With his team preparing to travel to Stanford for a game with the Cardinal on Sunday, head coach Mark Gottfried talked with the media this afternoon about where he feels the Wolfpack (5-2) currently stand.
He has been pleased with the team's effort and overall performance, but mentioned several times that there are still improvements that he expects to be made. When asked to assign NC State a letter grade for the first seven games of the season, Gottfried said they were at about a C-plus.
"We're OK, but I wouldn't get real excited just yet," he said. "I think we've showed at times that we can be really competitive with just about anybody. For us, the question is going to be can this team get over the hump and really learn how to be an effective team for 40 minutes? I think we've showed it at times but, for me, right now, I think that is the area where this group needs to learn how to be better - for 40 minute stretches.
"I think we've competed every night, I don't think we've had very many stretches where I felt like we're just not competing. That's been good."
Two of the most noticeable differences from last year's squad have been consistent effort and unselfish play, which are two areas the coach praised his team for. Gottfried was also complimentary of his team's defensive play and pointed out that his team performed well against Indiana's offense from midway through the first half until the final six minutes of the game, after starting off a little slow.
The coach was intent on improving the team's schedule after taking the job and accomplished his mission when he had Sunday's game against Stanford added to the slate. He thinks it will be an invaluable experience down the road for his squad.
"We were looking to go on the road, we needed to go on the road and I wanted a high-level, BCS-type school to play," he said. "Believe it or not, since it was late when I got the job, a lot of our schedule was set and I didn't have a lot of great choices - not that this wasn't a great choice. We had a conversation going with Stanford, which was good. I think these kind of games help our team, help us get better - just like the Indiana game. It really becomes clear what you have to improve on to become a good team when you play good teams."
Gottfried went as far as saying that Stanford might be the Pack's toughest opponent so far this season. Although Vanderbilt was nationally ranked, they were not at full strength without the services of star center Festus Ezeli.
"[Stanford] has a good blend - they've got the two older kids inside, nice sophomores around the perimeter that can shoot it and a marquee freshman [Chasson Randle]. They're playing really well. They're a team that doesn't beat themselves, they rarely turn the ball over, they're very efficient offensively, they go inside first and the kid [Josh] Owens is really a good player. He's really a good player watching him on tape. It's going to be a challenge for us, it might be the best team we've played."
Traveling to Stanford will also give Gottfried a rare opportunity to see his son, Brandon, who is a sophomore tight end on the Cardinal football team. For that reason, the entire Gottfried clan is making the trip out west.
- Gottfried, a former point guard at Alabama, has been pleased with how sophomore Lorenzo Brown has run the offense. Like everybody else, he expects Brown to continue developing, but he's been pleased with how the youngster has handled the one-guard duties this season.
"I think it's going very well," Gottfried said. "I think he's learning the position, I think there's a lot more to that position than a lot of people realize. When you're the quarterback, you have to understand so many things - tempo, you have to understand your own players, who needs the ball where, who hasn't had the ball, who needs the ball, where do we want to go on this possession? He needs to be a coach on the floor and direct traffic. I think when you look at all of those things for a guy who hasn't really played it exclusively, I think he's done very well."
- The coach has also been pleased with what he has seen out of sophomore forward C.J. Leslie, who has been coming off the bench as a reserve.
"If you ranked guys right now to date on who is playing the hardest, he's near the top of the list," he said. "He's also playing within what he can do. I don't think he's taking crazy shots, I don't think he's being lazy, there's not a lot of criticism from me right now with his effort level and energy level.
"He's like anybody, he'd like to start - everybody likes to hear their name called in the lineup but he's been very unselfish with that. He realizes that Richard [Howell] and DeShawn [Painter] have played well and you don't want to rock the apple cart sometimes when you don't need to. When he comes into the game, I think he realizes and knows that he's going to play a lot if he plays hard, which he has. We've tried to put him in positions where he can really utilize his quickness around the basket more than anything."
- The coach was asked about junior center Jordan Vandenberg's status after the big man has not appeared in the past two games. Gottfried said the seven-footer is day-to-day with a shoulder injury.
"His shoulder has really been hurting him lately," he said. "I think he was a little bit better yesterday, we'll look at him again today. I think even against Zeller, he could have helped us a little bit and maybe with this kid inside at Stanford; we need him to play so I'm hoping today is a little better.
"If he is injured, it could turn into a redshirt. We've played him already in some games. It's something we've got to watch with him and obviously he's got to be the barometer with how he feels so we'll see. He could help this team right now, but I want to do what's right for him so we'll take that one day-by-day."
- In other injury news, Gottfried discussed junior Scott Wood's ankle.
"It's not 100 percent, but he's much better than he was when we were in New York, obviously," he said. "He would probably tell you it's close, but it's still black and blue, it's still swollen. I think he's been able to still shoot the ball pretty well, I think it has limited him a little bit laterally. I think prior to him rolling the ankle, I thought he was a little bit better defensively. ... We need him to get back to where he was, I don't think he's all the way back yet."
- Freshman forward Thomas De Thaey played against Texas and Elon, but did not appear in the game against Indiana. Gottfried didn't sound like he expects that to happen much this season.
"We've got to get Thomas in there," he said. "We may play him a little more at the wing, also."
- Gottfried also commended new strength and conditioning coach Bob Alejo for his work with the squad. He's felt Alejo has been crucial in setting a culture around the program and said that, "he demands great effort and pushes them to another level. ... He's helped us lay a foundation we can build on."