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North Carolina State Wolfpack Searches to Reach Ceiling

Photo; Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

It’s difficult to pigeonhole the North Carolina State Wolfpack after just the first month of  the college basketball season. At 6-3 heading into Wednesday’s game against High Point, there have been times in which the Wolfpack looks like a team capable of doing some damage both in the ACC and the NCAA Tournament.

But at other times N.C. State looks like too many of Mark Gottfried’s teams from the past: highly talented but too inconsistent. It’s a reputation-shaping conundrum that haunted Gottfried at Alabama and now in Raleigh. He’s overachieved at times; he’s a great recruiter, but a lot of his most talented teams have failed to reach their potential.

This Wolfpack team has shown signs of being the latter. Despite point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber being off to an All-American level start, averaging more than 20 points, five assists and five rebounds per game, the Wolfpack has lost three games that could have gone a long way toward building an NCAA Tournament resume: the season opener to William & Mary along with close losses to solid Arizona State and Michigan teams.

What once looked like the Pack’s signature victory, defeating then-No. 22 LSU, now looks less impressive as time passes. It’s perplexing how North Carolina State can look like a world-beater one night and regress to being completely flat the next.

North Carolina State’s last two games have been impressively easy victories against Bucknell and at South Florida, but High Point could present a challenge if the Wolfpack isn’t more ready to play than it was in the opener against William & Mary.

The Panthers are 8-2 with their only losses coming at Texas Tech and at Georgia by a combined seven points. High Point also averages more than 80 points per game and has won five straight.

But, like N.C. State, the Panthers haven’t finished the job in bigger, resume-boosting games. Still, it’s not a game for the Pack to look past, which is something it may have a tendency to do.

Even in a top-heavy ACC, which features five teams in the AP Top 25, the Wolfpack should be good enough to finish in the top half of the conference, at least. Barber’s continuing improvement as a scorer is beginning to be reminiscent of his childhood idol, fellow Hampton, Va., product Allen Iverson.

But Barber shouldn’t have to do it alone. Caleb Martin and Maverick Rowan are a couple of nice inside-out scoring threats while Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya offer size in the middle. The Wolfpack could use more consistent production from Anya in particular. At 6-9, 285-pounds with a ridiculous 7-9 wingspan, Anya should be one of the best big men in the ACC.

And at times he plays that way. He’s coming off a game with 17 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots at South Florida. But he was held scoreless the previous game against Bucknell and has only scored eight or more points three times this season and hasn’t had more than seven rebounds in a game.

The ceiling for the Wolfpack is high. On paper it shouldn’t be a shocker if N.C. State finishes in the top four or five in the ACC, but it seems more likely the Pack finishes in the middle of the standings and perhaps slips into the NCAA Tournament as a double-digit seed.

Then we can feel sorry for the teams in that bracket if State plays up to its capabilities in March.

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