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Carlos Previews State!

If you are the kind of person thinks putting Ben and J-Lo together for another movie sounds intriguing, if you are the kind of person that would have left Pedro out there to work things out in the 8th inning, or if you are the kind of person that would turn your personal finances over to Pete Rose, then you are probably the kind of person who would really appreciate Josh Powell's decision last spring. The options for the Wolfpack center were pretty clear. He could come back for his junior year, build upon a strong postseason where he averaged 19 points per game, declare for the draft, buy a gaudy suit, and go to Madison Square Garden and shake hands with David Stern. Or, he could go pro immediately and brush up on his foreign language skills. Hey, that last one sounds like a good idea.

Powell's decision meant that he probably cost himself several hundred thousand dollars. It also meant that savvy ACC coaches immediately began hunting for game film of Princeton games to prepare for the inevitable offense that NC State would have to employ. Really savvy ACC coaches just went ahead and put Princeton on the schedule.

Had Powell returned, the Wolfpack would have had the most complete team ever in coach Herb Sendek's tenure in Raleigh. Instead, the Wolfpack is faced with trying to build a team around a group of perimeter players and a slashing guard who serves as the catalyst for the entire offense. Fortunately for NC State, Sendek is very familiar with running a bastardized version of the Princeton offense, having done so previously in 2002 and in 1998 with CC Harrison.

Despite that experience, expectations for Wolfpack basketball were decidedly reserved going into the season. "Reserved" may be too a gentle euphemism for the growing displeasure voiced in some corners of the Wolfpack nation regarding the perceived stagnation of Sendek's program. Supporters of Sendek can point to two consecutive appearances in both the ACC Tournament championship game and the NCAA Tournament. Those points are countered with the rebuttal that without those runs in the ACC Tournament the Wolfpack would have faced two more years of NIT appearances.

Even more troubling for Pack fans is the continual turnover in personnel. Powell's departure is emblematic of State's roster turmoil during Sendek's reign. If transfers and early departures take a toll on a program then Sendek would be well served to get an EZ Pass or at least have exact change handy. Since 1999, the Wolfpack has seen 10 players leave early all but one of whom (Powell) were players who transferred to other schools. That amount of turnover has caused considerable concern about the environment inside of the State program.

What's left in Raleigh is a group of players that, even with a glaring weakness in the pivot, still provides an interesting mesh of talent.


6-6 junior Julius Hodge is the only returning first team All-ACC selection from last year and at 19 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game is clearly the key to the NC State team. If you look at the individual elements of Hodge's game, nothing really stands out. Despite hitting on 40% of this three point attempts this year he has never been considered a great shooter. He's not blazingly fast and he is far from physical. But Hodge is a player whose total game is greater than the sum of its parts. He does a good job realizing that with his height and creativity around the basket, he doesn't necessarily need to beat his man to the hoop to get a good shot. He'll also draw contact in the lane to get to the free throw line. Hodge likes to go to his left - presumably so that he can use his stronger arm for his patented push off on his defender. That's a relative statement as trying to determine the "stronger" arm for the 191 pound Hodge is a bit like trying to determine the best profile for Sandra Bernhard.

Joining Hodge in the backcourt is 6-3 senior Scooter Sherrill, a former HS McDonald's All-American who last year, after struggling for his first two years, finally starting approaching the expectations held for him when he arrived in Raleigh. Much of the trouble for Sherrill in his freshman and sophomore seasons came from attempts to make him into a point guard. Sherrill is far more comfortable off the ball in a spot up shooter role, although at the moment he is mired in the midst of a painful shooting slump, hitting on just 1 out of his last 24 three-point attempts.

Freshman Engin Atsur, a 6-3 native of Istanbul, Turkey, has moved into the starting lineup for the Pack. Atsur started the season sitting out the first three games as the NCAA ruled he had played with professionals in Europe - which sounds vaguely like Josh Powell's future. In international play, Atsur was particularly effective getting into the lane for pull-up jumpers, but thus far this season he's been far more content to roam the perimeter and wait for the kickout from Hodge for a three-point attempt. He's been very conservative with the basketball, rarely committing a turnover.

The Pack has solid depth in the backcourt, featuring another freshman in Mike O'Donnell and sophomore Cameron Bennerman who gave State reliable minutes as a reserve last year. O'Donnell has been a pleasant surprise as the 5-11 point guard was not a highly regarded prospect in high school. O'Donnell is an easy guy to spot in the Wolfpack lineup. He'll be the guy with the shaggy brown hair. He'll also be the guy who is far more content to distribute the ball than shooting it, although he's a very good spot shooter. Bennerman is more of a defensive player who, at 6-4, is frequently asked to defend bigger players.


Without a true center the Wolfpack has been relying on a pair of perimeter oriented forwards to man the frontcourt. 6-8 Marcus Melvin returns for his senior season with the new responsibility as State's primary interior defender. Offensively Melvin has always preferred to stay away from the pounding inside, instead floating around the outside launching his left-handed jumpers. Like Sherrill, Melvin is struggling from the outside this season, hitting on just 25% from beyond the three-point line.

At the other forward spot is Ilian Evtimov, otherwise known as "the Evtimov who can play." Ilian is the younger brother of Vasco Evtimov, a guy who delighted most of the ACC by chronically underperforming for 2 years while playing for the Tar Heels. Add to that the fact that Vasco decided to take go fulfill his obligations to the French army and then left Chapel Hill early to go pro - in Europe - and it's hard not to like him.

The problems that older brother Vasco had on the court in Chapel Hill, namely a desire to play on the perimeter and pass the ball, are actually the strengths of Ilian's game. The younger Evtimov is such a critical piece to the Wolfpack that Sendek had to restructure the offense in the wake of his season-ending ACL injury last year. His ability to handle the ball, along with his shooting and passing make him ideal for the 1-4 spread offense. He is slowly rounding back into form this season, having played his best game in State's blowout win over a good BYU team earlier this month.

Depth in the frontcourt comes from a pair of junior's Levi Watkins, a 6-8 forward, and Jordan Collins, who at 6-10 is the biggest player on the team. Watkins is a good threat from the outside and will take the ball inside against bigger players although can struggle with turnovers off the drive. The most defining thing you can say about Colllins' game is that he's big. He has few if any post moves and is prone to foul difficulty against aggressive offensive players. But he is big.


Two years ago Julius Hodge entered the league with the reputation as the best Wolfpack recruit since David Thompson. That's a title that Hodge wrestled away from Damien Wilkins who turned out not to be the best recruit since David Thompson after all. In contrast to Wilkins, Hodge has lived up to the hype and NC State's hopes for success in the ACC season and the post season rest squarely on Hodge's bony shoulders.

Hodge's first trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium was a bit of a learning experience as Dahntay Jones, then a junior for Duke, introduced him to a level of defensive pressure Hodge hadn't seen. Despite his early season success that year, Hodge was held to a total of 3 points and just one field goal in his first two games against Jones.

This year Hodge is hoping to be the one who does the teaching as he is now the experienced junior facing off against the heralded freshman in the form of Luol Deng. Deng may be just one of several players who get an opportunity to defend Hodge - Duhon and Ewing will also be matched up against him - but Deng's efforts are the most intriguing. With Deng's size and quickness he has the physical tools to greatly harass Hodge. However, Hodge's experience and his ability to draw fouls may turn this matchup into a learning contest for Deng.

Anytime a team spreads the floor and tries to run an offense predicated upon outside shooting and backdoor cuts the trend is to call it the Princeton offense. In reality, NC State's approach to their offense differs from the Princeton offense in two fundamental areas. The Princeton offense relies heavily upon a center handling the ball, usually in the high post. NC State will do some of that with Evtimov, but not to the extent that you would see from Carril's teams. Instead, the Wolfpack runs much of their offense through Hodge who likes to drive the lane from near the top of the key - which is the second big deviation from a Princeton approach. Whether that's an element of design from Sendek or an example of a the talented Hodge trying to take over the game is difficult to say. But what it does mean is that if opposing defense can take the ball out of Hodge's hands, or limit his ability to get to the rim, they can greatly disrupt NC State's offense.

On the other end of the floor is where the Wolfpack will miss Powell the most. Much like when Duke would elect to go with a smaller lineup in previous seasons, the mismatches that Evtimov and Melvin create on the offensive end of the floor make for difficulties on the defensive end of the floor. Look for Duke to go inside to Randolph and Williams early to try and draw fouls against both of the State forwards. Melvin in particular represents the Pack's only strong rebounder amongst their frontcourt players (although it should be noted that Hodge is an excellent rebounder as well).

Two years ago, with a similar offense in place, the Wolfpack tried to play Duke at a slower pace, making the high scoring Blue Devils uncomfortable with the tone of the game. That resulted in three defeats for NC State against a Blue Devil club that wasn't nearly as dominant defensively as this year's edition. The Pack is a better club than they were two years ago, but the question that will be answered Thursday night is if that improvement is enough to offset Duke's strong defense. Barring a tremendous performance from Hodge the answer is likely to be "no."