The 2012-13 season has been a little bit more up and down for the No. 19 North Carolina State Wolfpack than they probably anticipated heading into the year as favorites to win the ACC. The downs continued for NC State this week as they lost point guard – and possibly the team’s leader – Lorenzo Brown to an ankle injury, just a few days before they were set to take on the No. 14 Miami Hurricanes.
Not only is Miami earning the praise that NC State thought was going to be theirs this season, but the two teams are facing off when the Wolfpack are at their most vulnerable, seeing as how they don’t have their best perimeter player and most integral part of running their offense. While this matchup makes Miami sophomore guard Shane Larkin a bit more dangerous, I don’t think it’s safe to count out Brown’s teammates, C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell.
The Wolfpack have been at their best when they’ve been able to play inside-out this season, and, of course, not having Brown might hamper those plans, but the combination of Leslie and Howell has given NC State finesse and toughness inside, a combination not so easy to defend against. Leslie and Howell aren’t only the team’s top two scorers (15.6 and 12.7 respectively), but they’re the teams top two rebounders (7.3 and 11.0 once again, respectively) as well.
These two teams may be the only two teams to have defeated No. 5 Duke on the still young season, and they each did it the same way, by bullying the Blue Devils inside and forcing turnovers. Not having Brown certainly presents a disadvantage or two for NC State, but their big men and young guards will have to step up if they want to stop one of the hottest teams in the country from getting off to an 8-0 start in the conference.
Although nothing is decided in early February, I think this game will be a great measuring stick for both of these teams. On one hand, you have a team that you know will win a couple of games in March if they’re healthy because they have great veteran leadership, and great talent. We’re about to find out how good NC State is without its leader, and in the same respect, how good of leaders Leslie and Howell are.
And then on the other hand, this is the biggest competition for Miami since they beat Duke, who happened to be without Ryan Kelly for the first time when they were drubbed by the ‘Canes. Heading into the season we knew that Miami had veterans in the front court, and if Shane Larkin could develop into a play maker they could compete. Well Larkin’s taken the keys to Jim Larranaga’s offense, and has become a play maker to say the least.
We’ll find out what both teams are made of come Saturday.
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