After North Carolina State’s students flooded the hardwood Saturday and a student named Will Privette rode his wheelchair to the precipice of mini-fame, all in celebration of the Wolfpack’s upset of top-ranked Duke, Coach Mark Gottfried relaxed with his family and watched football.
He watched the Baltimore Ravens, spearheaded by a veteran Ray Lewis enjoying one final ride, upend Peyton Manning’s Broncos on the road in double overtime, just hours after two seniors, two juniors and three freshmen took down the Blue Devils, 84-76.
Now the Wolfpack’s attention turns to College Park, where a deep but struggling Maryland team awaits. The Terps have lost consecutive ACC games, including Sunday’s ugly trip to Coral Gables, Fla., where they mustered just 14 points by halftime against Miami.
“I think the transition game is their strength, I think they really run,” Gottfried said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning. “They’re like a lot of us. When they make shots they’re all a lot better. Then I think they have a lot of different weapons, a lot of them are young but talented.
“We have a team that’s been through the wars of this league. They’ve experienced that, which we hope will always be a plus for us. We’ve then got some young freshmen who are contributing well. We’re like a lot of teams. We’ve gotten better from the start of the year.”
And there’s the big difference between Maryland and the Wolfpack. No. 14 North Carolina State returned four starters from last season’s team, including leading scorer C.J. Leslie (16.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), junior Lorenzo Brown (13.0 ppg, 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio) and reigning ACC player of the week Richard Howell, a 6-foot-8, 257-pound monster who hung 16 points and 18 rebounds on Duke and averages a double-double this season.
Of course, that’s without mentioning three-point specialist Scott Wood (12.3 ppg, 45.2 percent three-pointers) and freshmen T.J. Warren (12.3 ppg off the bench) and Rodney Purvis (9.8 ppg). So yeah, Gottfried has some weapons at his disposal.
But no N.C. State player stands taller than 6-9, so Gottfried, like most other ACC coaches, has focused the game plan on Alex Len.
“The first thing that all of us coaches are trying to deal with is Alex inside,” Gottfried said of Maryland’s 7-1 center. “That’s where everything starts with them. Not a lot of teams in our league have a player like him. That’s the matchup or the part of the game that becomes critical. [When teams stop Len] it’s not been one thing. Some teams have doubled him, some teams have tried to be real physical, offensively got him to some foul trouble.
“He’s just gotten a lot stronger, a lot more confident. I think offensively, he’s like most players. He’s improving as a scorer as well. It’s going to be difficult for us. We’re not that big. We have a tough challenge.”
Howell matched up well against Duke’s Mason Plumlee, out-dueling the all-ACC candidate, who put up a double-double of his own. The big-bodied forward figures to guard Len, with the 6-9 Leslie handling Maryland’s power forward, be it James Padgett, Charles Mitchell or even Len if Shaquille Cleare is on the floor, too.
Maryland’s certainly endured its share of growing pains over the past week, losing a 12-point second-half advantage at home to Florida State then setting all manner of offensive season lows against the Hurricanes. Gottfried has been there before. During his third season at Alabama in 2000-01, Gottfried started four freshmen but reached the NIT title game. The next season, the Crimson Tide won the SEC outright. In 2003-04, it reached the Elite Eight.
“When you’re young, and you play a number of young players, and I’ve had that before, you can’t speed the clock up,” said Gottfried, in his season with the Wolfpack. “Some things need to happen. The more experience a young team gets, the better they are. I know a lot of times fans and everybody, they want that to happen overnight, sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way.
“It’s hard for our young guys, because they wanted to win right then. But they weren’t good enough yet. Every team’s different. I have gone through that with different teams. [The Terrapins] have some veteran guys, too. I do think they’ll be better later on, and throughout their careers. I think that group has a chance to really mature into a dominant team in our league.”