WBBvsDuke Leslie Drives to the Right

Graduate guard Kiara Leslie drives toward the interior against Duke on Jan. 3 in Reynolds Coliseum. Leslie led the team with two blocks while putting up stats in every category. The Pack defeated Duke 63-51 to tie the best start in school history.

The NC State Women’s Basketball team is in the middle of a fantastic season. The team stands at 17-0 after dominant performances against Virginia and Pitt. The Wolfpack is currently eighth in the AP national rankings, and it stands as the lone-unbeaten team in Division 1 basketball after Louisville lost to top-ranked Notre Dame. Here are some takeaways from the Pack’s impressive start.

Despite key injuries, the Pack is on fire

At 17-0, NC State’s women’s basketball team is off to the best start in its history. The Pack women have frequently blown out lesser competition, winning 15 of their 17 games by double digits.

The team has done this despite losing multiple players over the course of the season. Graduate guard Kaila Ealey never played in a game after suffering a season-ending injury in preseason, redshirt junior guard Grace Hunter went down with a torn ACL against Duke and redshirt senior guard Armani Hawkins sustained a torn ACL against Pitt. Utilizing a balance of good offense and fundamentally sound defense combined with elite rebounding (NC State is currently ranked No. 3 nationally in total rebound rate per herhoopstats.com), this Wolfpack team will be a tough opponent for anyone to take down.

A tough road through the ACC awaits

Despite the roaring start, NC State needs to keep playing at a very high level. Conference play has begun, and consequently the opponents are significantly tougher, and each game carries far more weight. The ACC is always a tough conference to play in, and this year is no different. Five of the top 12 teams in the national rankings reside in the ACC, including No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 4 Louisville and of course, No. 8 NC State.

While the beginning of NC State’s conference schedule doesn’t look too daunting, a gauntlet of strong teams awaits come February. The month begins with two consecutive road games against Florida State and No. 12 Syracuse, followed by a home game against Notre Dame. A trip to Louisville awaits at the end of February as well.  Nonetheless, it is feasible that NC State enters this stretch of games with one or even zero losses, so a few losses here would still leave the Pack in good position for the postseason. NC State has emerged as a serious threat to win the ACC crown, but it will be anything but easy.

This team is a serious contender for the NCAA title

The era of UConn’s absolute dominance appears to be ending. UConn is an elite team, but it isn’t an unstoppable juggernaut like it has been in recent memory. In fact, no team looks like an insurmountable obstacle; rather, there is a top group of likely contenders who all have a good chance at winning it all. NC State is one of those teams; it is a dangerous group that has the pieces needed to make a deep postseason run.

While no particular unit stands out, this is a well-coached team that plays very balanced basketball. While there are injury concerns, the team doesn’t have a glaring weakness to exploit and doesn’t commit many errors. NC State will likely be one of the frontrunners for the ACC title, and it has a good chance at securing a 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. While the season is still young and things could change rapidly, this Wolfpack team so far has played championship-level basketball.