In this Dec. 26, 2016 file photo, North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb (9) tackles Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb (7) during the Independence Bowl NCAA college football game in Shreveport, La. North Carolia State coach Dave Doeren returns a loaded defensive line led by Chubb, who put off the NFL to play as a senior. The schedule will be tricky with eight bowl teams, plus Notre Dame in South Bend, but if ever the Wolfpack was set up to have something of a breakthrough season, this is it. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
In this Jan. 8 file photo, North Carolina State guards Dennis Smith Jr. (4) and Torin Dorn react during the second half of a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Smith and Dorn will now lead the Wolfpack into the ACC tournament, which begins next week at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
By Rob McLamb
Special to the Times
N.C. State has opened spring practice in hopes up shoring up holes and taking the next step.
Returning 16 starters (eight each on offense and defense) from last season’s 7-6 team that came close to knocking off perennial Atlantic Division powers Clemson and Florida State, the Wolfpack is keen to get to work
Many pundits have projected the offensive and defensive backfields, along with the starting placekicker job as points of emphasis during the buildup to the 2017 campaign.
For Doeren, those spots are just the tip of the iceberg.
“All of them,” Doeren said when asked about which position group stands out. “We are trying to create depth at some spots where we know who our starters are and trying to find guys that are going to replace people that left.”
Confidence in the replacements is helping Doeren and his staff through the process
“We are fortunate in that, obviously, [Jack] Tocho is gone, but Nick McCloud was able to play a lot at the end of the year,” Doeren added. “We knew what Nick would be able to do. Dexter Wright was able to play a lot last year so we knew what he’d be able to do with Josh Jones leaving. Germaine Pratt, we had him in all our bowl practices. We knew what he’d be able to do to help us at linebacker.”
Replacing Matt Dayes, who left N.C. State in fourth place on the school’s all-time rushing list, is generally looked at as the most important move Doeren will have to make. The tailback position has two injuries to deal with as Reggie Gallaspy and Johnny Frasier both will sit out the spring to recover from maladies.
N.C. State’s ability to adapt, shifting Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels to tailback duties buttresses Doeren’s insistence on adding depth at all position groups. The fifth-year head coach thinks the Wolfpack will be fine.
“That position, because Reggie is still coming back from injury and Johnny as well, Nyheim and Jay Sam are working back there,” Doeren said. “Dakwa Nichols has done a great job the first three days. Those are the five people that we’ll be working with. I look forward to all of them taking reps, seeing what each guy can do and how we can use them.”
Hines came to the practice field straight from the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, where he competed for N.C. State’s track team. The rising junior has been bracing for the added responsibility of playing tailback for several months.
“There’s rust to [playing running back],” Hines said after featuring primarily at the slot position last season. “Last year, even when I was at receiver I listened to the calls to make sure I knew it.I made sure I knew both positions. Running back, we lead by committee. Even last year when Matt came out, Reggie would come in and do a good job, Dakwa and we have Johnny.
“We’re not looking to replace Matt because he’s an all-time great here. It’s trying to fill his shoes, play great, and do what we can do in our control.”
N.C. State dropped its final regular season game Wednesday at Clemson. The Tigers outlasted the Wolfpack, 78-74, at Littlejohn Coliseum to enter the ACC Tournament 15-16 overall and 4-14 in league play.
The game was a tight affair as neither team led by more by double digits in the contest. The Wolfpack was down one with 45 seconds to play when a foul towards the end of the shot clock sent the Tigers to the free throw line.
“We really defended them well,” N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said of the critical late possession. “Dennis [Smith] came off his guy and helped, ball squirted out, we fouled them with three seconds on the shot clock down one and just gave them two points.”
The regular season is concluded and the Wolfpack will next travel to Brooklyn, New York for the 2017 ACC Tournament in need of at least two wins to avoid a second straight losing campaign.
N.C. State will finish as either the 13 or 14 seed depending on the result of Pittsburgh’s matchup at Virginia on Saturday. The Wolfpack is a half-game behind the Panthers but own the tiebreaker by virtue of their 79-74 win in the lone contest between the schools this season.
It has been a tumultuous campaign for N.C. State but Gottfried, who will leave his position after the season ends, is proud of his team’s character.
“I’m so proud of them,” Gottfried said after the loss at Clemson. “Sometimes people forget how hard it is for them sometimes. We recruited every guy on this team and have great relationships with every guy. It’s tough for them sometimes too.
“They battled. We won at Georgia Tech, went over here and went down to the last possession with a chance to win. Now we have to go to New York and see if we can get on a run.”
N.C. State’s Torin Dorn Jr. and Omer Yurtseven both were named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Men’s Basketball team Wednesday in a statement released by the program.
Dorn spoke after the Clemson game Wednesday and described how earning the honor meant a great deal to him.
“It means a lot to me,” Dorn said. “I take my academics seriously. My mom’s a teacher and she’s always taught me that academics are a way to get whatever you want in life. I’m very proud of that.”
MOORE CHASES LEAGUE TITLE
It has been a solid season and a terrific week for N.C. State’s women’s basketball team. According to head coach Wes Moore, it is time to create more memories.
The Wolfpack won at Virginia Sunday to finish the regular season 22-7 overall and 12-4 in the ACC. The 12 league wins, good for fourth place in the conference and a double-bye in the ACC Tournament, was the most in a season for N.C. State since its Final Four team of 1997-98 also had 12.
That, along with victories over four top-15 opponents this season, earned Moore the Blue Ribbon ACC Coach of the Year honor. He is the first N.C. State women’s basketball coach to claim the award.
However, Moore is most thrilled with the double-bye in the tournament. N.C. State is currently ranked 17th in the nation in the latest AP poll and is looking to host the first two rounds of the 2017 NCAA Tournament in Reynolds Coliseum.
“I just like the double bye,” Moore said after the win in Charlottesville. “It’s going to be tough. That’s the bad thing about the double bye, you’ll play something really good right out of the shoot. That’s what we’re faced with but again, it’s a great reward for our kids and keeps us in the hunt for a hosting opportunity in the NCAA Tournament.”
Fifth-seed Louisville defeated Clemson 68-46 Thursday and the Cardinals will take on N.C. State at 11 a.m. Friday in Conway.
There are two points of view for the Wolfpack heading into the conference tournament. N.C. State faces a daunting task claiming a championship is what is likely the strongest conference in the nation. Yet the team has a 4-0 record versus the top-5 teams in the tournament, including two wins on the road.
Moore thinks most of what has happened in the buildup is now irrelevant.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Moore said. “We had a couple of bumps in the road in our pre-conference schedule, things were a little rocky. For them to pull things together, overcome adversity, and win some of the games they’ve won, not only at home but also on the road. I’m really proud of them.”
“You erase the boards,” Moore added. “Records don’t matter now. We’ll start over, focus on [the ACC Tournament], and have one more season in the NCAAs.”
Rob McLamb has covered NC State Athletics and recruiting for Pack Pride (Scout.com) since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.