Tudor: Pack's poor finish puts pressure on Leslie, Gottfried - WNCN: News, Weather

Tudor: Pack's poor finish puts pressure on Leslie, Gottfried

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It's been clear since the April afternoon in 2011 when Mark Gottfried was introduced as N.C. State's basketball coach that his short-term fate would hinge largely on C.J. Leslie.

Now at the end of his second regular-season schedule, Gottfried's impact on the talented, erratic junior forward mirrors the 11-7 ACC record (22-9 overall) the Wolfpack will take into this week's league tournament in Greensboro.

In preseason polls, ACC head coaches and members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association both picked State to win the regular-season race and Leslie to emerge as player of the year.

Both predictions missed badly.

The Pack had to settle for the No. 5 tournament seed, opening Thursday against No. 12 Virginia Tech (13-18, 4-14) in the 2:30 p.m. first-round game.

No one contributed more to that disappointing regular-season conclusion than Leslie.

At his best, Leslie has been capable of scoring 25 points in an 84-76 win over then top-ranked Duke (Jan. 12). At the opposite extreme, he disappeared in broad daylight (5 points, 3 rebounds, 4 fouls) in Saturday's 71-67 loss at Florida State.

Calvin Giveth, Taketh

While Gottfried and his staff have made impressive strides with Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood and Richard Howell _ all Sidney Lowe recruits _ Leslie remains a game-day guessing game, a free-throw line liability and a temperamental X-factor.

With a focused Leslie, Gottfried has turned the Pack into a program with national top-10 potential.

With an inattentive Leslie, Gottfried has a team that could find a way to lose to the hapless Hokies Thursday and then a one-and-done NCAA out.

When an obviously exasperated Gottfried said "we hurt ourselves" after the costly loss at Florida State, an unstated reference to "Calvin" came through loud and clear.

But as the Pack enters this postseason, there's no guarantee Gottfried will ever have as much talent, experience and size at his disposal as the group he'll take to Greensboro.

Howell and Wood are seniors. Leslie and fellow junior Brown seem set to make early entrances to the NBA.

On paper, the team Gottfried will have next season could be almost as large but far less versatile and offensively potent.

Current freshmen T.J. Warren (6-8), Rodney Purvis (6-3) and Tyler Lewis (5-11) will be joined by recruit Anthony Barber (6-2) for what should be an above-average perimeter with enough flexibility to allow Warren to slip into the power forward slot if needed.

But the interior will be young and vulnerable.

Recruits BeeJay Anya (6-8) and Kyle Washington (6-9) are projected as no more than marginal impact players. Gottfried and his assistants are hopeful they can stay in the chase for highly touted Texan Julius Randle (6-9) but are more likely to end up with Fayetteville's Sidy Djitte, a 6-10 Senegal native who may two or even three years away from starting at the college level.

Age an ally?

In the neighborhood, time should side with Gottfried, 49.

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is 66 and UNC's Roy Williams will turn 63 in August. Long term, Gottfried should keep the Pack competitive and poised to pounce when the Triangle legends retire.

That, however, may take a while. Krzyzewski and Williams may be in their 60s, but neither is short on energy and motivation. Gottfried's best chance to strike could be now _ if he can get the most of what this team.

Starting, of course, with Leslie.

Nothing provides more of a program boost than the sort of strong post-season run Gottfried delivered last season. That included two ACC Tournament wins (and a controversial two-point semifinal loss to UNC) followed by two NCAA wins (one over favored Georgetown) and a then close loss to Final Four-bound Kansas in the Sweet 16.

Although the team's final record was only 24-13 (9-7 ACC), the post-season showing, fueled heavily by Leslie, set the stage for the high expectations this season.

The situation this March is entirely different.

Gottfried and his players face as much pressure as any team in the country to finally live up to those lofty preseason expectations.


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