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First ACC Preview - N. C. State

Since football season is only a few days away, that means there's only one logical thing to
do: talk more about basketball!

So this year, we're going to start our ACC previews a bit early. This is for
a few reasons: first, counter-programming. We admire Duke football
because the occasional bonehead aside, the program has retained its
integrity. But outside of Duke, we don't follow the game very much.
It's just not as interesting as basketball. Football, as George Will
memorably said, is violence punctuated by committee meetings.

And the second main reason is expansion. It just takes longer to get it
all done than it used to. So we're starting earlier.

We were born and bred on ACC basketball, and that's
what we start thinking about when the summer gets long and football preseason
takes itself too seriously. And this year, there are some great ACC story
lines to consider: can UNC balance the immense talent it now boasts?
Can Wake Forest and Maryland rebound from subpar years? Will the Florida
schools ever compete toe-to-toe? And how will Sidney Lowe do at State?

Lowe is going to be a very interesting story. Herb Sendek fled Raleigh
after a decade of wanting to be loved, and after teasing fans with slow but
undeniable improvements - yet too slow for many.

Paradoxically, after he left (finally, according to some State fans), the
same fans were angry at Sendek because his promising recruiting class
scattered. Well, what did they expect? They got what they wanted.
Things come at a price.

For Lowe, the honeymoon is in full force. Cedric Simmons is gone to the
NBA? Fine, we'll fall back on Andrew Brackman. Oh, wait.
Brackman may not play basketball? Well, it's okay. It's Sidney. You
know, the lovable muppet of a point guard who helped guide Jim Valvano's team to
the shock title in 1983. Of course, Sidney (Sidney) gets a
break. He might as well get a TV show, because everyone loves Sidney.

Sidney Lowe could break into rooms on campus, steal aspirin, underwear, a
stereo, and rob a pizza guy and people would still say, but it's Sidney.

But Sidney hasn't won anything yet. Sidney had a losing
record in the NBA, too.

On the other hand, you try coaching the teams he coached. Kevin Garnett
is a lifetime talent, but beyond that admirable freak, Sidney never got
much more talent.

The main point about Lowe as an NBA coach was the respect he had from his
players. They genuinely seemed to like him. Don't expect that to change at

What will change at State is his awareness and simultaneous dismay and
pleasure in realizing that he is coaching, basically, by his standards, little
kids. Some may be prima donnas. Some may even steal aspirin,
underwear, stereos, or rob pizza guys. But none of them are going to hold
out for more cash, assuming that State holds onto its hard-won honor and pride
in academics.

Wendell Murphy, a freshman needs a Corvette! Paging Wendell Murphy!

Murphy is not crooked - he's just the most prominent State booster we can
poke fun at.

State may need a sense of humor this year. For all of the venom aimed
at Sendek (and who can blame him for not staying where he's not wanted?), the
guy was honest and his teams won, if somewhat modestly by Tobacco Road standards.

And while it might have been fun to see what he could do with Cameron
Bennerman, Tony Bethel, Ilian Evtimov, and Cedric Simmons, instead, he'll have
to settle for Engin Atsur, Brandon Costner, Courtney Fells, Gavin Grant, and
Chris McCoy, and whoever ends up there as freshmen or JUCOs, or that the cat
dragged in.

It's been hard to figure out what's happened with State's recruiting since
Sendek departed.

They had signed Larry Davis, but he's going to Seton Hall after his high
school coach issued some withering comments about the hiring of Lowe. Dan Werner is
supposedly in - our bad, he's going to Florida - and they did sign 7-2 Bartosz Lewandowski, thus
probably restoring the Norm Sloan tradition of signing useless big stiffs (think
Glen Sudhop).

As far as we know, that's it. They did pick up a transfer, the
wonderfully named Farnold Degand, from Iowa
State, but he can't help next year and probably won't help much with size
anyway, and aside from point guard, that's where State needs help.

Lewandowski, Ben McCauley, and Andrew Brackman, if he plays,
will have to carry the main part of the burden inside.

State does have some reasonable wing talent, although
much of it is untested.

Gavin Grant has some talent, but at times he tends to
look at an on-court decision like the INS was getting ready to deport him.
Brandon Costner had an injury last year, but was supposed to be a useful
player. Courtney Fells came in with a rep as a long-distance shooter, but
didn't get much time last year in the Sendekian world, possibly because the
Herbster didn't like his defense.

Where State's really lacking, after the decimated
inside game, is at guard. Sendek won consistently without a natural point
guard, but he had good athletes and guys who could really help out at the guard
spot. The most likely guy to continue that, from here anyway, is Gavin Grant, who as we
said gets spooked at time and panicky, and the only natural guard on the roster
is Engin Atsur.

We love Atsur's game - at times watching him is like
watching a computer, because when he's on, virtually every decision is right.

But his athleticism is limited, and so are his
passing options, and if he can't get around or pass around a defender, State has
a serious problem.

On the plus side, though, a lot of their kids were
positively giddy to hear that Sendek had left, which is a bit unseemly but
certainly honest. And with Lowe promising a lot of fun this season, with a
wide-open offense, it's entirely possible that someone - Grant, Costner, Fells -
will find a new rhythm in the offense, a new confidence from the coach, and
emerge as a star. Turning someone loose offensively would certainly be a
difference from the Sendek mind set.

But given State's rather serious limitations, their
best chance to have a solid season is likely going to come from the defensive
end. They can't make up big men out of thin air, and can't find a point guard on short
notice, but what they can do is to defend. Hey, it's worked for Rick
Pitino when he's had no talent.

Grant, Costner, Fells, Atsur, and possibly Ferguson
might give State enough defenders to make a difference. Atsur, as we said,
is not a great athlete, but he's a smart one, and Sendek really stressed
defense. So he might be able to compensate somewhat and still be an
effective defender. Control the ball on the perimeter, and you can control the
interior as well.

Our initial guess, though, is that lacking a suitable
big man (or men) and a reasonable point guard, State will be a fairly easy team
to defend, and thus Lowe's freshman campaign will be - if all goes well - just
short of disastrous.

If State can't control the ball, can't rebound, can't shoot and can't defend,
it'll be interesting to see if there is some post-Herb revisionism.