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Does Pack’s Pursuit of Barber Suggest New Alpha?

Monday, August 27, 2012 1:36pm

On the face of it, N.C. State’s blossoming interest in Hampton (Va.) High point guard Anthony “Cat” Barber would appear to be two-dimensional: Barber is a consensus top-15 Class of 2013 national prospect who resides a three-hour car ride away from Raleigh.

Mark Gottfried thus has every reason to offer Barber and maintain a vigorous recruitment through decision day. From a national perspective, analysts view the Wolfpack as a significant threat to presumed leaders Kansas and Alabama, with Louisville pushing hard as well.

He’d originally planned to spend his first official visit with the Wolfpack, but now sequentially he’ll travel to Lawrence (8/31), Louisville (9/7), Raleigh (9/14) and Tuscaloosa (9/21).

The fact that Barber has added N.C. State and the Cardinals late may suggest he wasn’t entirely content with his previous list, but some sources continue to insist that he desires to leave the region. The Wolfpack looms as the one major program within driving distance from Hampton however, and family considerations obviously could play a pivotal role.

Louisville is benefiting from the presence of assistant coach Kevin Keatts. Previously the very successful head coach at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., Keatts possesses expansive contacts within the state.

But beyond the mechanics of the sweepstakes itself, two additional "alpha dog" dimensions warrant consideration.

First, Barber is a more naturally gifted point guard than anyone conference standard bearers Duke or UNC has signed in the past two recruiting cycles. State periodically has inked elite prospects during the new millennium — including wing Julius Hodge to Herb Sendek, and forwards C.J. Leslie and J.J. Hickson to Sidney Lowe — but the Wolfpack has frequently suffered at lead guard, i.e. the "alpha dog" position on the floor.

State’s inability to get over the hump versus the Blue Devils and Tar Heels last season can be traced partially to point guard frustrations, and Barber presents an opportunity for the Wolfpack to hold an edge for as long as he’s on campus.

Here we must note that during the early spring Duke actually appeared to lead for Barber, but he performed erratically during the April live period, when college coaches could attend grassroots events.

Incidentally, Barber’s peak performance may have occurred at the Nike EYBL’s Dallas session — a May event coaches were not allowed to attend. Despite an inconsistent summer, he demonstrated enough raw speed and scoring ability at that event to hang on within the national top 10.

The second alpha dog dimension exists wholly within the Wolfpack program itself: Barber not only would give Gottfried a McDonald’s All-American-caliber floor general, he’d become the second in the past two cycles. Tyler Lewis will be a freshman this fall, and the Lewis/Barber competition for a starting spot could prove intense.

Stockpiling blue-chippers has become a way of life for N.C. State's Triangle neighbors as well as other elite programs, such as Kentucky. In an era when many players exit college at the first plausible opportunity for the NBA, sensitivity to over-recruiting has become a luxury a nationally ambitious program can’t afford.

Nevertheless, Lewis became a fan favorite when he maintained loyalty to the program through the coaching transition from Lowe to Gottfried, and some fans might lament his getting subordinated to a new alpha dog during his sophomore campaign.

That’s not to say Barber necessarily would beat out Lewis. In fact, and though the game took place during the 2010-11 season — when Lewis was a junior and Barber a sophomore — Lewis clearly outplayed Barber when they went head to head. Given the various uncertainties surrounding Rodney Purvis’ future in Raleigh, it’s also conceivable that the two could play alongside each other. Because Lewis is a natural playmaker and Barber is a superior athlete and transition scorer who could complements Lewis, the notion takes on a more serious light.

Ennis Commitment Gives ACC Needed Injection

The words “Syracuse” and “ACC” still may sound alien to many, but the venerable Orange program gave the conference a lift when big-time guard Tyler Ennis pledged last week. Perusing the updated, post-summer player rankings at <Scout.com and <ESPN.com, Ennis may become the top-rated senior point guard to sign with an ACC program.

Barber obviously would change that if he chooses N.C. State, and Maryland is hot after Texas PG Andrew Harrison (and his elite twin, WG Aaron), but neither school is considered the leader for those targets. UNC-bound DC/VA PG Nate Britt appeared to give the ACC an incoming prep All-American, but his stock tumbled precipitously after a disappointing spring and summer.

Point guard has become the decisive position in the college game, and the ACC largely fielded an unimpressive crop in 2011-12. In order for the conference to regain its former luster it needs to start getting stud floor generals or else hope the high-risk “sleeper” game pays off.

br /> Future UNC PF Isaiah Hicks is the ACC's top-rated 2013 pledge

Broadening our perspective, the conference no longer claims a top-10 senior commitment. North Carolina pledge Isaiah Hicks dropped slightly (to No. 15 at ESPN, No. 17 at Scout) but remains the most celebrated pledge.

Duke’s sharpshooting Texas wing Matt Jones remains entrenched in the top 35, while Georgia Tech has placed great hopes in FL PG/WG Solomon Poole (No. 34 at Scout, No. 50 at ESPN). YouTube scouting can be hazardous to your health, but for sheer enjoyment fans will love Poole:

Several elite prospects remain undecided. Many analysts predict that Chicago WF/PF Jabari Parker will choose to play within the Midwest, but he does technically still list Duke and UNC among his list of 10 finalists. The Blue Devils, at least, are viewed as a viable contender despite the lengthy list and widespread buzz that Parker favors staying closer to home.

Elsewhere in the top five, Maryland will receive word no later than October 29 of its fate in the recruiting battle to land the Harrison twins. The dynamic Texas guards may be No. 1 and No. 2 in terms of NBA potential, because both are 6-4, strong, athletic, tough and extremely skilled.

They now plan to announce a joint decision on that date, with Kentucky — perhaps reflexively — getting the nod from scouts as the clubhouse leader. But Mark Turgeon has confidently galloped back to his former Lone Star stomping grounds to give John Calipari a major fight, and the Terps must be considered a real contender despite UK’s presumed advantage with nearly every prospect it targets. Baylor, Villanova and SMU are largely viewed as filler, but the recruiting race still has more than two months to go.

By far the most noteworthy development for top-five Texas PF Julius Randle was his surprising unofficial visit to Oklahoma State last weekend. Most everyone — the college coaches recruiting him included — has overlooked OSU’s chances in favor of Kansas (which garnered the most buzz during July), UNC and Duke, and now the Cowboys at least must receive consistent mention among his favorites, which also include Kentucky and Baylor, among others.

Randle has remained steadfastly cagey throughout his recruitment, both on and off the record, and any reference you read to a leader is based on word from outside sources. Kansas certainly has raised its profile in the horse race, but that speculation could prove erroneous in the end.