Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing NC State With Brett Friedlander of All Wolfpack

A.J. Black

To help preview Sunday's game against NC State, BC Bulletin spoke with Brett Friedlander who covers NC State for All Wolfpack. Please follow him on Twitter for all your Wolfpack information and news. 

AJ Black: This is a huge game for NC State, who needs a win to keep their chances alive for the tournament. How has this year gone for the Pack?

Brett Friedlander: Staying healthy has been the biggest issue for the Wolfpack, as it’s been for a number of other teams in the ACC. Including BC. Of the nine eligible scholarship players on State’s roster, seven have missed at least one game. And an eighth, Braxton Beverly, has been bothered for most of the year by a bad back that prevents him from sitting when he’s out of the game. Not only has the offensive production been affected by the absence of key players from what is built to be a balanced lineup -- with all five starters scoring nearly equally -- the shorter bench has prevented Kevin Keatts from playing his preferred uptempo style. The Wolfpack is a significantly different team when it has everyone available, allowing Keatts to press full court and create offense from its defense.

Black:Markell Johnson and CJ Bryce make quite the dynamic duo for NC State. What makes them so dangerous?

Friedlander: Johnson’s strength is his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim to either score or dish to big men D.J. Funderburk and Manny Bates. He’s been doing more of that as the season has gone on, since his perimeter shot hasn’t been as reliable as it’s been in past seasons. That having been said, he still has a knack for knocking down clutch shots when his team needs them, as he did in the final minutes of wins at Virginia and Syracuse. As for Bryce, nobody on the team is as in sync with Keatts as he is, having come to State from UNC Wilmington with the coach three years ago. He is a steady leader with a well-rounded inside-out game.

AJ Black:The X factor for NC State is_______ (and why)

Friedlander: Manny Bates. The 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman has the ability to be a game-changer even when he doesn’t score because of his ability to protect the rim. He averages three blocks per game, but affects even more shots that he doesn’t get his hand on. Lately, though, he’s begun adding an offensive element to his resume. He could be a decisive force on the offensive boards.

AJ Black: BC will win tomorrow if they ________

Friedlander: Slow the Wolfpack down and force it to play a half-court game. State is at its best when it gets up and down the court and scores points in transition. Against Syracuse last Tuesday, State scored 23 fast break points, a lot of them easy baskets created by turnovers. The Wolfpack is nowhere near as proficient at running sets, especially when Johnson is out of the game and somebody else is running the point. If the Eagles hold State below 70 points, its chances of winning increase exponentially.

AJ Black: NC State will win tomorrow if they ________

Friedlander: It shoots the ball, forces turnovers and rebounds. After going through a seven-game stretch from Jan. 11 through Feb. 1 where it shot under 40 percent from the floor five times, State has shot 50 percent or better in its past two -- both wins. Defensively, the Wolfpack is 7-3 in ACC games in which it forces its opponents into more turnovers than assists. It is 0-3 when the opposite happens. Then there’s the rebounding. State has been out rebounded in five of its past six games. The Wolfpack specifically needs to keep Steffon Mitchel off the glass. In four career games against State, Mitchell is averaging 13.3 rebounds per game, with 5.5 of them coming on the offensive end.