring some momentum with them onto the biggest stage in college basketball.
"Everybody likes to talk about last year, this is a different year," he said. "We're a different team. I think the fact that we won eight of our last 11 shows that this team has played well down the stretch. They want to win. I thought we went to Greensboro and played two games exceptionally well. We didn't play very well against Miami, but I think this is a team that is very excited about being in the NCAA Tournament. They want to play well and they want to advance."
The strong finish has been keyed by some improved play on the defensive end, according to Gottfried.
"Against Virginia and Virginia Tech, I thought we were really good defensively," the coach noted. "At time, in the Miami game at the tournament, we were; our problem in the Miami game was we were, offensively, abysmal. We were bad, which hasn't happened to our team a lot this year. I think we're a lot better defensively than we were earlier in the year."
NC State has accomplished its goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament, and now it is anybody's championship to win. A major talking point on Selection Sunday was about how there is no clear-cut favorite, but Gottfried noted that it is always possible for any team in the field to battle through the bracket.
"I think that's the case a lot of years," he said. "Some years there are dominant teams in the tournament, but this year, I think it's a little more wide open. Also, if you go back through the history of the tournament and you go back to teams who have advanced to the Final Four, anybody can get there. We feel like we're a team that can. I think that's what makes the tournament the greatest show on Earth, anybody can find their way there."
T.J. Warren leads impressive freshmen trio
NC State's freshman class was ranked as one of the best in the nation coming into the year, and the trio of point guard Tyler Lewis, shooting guard Rodney Purvis and forward T.J. Warren has proven themselves worthy of the lofty accolades this season.
"I think all three of them had great years," Gottfried said. "I think each guy, in their own right, has played well at different times. I don't think we would be in the NCAA Tournament without those three freshmen, I think their contributions have been really valuable. Hopefully, they'll be excited about playing in this tournament. They're going to play well there, too."
Warren in particular has been a star, and the Durham native was named to the ACC All-Freshmen team by both the league media and coaches. He averaged 12.4 points a game and paced the conference with a 62.6 field goal percentage, which led all rookies nationally and ranked fourth overall. The school's single-season record is 62.4 percent, set by Kevin Thompson in 1992.
He started only 13 games, but was in the opening line-up for each of the last nine games, when he has average 15.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest, while he shot a scorching 75 percent in three games at the ACC Tournament.
"It's a blessing," he said of his postseason honors. "I've been working hard towards that. I'm trying to keep up the good work and some more good awards will come in the future."
However, he is focused on doing whatever the team needs in order to advance deep into the postseason. What he has accomplished doesn't matter once the ball is thrown up in the air, and Warren is looking forward.
"It's a new season, so I'll just try to go out there and play the best I can play," he said. "We're playing pretty good, that last game against Miami was a tough one for us, but we moved past it. We're in the tournament now, it's do or die and we're trying to come out with a win."
NCSU seniors excited about last tourney
NC State has a pair of its own high-level seniors in wing Scott Wood and center Richard Howell. The duo will embark on their second NCAA Tournament, and also made an appearance in the NIT Tournament.
"It is what it is and we just have to grind it out," Howell said. "We know what is at stake and this is our last go-around. We want to make it our best and go as far as we can."
Both quickly have the same answer when talking about their best moment involving the other.
Wood fired a pass from his own backcourt to an open Howell, who scored the game-winning basket with eight seconds left in a 58-57 win at South Florida in the NIT their freshman season March 16, 2010.
All these years later, Howell enters the Temple game fifth all-time in career rebounds (1,040), first with 389 career offensive rebounds and only the fifth player in school history to reach 1,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds. He has 1,200 career points.
Howell earned first-team All-ACC by the media and was second team by the league's coaches.
Wood, who expects to have over 50 family and friends in Dayton, enters the tourney with 332 career three-pointers, which is the most in NCSU history and fifth in ACC history.
Wood also has started 135 career games, which is the most in Wolfpack history, and third in ACC history with his 88.8 free-throw shooting percentage.
Howell and Wood are better players and the program is in much better shape upon his exit compared to when they arrived.
"It's a great feeling, especially the type of losses that we've went through since we've been here," Howell said. "I'm glad to be apart of it."
Wood earned second-team All-ACC Tournament last week in Greensboro, N.C., but his focus has been on winning all season, not individual accolades.
"There are obviously some games [this season] that we feel like we could have won that maybe we could have improved our seed," Wood said. "At the same time, it is what it is and you have to play ball at the end of the day.
"I'm extremely happy where Rich and I have left this place. I know it's going to be in good hands even when we are gone with Coach Gottfried, and who he is bringing in. Hopefully, State can still be a power house."
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