North Carolina State is full of surprises

Wes Moore has brought a wealth of experience to Raleigh to help the N.C. State program reach new heights. - Photo by Jennifer Stewart | USA Today Sports

The Wolfpack have broken into the AP Top 10 with a surprising 21-3 record. What is the secret of that turnaround? And will North Carolina State be able to stay at the top?

Looking at the AP Poll, the mighty Wolfpack of North Carolina state have climbed into the Top 10. This is certainly nothing that anyone expected. North Carolina State was predicted to finish 10th out of 15 teams in the ACC. They had no teams on the Blue Ribbon Panel Preseason All-ACC team, and no one on the newcomer watch list. But North Carolina State is now sitting at 21-3 on the year and have an 8-2 record in the ACC, right behind Notre Dame and Duke.

Furthermore, the team has played three ranked teams. They played Louisiana State at home and won 89-79 on December 20th. They visited interstate rival North Carolina on January 9th and lost 79-70. Then they surprised #9 Maryland on January 30th, winning 72-63.

There are only six more regular season games for North Carolina. Three of them are against ranked teams. On February 16th, the Wolfpack host North Carolina in a rematch of the game they lost in January. Four days later, they go to play #3 ranked Duke. They get to finish the season on March 2nd against #2 ranked Notre Dame. It's not the kind of schedule anyone should look forward to...but the Wolfpack hope that they get overlooked again.

The new coach of the Wolfpack is Wes Moore. His webpage at Chattanooga leads with the fact that he has lead three different teams to the post season, one team each from Division I (Chattanooga), Division II (Francis Marion) and Division III (Maryville College). He was won 78 percent of his games. Clearly, he knows his X's and O's and the intricacies of recruiting under changing circumstances.

However, if you think about it, the previous coach - Kellie Harper - wasn't that bad. She finished her four years in Raleigh with a 70-64 record and took the Wolfpack to some kind of postseaon three of her final four years.

Furthermore, let's compare the team from 2012-13 - Harper's last year - to the one from 2013-14:

2013-14
Rk # Player Pos Yr Ht G MPG FG% FT% 3PT% True% RPG APG SPG BPG A/TO PPWS eFG% Pts40 Eff Eff/Pos PPG
1 34 Gatling, Markeisha C Sr. 6-5 24 25.8 69.6 70.5 0 71 6.7 1.2 0.5 1 0.7 1.4 69.6 26.8 19 0.416 17.30
2 44 Burke, Kody F Sr. 6-2 24 31.3 46.4 86.5 33.8 56.6 6.3 2.3 0.6 0.9 1.2 1.1 46.4 19.1 15 0.27 15.00
3 1 Goodwin-Coleman, Myisha G Sr. 5-4 24 28.8 39.8 80 38.5 57.1 2.7 2.9 1.3 0 2.8 1.1 39.8 14.5 10.5 0.21 10.50
4 2 Brown, Len'Nique G Jr. 5-5 24 29 38.6 72.7 36.8 52 4.1 4.5 1.1 0 2 1 38.6 12.3 10.2 0.203 8.90
5 12 Barrett, Krystal G Jr. 5-9 24 28 38.9 69.6 37.3 52 3.7 3 1.4 0.2 1.8 1 38.9 11.6 9 0.186 8.10
6 3 Spencer, Miah G Fr. 5-8 24 20.7 44.4 77.4 38.9 55.9 3.5 2.6 1 0 1.2 1.1 44.4 13.4 7.8 0.202 7.00
7 41 Daniel, Lakeesa F/C Sr. 6-4 23 10.7 50 52.9 50 52.2 3.2 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.3 1 50 15.7 4 0.194 4.20
8 5 Williams, Breezy G Sr. 5-11 14 9.9 55.3 63.6 31.6 64.2 2.3 1 0.3 0.1 1.8 1.3 55.3 15.9 5.1 0.195 3.90
9 4 Williams, Ashley G Fr. 5-8 17 10.2 32.6 72.7 32.5 51.2 0.8 1.1 0.5 0 2.3 1 32.6 11.3 2.8 0.154 2.90
10 11 Mathurin, Jennifer F Fr. 6-1 22 9 32 60 25 40.6 2.2 0.3 0.2 0 0.3 0.8 32 9.3 1.8 0.125 2.10
11 30 Moser, Kaley G So. 5-11 7 2.9 33.3 0 42.9 50 0.6 0.1 0.1 0 1 1 33.3 18 1.1 0.335 1.30
12 10 Eli, Ashley G So. 5-11 15 8.3 22.2 100 0 30.4 0.9 0.7 0.5 0.1 1.8 0.6 22.2 3.8 1.4 0.106 0.80
2012-13
Rk # Player Pos Yr Ht G MPG FG% FT% 3PT% True% RPG APG SPG BPG A/TO PPWS eFG% Pts40 Eff Eff/Pos PPG
1 44 Burke, Kody F Jr. 6-2 34 29.6 46.4 67.9 32 50.5 7.2 1.2 1 1.6 0.7 1 46.4 17.9 13.6 0.242 13.30
2 23 Kastanek, Marissa G Sr. 5-9 34 31.3 40.6 73.1 35.9 51.2 3.8 1.3 1.3 0.1 0.6 1 40.6 16 9.2 0.159 12.50
3 34 Gatling, Markeisha C Fr. 6-5 34 23.5 57.7 69.4 0 60.2 6.3 0.2 0.6 0.9 0.1 1.2 57.7 16.3 10.5 0.239 9.60
4 1 Goodwin-Coleman, Myisha G Jr. 5-4 32 21.3 35.5 65.9 38.3 50.1 2.7 3 1.6 0 1.3 1 35.5 16.5 7.7 0.201 8.80
5 2 Brown, Len'Nique G Jr. 5-5 34 22.4 41.3 72.5 42.5 50.8 3.6 3.8 1.3 0.1 1.6 1 41.3 12.9 8.6 0.204 7.20
6 12 Barrett, Krystal G So. 5-9 34 24.8 31.4 64.3 29.3 40 3.8 2.4 1.4 0.2 1 0.8 31.4 10.5 6.1 0.129 6.50
7 5 Williams, Breezy F Jr. 5-11 34 10.2 39.1 74.4 28.9 49.5 1.8 0.4 0.5 0.1 0.4 1 39.1 14.5 3.1 0.18 3.70
8 52 Evans, Kiana F So. 6-1 33 13.7 44.9 53.7 50 48.3 2 0.4 0.2 0.1 0.2 1 44.9 9.9 2.5 0.076 3.40
9 41 Daniel, Lakeesa F-C Jr. 6-4 26 12.2 45.6 46.7 0 46.2 3.6 0.7 0.6 0.6 0.6 0.9 45.6 8.7 4.4 0.172 2.70
10 10 Eli, Ashley G Fr. 5-11 31 15.1 38.1 72.4 31.6 49.5 2.7 1.2 0.5 0.1 1.1 1 38.1 6.4 3.8 0.118 2.40
11 42 Dunnigan, Therany F So. 6-2 9 4.7 30 50 0 34 0.7 0 0.1 0.3 0 0.7 30 7.6 1.1 0.07 0.90
12 30 Moser, Kaley G Fr. 5-11 8 2.3 20 0 0 20 0.8 0 0.1 0 0 0.4 20 4.4 0.6 0.162 0.30

Aside from the improved shooting, a few things stand out:

  1. The Wolfpack now have three seniors on the roster - Harper has done the ground work in recruiting. (Add 1b) - some of the class year designations from wbbstate.com are pretty suspect.)
  2. Markeisha Gatling has exploded. Her Points/40 minutes has jumped from 16.3 to 26.8! Her effective field goal percentage has gone from 57.7 percent to 69.6 percent. This has paid off for Gatling by getting added to the 2013-14 Wade Watch list and Naismith Trophy Midseason Top-30 list. Not bad for a player who had initially signed with UNC Charlotte and then took a detour to Gulf Coast Community College for two years.

Part of this can be explained by Moore's offensive system that depends on effective perimeter shooters. As Wes Moore said, "We said from day one that as Keisha Gatling goes, this team will go," and it depends on Gatling - the only inside player - being effective. Last season, the team made 197 3-point shots for the entire season and post-season. This year they have already made 183 and there are six more regular season games left to go. They have done this with only losing three rebounds per game (38.4 this season so far vs. 41.5 last season).

The big question for North Carolina State will be what happens when the three seniors that are generating the offense graduate. Next year the Wolfpack will have at least four new freshmen, three of whom are forwards or centers. If the potential of 6-5 incoming freshman Akela Maize is indeed "off the charts" then Maize should be able to take over Gatling's role (with help).

Even so, my current Elo-based rankings system doesn't give North Carolina State much respect. It has the Wolfpack as #38 in the country with an Elo score of 1735, and their upcoming games are against Clemson (1426), North Carolina (1954), Duke (2057), Virginia Tech (1435), Pittsburgh (1414) and Notre Dame (2165). That means a 3-3 finish on the season - but if there's anything North Carolina State has been good at this season, it's in proving prognosticators wrong.

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