North Carolina State's days of being an afterthought in the ACC title race are over. Coach Mark Gottfried has turned the Wolfpack into a legitimate contender for the NCAA tournament crown after less than a year-and-a-half with the program.
Since Gottfried took over on April 5, 2011, he has landed five top-100 recruits and brought an NC State team with mediocre talent to the Sweet 16. It's no wonder why he got paid.
With all of this success in a short amount of time, the team has suddenly emerged as one of the top teams in the nation. In fact, CBSSports' Matt Norlander said that the Wolfpack should be the favorite in the ACC this year.
I'll go a step further and say that they should be among the favorites to compete for the national championship.
Along with Indiana, Louisville, Kentucky and UCLA, North Carolina State will be one of several teams seeking a new championship banner (which would be the first for the Wolfpack in nearly three decades).
So how has Gottfried turned this team from a sub-.500 team that went 5-11 in conference play to a national contender in under two years? It all starts on the recruiting trail.
You can't win games without talent, and Gottfried has brought that in by the boatload. In the Class of 2012, he secured himself three McDonald's All-Americans in Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis.
These three guys could've formed a potent core for the team by themselves, but Gottfried was able to keep talented players on board so they won't have to.
Gottfried convinced C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood and Richard Howell to all come back for the 2012-13 season, and these four guys will carry the bulk of the load. The freshmen will play important roles but won't have to do everything.
The team now has seven players who could become legitimate stars all vying for playing time. That's a great problem to have for Gottfried, who inherited a team with a bunch of young kids with potential but not enough developed talent.
Now that he's got the talent, all he has to do is work with the players and play to their strengths.
He's really good at that too.
Gottfried was able to help his guys play well enough to win 24 games last season. Keep in mind that these were all players who played for a team that didn't even win half of its games the year before.
Now that Gottfried has all these weapons, he will be able to match up with any team in the country. He has three talented guards, two great wings, two gifted power forwards and a 7'1" behemoth in Jordan Vandenberg should he need size.
With a genius like Gottfried controlling all of these assets, it's tough to imagine NC State being stopped by the likes of even Duke or North Carolina this season. The team should definitely win the ACC title, which could secure them a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance as well.
NC State fans have suffered through some serious disappointment in the last few decades, including not making it to the Elite Eight since 1986. However, we could see that all end this year, and I'm expecting at least a run to the Final Four out of the Wolfpack.
The scary thing is that as long as Gottfried is at the helm the Wolfpack, they should stay among the nation's elite.
Gottfried has already pulled in two top-100 recruits in the Class of 2013, and can be expected to secure a few more. Recruit Kyle Washington committed after an official visit to NC State (his very first official visit anywhere), saying "It felt like family here," (via ESPN).
If Gottfried keeps up this pace on the recruiting trail, we could see the Wolfpack emerge as one of the nation's college basketball powerhouses during his tenure.
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