NC State coach Mark Gottfried inserted freshman small forward T.J. Warren into the starting lineup against Florida State on Tuesday, and the former McDonald's All-American made him look like a genius for the decision.
Warren set new career highs with 31 points and 13 rebounds in the 84-66 win over FSU, and he'll remain in the starting lineup Saturday at North Carolina. Warren's insertion moved freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis to the bench and created new defensive matchups for senior wing Scott Wood.
The new look also gave NC State a taller lineup with junior point guard Lorenzo Brown listed at 6-5, Wood at 6-6, Warren at 6-8, junior power forward C.J. Leslie at 6-9 and senior center Richard Howell at 6-8.
Gottfried emphasized the need for all his players to hit the boards more, which played a role in the lineup change. The Wolfpack can't get out and run if they don't secure the defensive rebound.
"We are a team that is getting better," Gottfried said. "We are learning and figuring out exactly how we need to play. We need to be a better rebounding team and T.J. gave us some of that the other day."
The taller Wolfpack lineup is in stark contrast to the new starting lineup for the Tar Heels.
UNC has recently gone small with sophomore James Michael McAdoo moved to center, and wings Reggie Bullock, a junior, and sophomore P.J. Hairston, joining senior combo guard Dexter Strickland and point guard Marcus Paige.
The insertion of Hairston will lead Leslie to likely guard Bullock (and vice-versa). Leslie will need to run to the three-point arc to cover Bullock, but the Wolfpack also have an advantage on the offensive end in the lane. Leslie could also end up being more aggressive on the offensive boards against the Tar Heels new lineup.
"When North Carolina runs some of their side ball screens, you can't just stand in the paint and wait for the guy to roll to you as a help defender," Gottfried said. "Now, you have to guard the three-point line."
The smaller lineup which relies more on three-point shooting was used against NC State in the first meet, but not as extensively. The Wolfpack built a 28-point lead before cruising to a 91-83 victory over the Tar Heels on Jan. 26 at PNC Arena.
"I think we are playing against a team that is playing well right now," Gottfried said. "I think they've improved a lot and have gotten better since the first time we've played. I think it's going to be a heck of a day
"I think they are a more confident team. They have an additional scorer on the floor [in Hairston]. You got somebody who can stretch the defense and make more threes. I think him in the lineup makes them more confident."
NC State hasn't swept the regular season series against UNC since 2003.
"You got two teams that are somewhat on the upswing right now getting ready to play," Gottfried said. "Our players have a chance to do something that hasn't been very often here. It just says where we are and where we are trying to get to."
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