A new coach and new style of play have rejuvenated NC State sophomore power forward C.J. Leslie, but tonight's game at North Carolina will be a litmus test for how much he has improved.
NC State carries a 15-5 overall record and 4-1 mark in the ACC against No. 7-ranked North Carolina (16-3, 3-1 ACC). The game will be televised at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Leslie has improved nearly all of his statistics except for rebounds per game this season under new coach Mark Gottfried. The 6-foot-8, 209-pounder is averaging 12.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, and is shooting 53.5 percent from the field, which is a 10.2 percent improvement.
Leslie's ability to take taller players outside and explode past them will be put to the test. He also has proven adept at drawing fouls during his time at NCSU.
"[Being quicker], that's normal on that, 99 percent of the time," Leslie said. "Whether I'm going to get it in or out [of the lane], I'm right there by the basket. That is where the offense is. Driving to the basket and either making the basket or getting fouled is a big part of my game. I'm just trying to get to the inside."
Leslie's challenge will come in going against UNC 7-0 senior center Tyler Zeller and 6-11 junior power forward John Henson, who are both effective shot-blockers inside.
"I'm just basically going to go hard and go into them," Leslie said. "I'm just trying to find other ways. I don't know how that's going to be, but I'll find out when I get into the game. I'm just trying to find a way to score."
North Carolina preview
NC State Wolfpack (15-5, 4-1 ACC) at No. 7 North Carolina (16-3, 3-1 ACC)
Game time: Thursday, Jan. 26, 7 p.m. — Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
PG — 2 Lorenzo Brown (6-5, 189, Soph., 12.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 6.9 apg)
SG — 21 C.J. Williams (6-5, 224, Sr., 12.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.2 spg)
SF — 15 Scott Wood (6-6, 175, Jr., 13.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.5 apg)
PF — 5 C.J. Leslie (6-8, 209, Soph., 12.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.9 bpg)
C — 1 Richard Howell (6-8, 250, Jr., 11.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.3 apg)
PG — 5 Kendall Marshall (6-4, 195, Soph., 5.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 9.5 apg, 1.3 spg)
SG — 35 Reggie Bullock (6-7, 205, Soph., 8.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.9 apg)
SF — 40 Harrison Barnes (6-8, 215, Soph., 17.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.2 spg)
PF — 31 John Henson (6-11, 220, Jr., 14.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 3.2 bpg)
C — 44 Tyler Zeller (7-0, 250, Sr., 14.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.2 bpg)
Scouting North Carolina
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Nickname: Tar Heels
2010-11 record: 27-10 overall, 14-2 ACC
2011 postseason: Lost 76-69 to Kentucky in the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament
Coach: Roy Williams 659-166 overall (24th year) and 241-65 at UNC (9th year)
Series: North Carolina leads 144-75
Last meeting: North Carolina won 75-63 on Feb. 23, 2011, in Raleigh
North Carolina: The Tar Heels are ranked No. 7 in the country following an embarrassing 90-57 loss at Florida State on Jan. 14 that snapped the Heels' nine-game winning streak. That was the largest margin of defeat for UNC in its nine seasons under Williams … North Carolina had a week to prepare for NC State after playing at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19. The Heels will also be returning home for the first time since Jan. 10. UNC is 12-0 this season in Chapel Hill, and the Tar Heels are in the midst of a 29-game home winning streak that stretches back to the end of the 2009-10 season. They are three victories away from tying the school record set back in 1929 … Bullock has moved into the starting lineup in light of junior shooting guard Dexter Strickland going down with a season-ending knee injury against the Hokies. Strickland was averaging 7.5 points and 2.1 assists per game. UNC also lost junior shooting guard Leslie McDonald to a season-ending knee injury during the offseason … Marshall, Henson and Barnes, all made the prestigious Wooden Award midseason list for player of the year that was announced Jan. 17. Henson and Barnes were also named to the Sporting News midseason All-America team, with Henson landing on the first team and Barnes the third team.
NC State: The Wolfpack are off to a 4-1 start in the ACC for the first time since the 2003-2004 season, and 2-0 on the road in the league, surpassing their league road record from last year. It's the most road wins since the 2005-2006 season when NCSU went 4-4 … Wood leads the ACC in three-point field-goal percentage (45.3) and three-pointers made (53), and made an ACC-record setting 58 straight fee throws … Brown's 6.9 assists per game is the highest for an NC State player since Chris Corchiani led the nation with 9.6 in 1991 … The Wolfpack lost to UNC twice last year. The Tar Heels broke open a tied game with 10:41 left by going on a 10-2 run to eventually win 75-63 at the RBC Center on Feb. 23, 2011. Leslie had 13 points and eight rebounds, and Brown added 11 points, eight assists and five rebounds for the Wolfpack … NC State has faced a ranked UNC team in 117 out of 219 meetings, and have gone 30-86 … Seven of 13 NC State coaches have won their inaugural games against UNC … NC State has 347 assists on 558 made field goals for a 62.2 percentage to rank first in the ACC.