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ACC Preview #1 - N.C. State

We'll admit to running a bit hot and cold on Herb Sendek.
We were immensely impressed by his coaching in his first season, when he took a
terrible State team to the ACC Finals. It was an amazing performance, and
Justin Gainey played every minute of four games (counting the play-in
game). Yet his lack of guts when it comes to scheduling, and State's
bizarre offensive lapses have become irritants to ACC fans in

Since Sendek's first ACC Tournament, State has really not had
much in the way of point guards. Archie Miller was an injury prone midget,
by basketball standards, and last year they ran without one, basically.

This year, for the first time in a while, they have a legitimate
point guard in Georgetown refugee Tony Bethel, who would be playing in a similar
system at Georgetown under John Thompson III, who cut his teeth at Princeton. At
Georgetown, he played 30.8 mpg, and averaged 10.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists.
He was a high school teammate of Levi Watkins, but was a shooting guard at
Montrose Christian.

They'll have a lot of versatile talent to surround him with,
including Julius Hodge, a rare fourth-year star (lucky for State he can't
keep weight on), and one of our all-time favorites, Ilian Evtimov, who plays a
point forward sort of game.

Between the two of them, State had most of the point guard
skills covered; they just had to get the ball in the frontcourt.

They have another player we really like in Engin Atsur, whose
basketball IQ at times borders on phenomenal. He just makes a lot of
really smart decisions. You'll see him make three or four sensational
plays in a row, whether they are passes or steals or whatever. He's a kid Larry
Bird or Magic Johnson would love.

Cameron Bennerman, Jordan Collins, Levi Watkins, and Adam Simons
make up the returning core. Simons is the least proven of them, but the
big man has a reputation as a tremendous shooter. If his body and game
have developed at all since last year, look out. He has some serious
shooting skills.

Collins has come on to become a reasonably reliable big man,
though he'll never be a star. Watkins has struggled with injuries, but
contributes when healthy.

State's freshmen will contribute also. Cedric Simmons, who
is 6-9, will at the least help defensively and on the boards - an area where
State could use some help. Gavin Grant, who is 6-7 and who went to the
same high school Julius Hodge did, is said to be a similarly versatile
player. And at 6-9, and a late bloomer, Andrew Brackman is a very
intriguing recruit. He has excellent skills from all reports, and has been
somewhat compared to players like Larry Bird. Not to make a direct
comparison, but he has become shorthand for a skilled player, and that's the
buzz on Brackman.

All three have the potential to contribute as freshmen, and so
State will have a deep and tough team. They'll be able to bring certain players
along (Simons), have reliable upperclassmen who don't necessarily expect to
start (Collins and Watkins), and enough athleticism and size to match up with
just about anyone.

Under Sendek, State has been a team which at times plays
absolutely ferocious defense, rebounds with intensity, but sometimes just
disappears offensively.

We'll be surprised if that happens this year.

In Hodge, Evtimov, and Atsur, the Pack has three gifted
offensive players. Brackman, who we have a feeling will be better than
advertised, is said to be a good shooter who came to State largely because the
offense won't shackle him to the paint. And Simons is from all accounts a
lights-out shooter. Surely they can't all miss at the same time.

We'll be curious to see how Bethel fits in, but since we can't
see not starting Atsur, that would mean Hodge would have to move to the
frontcourt, at least in the sense of a defined position. No one is taking
Evtimov's spot, which means that someone has to step up and do the low post
dirty work. Simmons?

If State really takes off, and Simmons is solid, he could make a
push for Rookie Of The Year, not because he's the best rookie, but because he
would be a key cog on a tough team.

As always, we'll have to wait to see how things pan out, but if
we were State fans, we'd be ready to blow off the rest of football season and
get hoops underway.

One final note: it's not a surprise anymore to see a third or
fourth place team come out of a major conference and make a run to the Final
Four. State has the experience and, possibly, the talent to pull this