Leader of the Pack
It was an interesting week for N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, to say the least.
On national signing day the Wolfpack added point guard Dennis Smith, a consensus Top 10 recruit in the Class of 2016, from nearby Fayetteville.
Gottfried was rewarded Friday for leading the Wolfpack to a 92-52 record, four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and a pair of Sweet 16s in his four seasons in Raleigh. N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow extended his contract through 2020, bumped his annual pay from $2.06 million to $2.48 million.
Later that evening, as son Cameron made his college debut for Siena 22 miles away at Duke (he scored two points in three minutes), the Wolfpack lost its season opener and looked bad. N.C. State trailed by double digits during the final 34 minutes of a 17-point loss to a William & Mary team picked to finish fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Starting guard Terry Henderson, a transfer from West Virginia, suffered a right ankle injury early in the game and tests Saturday brought more bad news: torn ligaments will sideline him 6-8 weeks.
Gottfried hoped for a rosier medical report as he gave a matter-of-fact review of his team following a loss that left the PNC Arena crowd stunned and silent.
“We’ve got a long way to go. And I think we learned tonight, that we’ve got a long way to go,” Gottfried said. “I think the first thing that we’ve got to understand is the Sweet 16 run is a year in the past. It’s in the rearview mirror and we better figure out with this team how it needs to play and how we’re going to get better. And we better learn it quickly.”
Henderson, a 6-foot-4 Raleigh native who made 89 3-pointers in two seasons with the Mountaineers, was supposed to fill the void created by the departure of Trevor Lacey, who like T.J. Warren before him gave the Wolfpack a wing not afraid to take - and make - tough shots at critical junctures.
"Obviously, this is a big blow to Terry and to our team," Gottfried said Saturday. "I feel badly for Terry. He worked extremely hard to get ready for this year. Our team has to adjust and we will need some young players to step up."
Intriguing freshman Maverick Rowan, a 6-7 sharpshooter, showed promise and will probably get the first crack at replacing Henderson in the starting lineup. He shook off a poor 3-point shooting night to score 16 points in 34 minutes against the Tribe.
Sophomores Caleb Martin - who led the Pack with 21 points in the opener - and twin brother Cody will also receive plenty of opportunities.
There’s talent aboard and Gottfried has proven he knows how to direct it. The Pack’s 92 wins in his tenure is the most in a four-year span at the school since it won 100 games from 1972-76 (which included the 1974 national championship).
He’s one of three ACC coaches to lead his program to NCAA tournament appearances each of first four years. The others are Skip Prosser, Wake Forest (four) and Roy Williams, UNC (six).
Chances are the offense will be fine. The Wolfpack has finished 33rd or better nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency (per KenPom.com) each of Gottfried’s four seasons.
The Pack’s ability to strengthen its defensive weaknesses may determine whether this season is simply a bridge to the loaded roster expected next year or one that extends the program’s historic postseason run. N.C. State has finished from 78th to 125th nationally in defensive efficiency the last four seasons and Friday night the Pack appeared lost on that end. The skilled, experienced Tribe shot 40.9 percent on 3-pointers, 58 percent on 2-pointers and scored all but two of their 85 points at the rim, at the line or behind-the-arc.
“We had some defensive breakdowns as if we hadn’t practiced a day,” Gottfried said.
The Tribe scored 51 points in the first half and 1.18 points per possession for the game, startling numbers for any road team.
The Pack has a speedy point guard in Cat Barber, size on the wings and one of the nation’s best shotblockers in Beejay Anya. The personnel to protect the basket is in place. With Henderson’s exact return date and effectiveness at that time uncertain, winning games with strong defense could help this Wolfpack team distinguish itself from its predecessors.
Gottfried, in his 19th season overall, knows each season is unique.
“You can’t take it for granted. You can’t just say, well We had a great year, we made this great run, we have some guys back and all of a sudden we’re going to be really good again. Doesn’t work that way,” Gottfried said. “This team has to find its own identity on its own.”