The NC State rotation has started to shrink slowly but surly from 11 players down to eight.
NC State played 11 players at Duke in the 73-56 loss on Jan. 20, and 11 in the 78-65 defeat against Florida State on Jan. 13.
The rotation shrunk to 10 players in the 79-68 loss to Boston College on Jan. 24, and the 84-81 overtime win over Miami on Jan. 27.
NC State played nine players against North Carolina at least nine minutes or more in the 93-76 loss to the Tar Heels on Jan. 31.
The next shift came in the 91-87 overtime loss at Virginia Tech on Feb. 8, when the Wolfpack played eight players. NC State also played a rotation of eight in the 86-65 win at Georgia Tech on Feb. 14, though deep reserves played the final minute of the contest.
NC State coach Sidney Lowe would prefer an eight-man rotation vs. 10 or 11, but if a player isn't performing, he wants all the players on the bench to be ready to go. Lowe, a former NBA head coach and assistant coach, said the player rotations are different in professional basketball compared to college, which makes sense since owners don't probably like paying players to sit on the bench. The college game also has significantly less games, which are 40 minutes long compared to the NBA's 48.
"If you are getting ready for the playoffs and things of that nature, you want to make sure guys have gotten enough minutes that if you have to put them in there, they are ready to go," Lowe said. "I would say a fair majority play nine or 10 guys.
"It's a little different in college. I think you get your good eight-man rotation, and occasionally that ninth guy, though that ninth guy that day might play five minutes or something like that. I think you try and keep your best players on the floor as long as you can, as long as you are not tired."
The odd men out of late are fifth-year senior forward Simon Harris, third-string freshman point guard Julius Mays, redshirt freshman forward Johnny Thomas and redshirt junior shooting guard Trevor Ferguson. The four players have combined for 13 starts this season.
Lowe likes his new lineup up that features redshirt junior Brandon Costner at forward, sophomore Tracy Smith at power forward and senior Ben McCauley at center. When any of the three need a break, the versatility of junior Dennis Horner has proven a strength since he can play both small forward and power forward.
Freshman wing C.J. Williams has come off the bench to spell senior shooting guard Courtney Fells, and can also play small forward if Costner needs a break or if he slides over to power forward.
The point guard position has been a little bit more trickier because of injuries, but sophomore Javier Gonzalez has seized the starting position with redshirt junior Farnold Degand backing him up. If Degand has difficulties with his surgically repaired knee, then Mays will need to be ready to go.
It's a rotation that Lowe hopes can finish off the season.
"This is probably who we are right here, and these are the guys," Lowe said. "Now having said that, you never know what might happen, so guys have to be ready to step in and play, but right now I think this is where we are going to go.
"We're going to stick with this lineup and the rotation, and guys are going to have to be ready to play, and play with some consistency which they've been doing. But I think this is definitely where we are right now."
North Carolina preview
NC State (14-9, 4-6 ACC) at No. 3 North Carolina (23-2, 9-2 ACC)
Game time: Today, Feb. 18, 8 p.m. — Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
PG — 10 Javi Gonzalez (5-11, Soph., 4.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.3 spg)
SG —4 Courtney Fells (6-6, Sr., 12.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.3 apg)
SF — 23 Tracy Smith (6-8, Soph., 9.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.6 apg)
PF — 33 Brandon Costner (6-9, R-Jr., 15.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.0 bpg)
C — 34 Ben McCauley (6-9, Sr., 12.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.0 spg)
PG — 5 Ty Lawson (5-11, Jr., 15.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 6.4 apg, 2.1 spg)
SG — 22 Wayne Ellington (6-4, Jr., 15.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.2 spg)
SF — 14 Danny Green (6-6, Sr., 13.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 bpg, 1.8 spg)
PF — 21 Deon Thompson (6-8, Jr., 11.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.6 apg, 1.1 bpg)
C — 50 Tyler Hansbrough (6-9, Sr., 21.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 0.8 apg)
Scouting North Carolina
Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.
Nickname: Tar Heels
2007-08 record: 36-3 overall, 14-2 ACC (first)
2008 postseason: Lost 84-66 to Kansas in the semifinals of the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament
Coach: Roy Williams, 21st season overall (583-136) and 6th season at North Carolina (165-35)
The all-time series with NC State: UNC leads 139-75
Last meeting: North Carolina won 93-76 on Jan. 31, 2009, in Raleigh
North Carolina: UNC has won the last five meetings and 11 of the last 12 against NC State … The Tar Heels are 67-22 against the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill … Seven-foot freshman Tyler Zeller could return tonight after missing 23 games with a broken wrist. Zeller was injured in the second game of the season in the win over Kentucky. He had two points and one rebound against the Wildcats, and 18 points and two boards in the win over Pennsylvania in the season opener. He could have opted for a redshirt season … Lawson has played five games without committing a turnover, and five games where he had one turnover. He is averaging 1.9 turnover per game … Lawson has scored 21 points or more in four of the last six games, after previously topping 20 points in just two games … After a strong start in non-conference action, Thompson has scored in double figures in just three out of the 11 ACC games.
NC State: The Wolfpack's 86-65 win over Georgia Tech was the largest ACC road win since 1989 … NC State is 1-4 against ranked opponents this season … Fells reached the 1,000-point barrier against GT, and the trio of Fells, Costner and McCauley became only the second NCSU recruiting class to have three 1,000-point scorers … Fells is averaging 17.3 points per game over the last six games with 18 three-pointers … Smith is averaging 15.0 points and 11.0 rebounds over the last two games, while McCauley is averaging 12.8 points and 10.0 rebounds over the last four games … NC State has defeated a ranked North Carolina team 31 times, the most of any ranked foe in school history … Gonzalez is averaging 8.5 points and 4.0 assists in 22.8 minutes per game the last four contests.