The No. 19 North Carolina State Wolfpack will actually go into today’s game against the No. 14 Miami Hurricanes as the underdogs, and it’s just the product of a great season for the Hurricanes. Just a week ago, the ‘Canes blew the Duke Blue Devils off of the court and dominated them in every facet of the game. The Pack are no strangers to knocking the No. 1 Blue Devils down a size, but the way that Miami did it was unpredictable.
Mark Gottfried hasn’t sounded too optimistic on Lorenzo Brown’s status, but it isn’t like Gottfried is going to give anything away. In a tight game like this, N.C. State will need whatever “strategic” advantage they can get over Miami. If Brown is unable to play in this game, then Miami has a big advantage at the point guard position. Not only is Brown one of the best PGs in the game and one of the three stars on N.C. state, but the Hurricanes have a top playmaking point guard in their own in steady floor general Shane Larkin- the son of Hall of Fame baseball player Barry Larkin.
Now State’s backup point guard, freshman Rodney Purvis, is an extremely talented player in his own right and had quite the high school career in Raleigh, but Purvis is also very raw and has shown lapses on defense. He is, however, an excellent scorer, but the drop-off in facilitation and, mainly, defense will definitely help the ‘Canes. N.C. State fans can only hope that Brown will be able to play in this one, but it sounds like he won’t.
Gottfried said, “We’ll see how he feels (before the game). The probability in my mind for him to be recovered enough to cut and move and sprint and jump is pretty slim. I think we’ll have to prepare as if he’s not going to play.”
Larkin, by the way, is no slouch on defense either with nearly two steals per game. Purvis has plenty of talent, though, and all eyes will be on him to see if he can perform in a very critical spot as a freshman. If he can, then we’ll be seeing more from Purvis coming off of the bench.
N.C. State Wolfpack fans also need to watch out for big man Reggie Johnson, and the Hurricanes have an excellent frontcourt filled with players who can be regarded as very good starters. Johnson is a huge presence on the inside with his ability to get rebounds (9.2 per game) and block shots. Having a guy like Johnson on the inside has a trickle-down effect on defense, and the matchup between both teams on the inside will be one to watch for sure. The ‘Canes have depth, but State has more high-end talent there.
Ultimately, this game comes down to two X-Factors in Purvis and C.J. Leslie. I already talked a bit about Purvis, but I want to touch on Leslie’s impact. Against a top opponent like Miami, veteran leaders and star players (Leslie is the star of this team, there’s little doubt about that) like Leslie rise to the occasion. This is his chance to have a huge ACC win and vault the Pack to a higher regard in conference play.
This game is a perfect chance for N.C. State to get a big win at home and cement themselves as the second best team in the conference. If they win, then the rankings will have to flip in the Pack’s favor. But it certainly won’t be easy, especially with the likely absence of Lorenzo Brown. Not only does that put pressure on Purvis to produce in a starting role, but it also puts more pressure on C.J. Leslie to rise to the occasion and spearhead the victory.
Miami’s status as a top team in the ACC is not in doubt, and that still holds true even if they lose this game. Miami is deep and talented, and they will show that in Raleigh this afternoon. We just need to see if N.C. State can match them and slowly climb back to their lofty preseason placement.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.