NCAA Tournament

There’s bit of Mizzou in the Wolfpack

North Carolina State assistant coach Bobby Lutz is dialed into the Big 12 scene. As a member of Fred Hoiberg’s original Iowa State staff last year, Lutz coached the scout team of transfers Royce White, Chris Allen and others against the Cyclones’ starters and usually won.

Lutz knows Kansas having schemed against the Jayhawks twice last season, but any kind of scouting edge comes with a caveat.

“I don’t think they’re that difficult to scout,” Lutz said. “They’re very difficult to beat.”

But if there’s a parallel between his experience with the Wolfpack, who take on KU in Friday night’s Midwest Regional semifinal, and a Big 12 program, it’s Missouri.

Both programs are guided by first-year head coaches, Mark Gottfried at North Carolina State and Frank Haith at Missouri.

Both hires were widely criticized.

Both seasons blew away expectations.

“I see that,” Lutz said. “The only difference was, we came from a little farther back, and it took us a little longer to get going.”

Where Missouri returned nearly all the key pieces from an NCAA Tournament team, the Wolfpack returned several from a squad that finished 15-16 in Sidney Lowe’s final season.

Enter Gottfried, who had been out of coaching since midway through the 2009 season when Alabama asked for his resignation.

The new staff greeted such players as C.J. Leslie, who had been John Wall’s teammate at Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh. While Wall was having an all-NBA rookie season last year, Leslie was averaging 11 points but was being described as a disinterested player who lacked energy.

Gottfried and the staff didn’t care. They wanted to make their own evaluations based on their experience.

“The past is just past,” Lutz said. “Every kid had a fresh light. We were going to be hard on you. We were going to be demanding and you were going to held accountable for everything from study hall to academic to games.”

Or, as Gottfried said, “We needed to tighten everything up.”

Those ideas were used to describe the situation Haith inherited at Missouri. The program contained talent. With more structure, the Tigers rolled to one of their most successful regular seasons ever with a 14-4 Big 12 record and conference tournament championship before their NCAA opening crash against Norfolk State.

Haith often talked about his team’s focus and willingness to invest in a team-first process.

It’s worked in Raleigh.

“That’s a huge part of it,” Lutz said, “getting guys to buy in and be willing to accept their role at a time when everybody wants to be a star.”

Earlier this season, the Wolfpack would play good competition like Vanderbilt, Indiana and Stanford tough but couldn’t get over the hump. But N.C. State started 4-1 in ACC play, the best record after five league games in eight years.

Perhaps the biggest confidence boost came in a late season loss against Duke. State led by 20 before eventually falling.

“But we proved something to ourselves,” forward Richard Howell said.

That the Wolfpack could go toe-to-toe against a top shelve team in a hostile environment. Not long after that, N.C. State started its current run of six victories in seven games, a stretch that includes NCAA Tournament victories as an 11th-seeded team over sixth-seeded San Diego State and third-seeded Georgetown.

“We believe,” Gottfried said. “You’ve got to believe to get wins and advance.”