RALEIGH, North Carolina — North Carolina State keeps exceeding preseason expectations and ending up in the NCAA Tournament. It explains why fifth-year coach Mark Gottfried remains confident despite several key personnel losses.
Sure, top scorers Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner are gone, along with forward Kyle Washington to a transfer. But this is a program that has reached four straight NCAA Tournaments — including a pair of Sweet 16 trips when picked eighth or lower in the Atlantic Coast Conference — and returns several key contributors.
"I say this all the time: I don't really care how good we are in October or November," Gottfried said. "Now, that doesn't mean we're not going to practice hard and do all that. But for me it's all about how you finish. And you've got to finish well. So does the last four years give us confidence? I think sure it does."
North Carolina State (22-14) unexpectedly lost top scorer Lacey a year early to pursue a professional career. And along with the departures of Washington, Turner and Des Lee, North Carolina State at one point was down to six scholarship players who saw action last year.
But the team adds West Virginia transfer Terry Henderson to the backcourt alongside all-ACC candidate Anthony "Cat" Barber at point guard, while Gottfried also added freshmen Maverick Rowan and Shaun Kirk to bolster a depleted roster.
North Carolina State also returns big men Abdul-Malik Abu, BeeJay Anya and Lennard Freeman, along with sophomore twins Caleb and Cody Martin on the wing.
Last year's team beat eventual national champion Duke and stunned No. 1 seed Villanova in the NCAA's opening weekend. Gottfried said the starting point this year is a team with "a lot of question marks" but also the belief it can keep its NCAA run going.
"Last year a lot of people thought we overachieved, but when all was said and done, we felt like underachieved," Abu said. "We felt like we could've went a little bit further. . That's the confidence we have in one another as teammates as family as an organization, that we're always capable of more."
Here are things to know about the Wolfpack this season:
CAT'S STARRING ROLE: It's up to Barber to make the offense go, both with his scoring (12.1 points) and his opencourt speed. The junior's late-season improvement coincided with the Wolfpack's final-month surge, when he averaged 15.3 points and shot 43 percent from 3-point range over the final 14 games. "It's good because he's coming into the season with momentum," Anya said.
BACKUP POINT: Finding Barber some help will be possibly the biggest challenge. Gottfried floated the possibility that Henderson or Cody Martin could see some time at the point, then joked that Barber had "better get used to playing 40" minutes a game.
TRANSFER SUCCESS: Henderson's arrival marks the third straight season for the Wolfpack to bring in a transfer expected to take on a key scoring role. It's worked so far with Turner and Lacey. Henderson averaged 11.7 points in his last season with the Mountaineers.
3-POINT SHOOTING: Lacey and Turner combined to make 172 of the Wolfpack's 236 3-pointers last year. Gottfried is counting on Henderson to lead that effort this year, while the late addition of Rowan — a four-star wing who reclassified to graduate a year early — is also expected to help. "I think we have good shooters," Gottfried said. "They just haven't done it yet."
POST SCORING: The trio of Abu, Anya and Freeman worked in a rotation that provided plenty of defense and rebounding last year. But they combined to average 14.5 points, so N.C. State desperately needs at least one to provide some offensive punch.