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N.C. State Preview

We posted this very early this morning but accidentally cut off part of it. It's from our pal Texas Wolf, who runs Cardiac Pack. Our apologies for the error.

In backing the Pack, NC State basketball fans have unique experiences
compared with other schools. Being the cradle of the ACC, State has a long
basketball tradition. The last four decades have had their share of
legendary coaches, players, and moments: Everett Case, Jimmy V, Norm Sloan,
Ronnie Shavlik, David Thompson, Tommy Burleson, Corch, Gugs, over 10 ACC
titles, and NCAA championships in 1974 and 1983. Coupled with these
incredible highs are some periods of dormancy. Perhaps dormancy is too nice
a word. How about hibernation? Deep Freeze?

You get the picture. The peaks and valleys are enough to make anyone crazy,
and to some extent, it requires a degree of insanity, passion, and
bipolarity to be a State fan. The team will crush your heart time after
time, only to pull out electrifying and improbable wins when least
expected. No matter how good or bad the team is, the games always seem to
come down to the wire. That's the essence of being a State fan: riding the
emotional roller coaster of the Cardiac Pack. When all the dust settles
after a season State fans usually look back and say "Wow, that was a fun
year. The team threw some games away, stunk up the joint once or twice, but
played some nice, exciting basketball in beating some good teams....can't
wait until next year to do it all again." A similar thought applies if you
take a step back and look at college basketball from afar. The NC State
basketball program has had it's share of ups and downs over the last 40
years, but at the end of the day you can't deny the Pack's important place
in the history of college basketball. I wouldn't
consider State one of the historically elite teams. That title belongs to
the likes of UNC-Ch, Kentucky, and UCLA. State may never
challenge for the all time wins record. However, when you consider the
Pack's
influence on shaping the game, fielding good teams in different decades
with different coaches, and the ultimate measuring stick, NCAA
championships, there's no denying the Wolfpack's place in college
basketball. Now if we could just do something about those valleys.....

The subject of valleys brings us to this season. Herb Sendek was hired to
pull the Pack out of a huge hole, a five year no-show at the NCAA
tournament. In his first three years the drought has grown to 8, but
the rebuilding of the program is obvious. The talent has finally been
assembled to field a very strong team. Herb's first two years saw the team
play with a smaller lineup because injuries and a bare cupboard left the
team with virtually no frontcourt. Last season the opposite was true, with
Justin Gainey carrying a thin backcourt until the arrival of Anthony Grundy
in December. Barring injuries, this season State should have talent across
the board for the first time under Sendek.

The backcourt returns Justin Gainey at the point, arguably the second best
point guard in the conference behind Ed Cota. Gainey gets good marks not
because he's exceptionally strong in any one area of the game, but because
he's simply good in almost every area, especially the intangibles. Justin
knows he's most effective when getting people involved in the offense,
taking care of the ball, harassing the opposing point guard on defense, and
crashing the defensive glass. Joining Gainey are two freshmen and two
sophomores. His likely counterpart in the starting lineup is Anthony
Grundy, who was immeasurably valuable to the team last season despite
getting a late start. Grundy can play the point or 2G position, is an
outstanding defender, capable shooter, and uses his long arms to make
improbable shots off the dribble. Look for Grundy to show even more
improvement this season with a full set of fall workouts under his belt.
Arch Miller is another player who could see time at either guard position.
Arch will be most effective as a sixth man, providing quick offense with
his zone-busting shooting range. While he plays hard every night, Miller's
size makes him a liability on defense. His playing time this season won't
increase unless he can improve his foot speed. The roles of freshmen guards
Cliff Crawford and Marshall Williams have yet to be defined. Crawford's
athleticism will make it hard for Herb to keep him off the court, and he
should see some time spelling Gainey. This should pay huge dividends in the
late stages of games, as Gainey has been tired throughout his career from
playing significant minutes. Herb will have to work hard to find a role for
Marshall Williams. His athleticism suggests he should play 2G, but his size
will allow him to see time at SF. Given the depth in the backcourt and the
presence of Damien Wilkins at SF, Williams likely won't see significant
minutes until his sophomore season.

On the wing, this year's team is a contrast in styles. Incumbent senior Tim
Wells, an unheralded high school player from Winston Salem, has developed
himself into a reliable contributor. His shot is very sound, and he's good
at creating off the dribble. Wells will have to hold off a strong challenge
from the much heralded Damien Wilkins, a McDonald's AA who comes from a
strong NBA bloodline. If Wells has the starting SF position early in the
season, it shouldn't be long until Wilkins takes over. His talent is
obvious. What makes Wilkins even more impressive is his maturity,
understanding and love of the game, and leadership skills. While most
prognosticators predict Wilkins won't stay more than two years, a few
factors are on the Pack's side. Unlike many prep superstars, Wilkins isn't
hurting for money, with father Gerald and uncle Dominique enjoying long and
lucrative NBA careers. Nothing would make father and uncle more proud than
to see Damien get his college degree in four years.

State's frontcourt has a well documented history. Juniors Ron Kelley, Kenny
Inge, and Damon Thornton comprise one of the best frontcourts in the ACC.
Last season the trio was one of the best rebounding units in the country.
Offensive improvement was an off-season need that was hopefully addressed.
Ron Kelley has fantastic offensive moves: doing them on a consistent basis
is another issue. Damon Thornton, the best defender of the bunch, needs to
become more comfortable playing with his back to the basket. Kenny Inge
needs to do the same, as well as keep his cool. Internal dissention caused
chemistry problems last season, and Inge certainly played a role. He can
lead the team to victory, as he did against Tech, but he can also have
meltdowns that distract his teammates.

So what should people expect from the Pack this year? On the team's trip to
Italy, it appears the coaches were experimenting with an up-tempo, full
court game that Herb learned under Rick Pitino. The team certainly has the
talent to employ such a system, and it would make good use of the Pack's
considerable depth. It would especially open up a crowded backcourt,
allowing Damien Wilkins to spell Thornton and Inge at PF, while getting Tim
Wells and Marshall Williams on the court at SF. My biggest concern with
this strategy is that it is notably weak against good point guards. Every
season a team employs an up-tempo strategy and runs up gaudy stats beating
up on opponents, only to fizzle in March when the games become more
halfcourt oriented. Given the crop of young point guards in the ACC, a
press game could pay big dividends against most ACC opponents. Against Ed
Cota, it could fail miserably.

Even with an up-tempo game, it's important to be able to score in halfcourt
situations. Last season, State lacked a consistent go-to player when it
needed a bucket. Sometimes it was Justin Gainey, sometimes it was Inge, and
often it was Harrington, even when it wasn't supposed to be. This year the
best candidates are Gainey, Grundy, and Wilkins. Someone needs to step up.
Exactly who that player is depends a lot on the kind of chemistry,
leadership, and trust that develops on the team.

More than anything else, chemistry is the most important factor this year.
The talent is there. Talent was present last year, for the most part, but
the team underachieved because of internal bickering. Three players left,
and how the team plays this year will shed some light on the departures.
Were Harrington and Bean the problem, or was it Inge? The team will need to
iron out its leadership structure, with Gainey, Inge, Thornton, and Wilkins
all making strong pushes to lead the team. As the most accomplished of
these three, it will be up to Gainey to pull people together and get the
team on the same page, even if it means letting the reins go to a freshman.

In many ways, it's just as simple as getting everyone together. This is a
make or break year for Herb. He's had players in his system for four
years, and it's time for his investment in developing them to pay off. He's
done everything he can, and the success of this team depends on players
checking their egos and sacrificing for the greater good of the team.
Anything less than an NCAA tournament bid will be disappointing. There will
be no excuses. With a talented freshmen class and loads of experience
returning, this should be the Pack's best season since 1991, the year of
their last march dance.
m Sloan,
Ronnie Shavlik, David Thompson, Tommy Burleson, Corch, Gugs, over 10 ACC
titles, and NCAA championships in 1974 and 1983. Coupled with these
incredible highs are some periods of dormancy. Perhaps dormancy is too nice
a word. How about hibernation? Deep Freeze?

You get the picture. The peaks and valleys are enough to make anyone crazy,
and to some extent, it requires a degree of insanity, passion, and
bipolarity to be a State fan. The team will crush your heart time after
time, only to pull out electrifying and improbable wins when least
expected. No matter how good or bad the team is, the games always seem to
come down to the wire. That's the essence of being a State fan: riding the
emotional roller coaster of the Cardiac Pack. When all the dust settles
after a season State fans usually look back and say "Wow, that was a fun
year. The team threw some games away, stunk up the joint once or twice, but
played some nice, exciting basketball in beating some good teams....can't
wait until next year to do it all again." A similar thought applies if you
take a step back and look at college basketball from afar. The NC State
basketball program has had it's share of ups and downs over the last 40
years, but at the end of the day you can't deny the Pack's important place
in the history of college basketball. I wouldn't
consider State one of the historically elite teams. That title belongs to
the likes of UNC-Ch, Kentucky, and UCLA. State may never
challenge for the all time wins record. However, when you consider the
Pack's
influence on shaping the game, fielding good teams in different decades
with different coaches, and the ultimate measuring stick, NCAA
championships, there's no denying the Wolfpack's place in college
basketball. Now if we could just do something about those valleys.....

The subject of valleys brings us to this season. Herb Sendek was hired to
pull the Pack out of a huge hole, a five year no-show at the NCAA
tournament. In his first three years the drought has grown to 8, but
the rebuilding of the program is obvious. The talent has finally been
assembled to field a very strong team. Herb's first two years saw the team
play with a smaller lineup because injuries and a bare cupboard left the
team with virtually no frontcourt. Last season the opposite was true, with
Justin Gainey carrying a thin backcourt until the arrival of Anthony Grundy
in December. Barring injuries, this season State should have talent across
the board for the first time under Sendek.

The backcourt returns Justin Gainey at the point, arguably the second best
point guard in the conference behind Ed Cota. Gainey gets good marks not
because he's exceptionally strong in any one area of the game, but because
he's simply good in almost every area, especially the intangibles. Justin
knows he's most effective when getting people involved in the offense,
taking care of the ball, harassing the opposing point guard on defense, and
crashing the defensive glass. Joining Gainey are two freshmen and two
sophomores. His likely counterpart in the starting lineup is Anthony
Grundy, who was immeasurably valuable to the team last season despite
getting a late start. Grundy can play the point or 2G position, is an
outstanding defender, capable shooter, and uses his long arms to make
improbable shots off the dribble. Look for Grundy to show even more
improvement this season with a full set of fall workouts under his belt.
Arch Miller is another player who could see time at either guard position.
Arch will be most effective as a sixth man, providing quick offense with
his zone-busting shooting range. While he plays hard every night, Miller's
size makes him a liability on defense. His playing time this season won't
increase unless he can improve his foot speed. The roles of freshmen guards
Cliff Crawford and Marshall Williams have yet to be defined. Crawford's
athleticism will make it hard for Herb to keep him off the court, and he
should see some time spelling Gainey. This should pay huge dividends in the
late stages of games, as Gainey has been tired throughout his career from
playing significant minutes. Herb will have to work hard to find a role for
Marshall Williams. His athleticism suggests he should play 2G, but his size
will allow him to see time at SF. Given the depth in the backcourt and the
presence of Damien Wilkins at SF, Williams likely won't see significant
minutes until his sophomore season.

On the wing, this year's team is a contrast in styles. Incumbent senior Tim
Wells, an unheralded high school player from Winston Salem, has developed
himself into a reliable contributor. His shot is very sound, and he's good
at creating off the dribble. Wells will have to hold off a strong challenge
from the much heralded Damien Wilkins, a McDonald's AA who comes from a
strong NBA bloodline. If Wells has the starting SF position early in the
season, it shouldn't be long until Wilkins takes over. His talent is
obvious. What makes Wilkins even more impressive is his maturity,
understanding and love of the game, and leadership skills. While most
prognosticators predict Wilkins won't stay more than two years, a few
factors are on the Pack's side. Unlike many prep superstars, Wilkins isn't
hurting for money, with father Gerald and uncle Dominique enjoying long and
lucrative NBA careers. Nothing would make father and uncle more proud than
to see Damien get his college degree in four years.

State's frontcourt has a well documented history. Juniors Ron Kelley, Kenny
Inge, and Damon Thornton comprise one of the best frontcourts in the ACC.
Last season the trio was one of the best rebounding units in the country.
Offensive improvement was an off-season need that was hopefully addressed.
Ron Kelley has fantastic offensive moves: doing them on a consistent basis
is another issue. Damon Thornton, the best defender of the bunch, needs to
become more comfortable playing with his back to the basket. Kenny Inge
needs to do the same, as well as keep his cool. Internal dissention caused
chemistry problems last season, and Inge certainly played a role. He can
lead the team to victory, as he did against Tech, but he can also have
meltdowns that distract his teammates.

So what should people expect from the Pack this year? On the team's trip to
Italy, it appears the coaches were experimenting with an up-tempo, full
court game that Herb learned under Rick Pitino. The team certainly has the
talent to employ such a system, and it would make good use of the Pack's
considerable depth. It would especially open up a crowded backcourt,
allowing Damien Wilkins to spell Thornton and Inge at PF, while getting Tim
Wells and Marshall Williams on the court at SF. My biggest concern with
this strategy is that it is notably weak against good point guards. Every
season a team employs an up-tempo strategy and runs up gaudy stats beating
up on opponents, only to fizzle in March when the games become more
halfcourt oriented. Given the crop of young point guards in the ACC, a
press game could pay big dividends against most ACC opponents. Against Ed
Cota, it could fail miserably.

Even with an up-tempo game, it's important to be able to score in halfcourt
situations. Last season, State lacked a consistent go-to player when it
needed a bucket. Sometimes it was Justin Gainey, sometimes it was Inge, and
often it was Harrington, even when it wasn't supposed to be. This year the
best candidates are Gainey, Grundy, and Wilkins. Someone needs to step up.
Exactly who that player is depends a lot on the kind of chemistry,
leadership, and trust that develops on the team.

More than anything else, chemistry is the most important factor this year.
The talent is there. Talent was present last year, for the most part, but
the team underachieved because of internal bickering. Three players left,
and how the team plays this year will shed some light on the departures.
Were Harrington and Bean the problem, or was it Inge? The team will need to
iron out its leadership structure, with Gainey, Inge, Thornton, and Wilkins
all making strong pushes to lead the team. As the most accomplished of
these three, it will be up to Gainey to pull people together and get the
team on the same page, even if it means letting the reins go to a freshman.

In many ways, it's just as simple as getting everyone together. This is a
make or break year for Herb. He's had players in his system for four
years, and it's time for his investment in developing them to pay off. He's
done everything he can, and the success of this team depends on players
checking their egos and sacrificing for the greater good of the team.
Anything less than an NCAA tournament bid will be disappointing. There will
be no excuses. With a talented freshmen class and loads of experience
returning, this should be the Pack's best season since 1991, the year of
their last march dance.