The 2020-21 NC State men’s basketball season is right around the corner and it seems as if the Pack will be facing one of its toughest all-around schedules in recent years. Here’s a deeper dive into each of the Pack’s significant matchups.
Mako Medical Wolfpack Invitational (Nov. 25-27)
The first glimpse fans will get of the 2020-21 NC State Wolfpack is in the Mako Medical Wolfpack Invitational, where the team will square off against Charleston Southern and North Florida inside Reynolds Coliseum.
Without the chance for exhibition games, this is the closest thing the Pack will get to warm its players up. That’s not to say these teams will be pushovers because they won’t be, but the Pack has home-court advantage and a roster that matches up well with both of these teams.
Charleston Southern’s Phlandrous Fleming Jr. is the Big South Conference’s preseason player of the year, with the team picked to finish third in a conference with Campbell, which the Pack takes on later in the season; Radford; and Gardner-Webb. Fleming finished last season averaging 17.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists. Fleming’s 8.7 rebounds a game is a remarkable feat considering his 6-foot-4 frame.
North Florida, on the other hand, finished last season at 21-12, though four of its five starters from last season are gone. The Ospreys will rely on Carter Hendricksen, the leading scorer from last season, to make yet another jump. Hendricksen averaged 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in 2019-20.
Big Ten/ACC Challenge (Dec. 9)
One of the most anticipated games of the season comes in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with this year’s game being against the Michigan Wolverines, led by Juwan Howard.
Michigan has an incredibly talented roster, so this figures to be one of the toughest games of the year for the Pack. The Wolverines are led by forward Isaiah Livers and guard Franz Wagner, both of which went through the NBA draft process this year and likely would've been picked up if they remained in.
Livers is a freak athlete and an incredible three-level scorer. Livers shot over 40% on just under five 3-point attempts per game last season and missed only two of his 46 free throws on the year. Wagner, the brother of Washington Wizards center Moritz Wagner, on the other hand averaged 11.6 points and 1.3 steals last year.
The Pack will square off against a familiar face in Chaundee Brown, who transferred from Wake Forest to Michigan in the offseason after considering a jump to the NBA. Brown averaged 12.1 points last season and is likely to give the Pack some trouble.
Michigan also houses Eli Brooks, who made a huge jump last season as a player, going from a fringe rotation player to a player that started 30 of 30 games for Michigan. On top of that, the Wolverines are bringing in three recruits that could contribute quickly, with four-star athletes Zeb Jackson and Terrance Williams, along with Jace Howard, Juwan Howard’s son.
Outside of Michigan, North Florida and Charleston Southern, the Wolfpack will take on an additional four nonconference teams. The Pack will take on William & Mary in Raleigh immediately after the Mako Invitational, and then Connecticut right after that.
The next two nonconference games come after the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with Florida Atlantic taking the trip north immediately following the challenge and then Campbell coming to town after the Pack’s ACC debut against Louisville.
William & Mary is a very underrated basketball school and sent center Nathan Knight to the NBA over the offseason. The team is without Knight but should still be formidable coming off a 21-11 season. Look for Luke Loewe and Thornton Scott to help fill the scoring void left behind, as the pair combined for 18 points last season and return this season.
Connecticut, like Michigan, will figure to be one of the toughest tests the Pack faces all season. UConn lost guard Christian Vital to graduation and a probable NBA appearance, but head coach Dan Hurley has all the pieces necessary to make a strong competitor in 2020.
James Bouknight, who impressed greatly as a freshman, returns after averaging 13 points and 4.1 rebounds as a freshman. Hurley also added Tyrese Martin, a transfer from Rhode Island, one of the best transfers available at the time. Martin averaged 12.8 points last season in the A-10 Conference. Akok Akok, Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley all figure to be contributors, along with two four-star recruits in Andre Jackson and Adama Sanogo.
After taking on Michigan and UConn in back-to-back games, the Pack should get a small break when it takes on Florida Atlantic, which finished last season at 17-15. It doesn’t help the Owls that Cornelius Taylor and Richardson Maitre, two of their top four scorers from last season, are gone. Jailyn Ingram and Michael Forrest will lead that team, scoring over 20 points a game last season combined.
Finally, the Pack takes on an improved Campbell team in its last nonconference game of the year. The team returns Cedric Henderson Jr., who averaged 12.4 points last season for the Camels.
The Wolfpack’s conference schedule this season looks to be extremely difficult in a year full of elite ACC teams, and there are strong teams peppered throughout the schedule, hardly giving the Pack any down time.
NC State opens its conference schedule against Louisville, which figures to be one of the more underrated teams in the conference. David Johnson is going to be downright incredible for the Cardinals, and the Pack might have a tough time containing him with its true freshman point guards. Johnson is very fast, and at 6-foot-5, the floor general will be one of the best players in the ACC this season.
After Campbell, the Wolfpack takes on UNC-Chapel Hill before the new year for the first time in its history. UNC had a disastrous season last year but isn’t going to stay down for long. The Tar Heels will be bringing back Armando Bacot, Garrison Brooks and Leaky Black this season, who all figure to be stars for the team. Brooks and Bacot play the same position but were a dynamic duo that gave the Pack some issues when the two clashed last season.
Then, of course, Roy Williams is bringing in a stacked recruiting class headlined by three five-stars in Walker Kessler, Day’Ron Sharpe and Caleb Love and then three four-stars in R.J. Davis, Puff Johnson and Kerwin Walton.
After the new year, the Pack will take on Florida State, a perennial ACC stronghold that returns a lot of contributors from last season, like tall guards RayQuan Evans, M.J. Walker, Sardaar Calhoun and Nathanael Jack. In fact, it doesn’t seem like any player in FSU’s rotation will be smaller than 6 feet, 4 inches, which doesn’t bode well for a Pack team that is expected to have four rotation guards that will be smaller.
Of course, height isn’t the only indicator of talent, but that’s where Scottie Barnes comes in. Barnes figures to be one of the best players in the ACC and is a surefire NBA lottery pick; he’s going to give the Pack some troubles. For reference, Barnes played for Montverde Academy alongside Cade Cunningham, the best prospect in the nation.
After that, NC State gets a back-to-back with Virginia and UNC, the former of which is going to be incredibly difficult to face. Jabri Abdur-Rahim is going to make a name for himself this season, while Jay Huff and Sam Hauser return to comprise one of the best frontcourts in the country.
The Pack plays Virginia again after taking on Syracuse and Wake Forest before taking on Duke in Raleigh. Duke looks to be the best team in the ACC and one of the best in the country. The Blue Devils return Matthew Hurt, Wendell Moore Jr. and Jordan Goldwire, all contributors from last season, as well as Patrick Tape, a talented grad transfer. Hurt, a former five-star recruit, will be one of the best forwards in the nation and is a deadly 3-point threat.
Then, Duke brings in an absurd amount of five-star recruits, adding Jalen Johnson, Jeremy Roach, DJ Steward and Mark Williams, who will all contribute immediately. All four could be first round picks in the NBA next year.
To conclude the season, the Pack gets a decent stretch of five games but has to end the year with Virginia Tech, a competitive squad led by Cartier Diarra, Wabissa Bede and Jalen Cone, the latter of which shot the leather off the ball last season.