This was a good year for big men in the ACC, from North Carolina’s John Henson and Tyler Zeller to Virginia’s Mike Scott to Duke’s Mason Plumlee to Florida State’s Bernard James to N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell to Miami's Reggie Johnson.
But Leslie had a hard time finding anyone to compare to Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, who along with Kentucky’s Anthony Davis is part of a two-man national-player-of-the-year conversation.
“I would say he’s in a different category of his own,” Leslie said. “But if I had to compare him to anybody in our league maybe against the Plumlee brothers: big, strong, quick. But again, that’s a rough comparison.”
For his part, Robinson complimented Leslie’s athleticism, calling him “probably one of the best I’m going to face this whole year.”
ON THIS DAY: Twenty-seven years ago Thursday, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried was on the wrong end of an N.C. State win in the round of 16.
As a sophomore at Alabama, he played against the Wolfpack in a regional semifinal in Denver, a 61-55 N.C. State win, recording two points in 23 minutes of action. He was 1-for-6 from the floor. He’d get back to the round of 16 as a junior and senior, but never any farther.
“The only thing I told our guys was, you got to understand that sometimes you always think, ‘Well, I’ll be back here again,’ ” Gottfried said. “Hopefully you are. Hopefully your program is one where you’re in the Sweet 16 regularly. But it’s also very difficult, too. And so you don’t want to lose the opportunity.”
LOW DOWN: The lowest point of Kansas’ season hit on Dec. 19, when the team’s record sank to 7-3 with an 80-74 loss to Davidson in Kansas City.
The previous two losses had been to Kentucky (75-65) and Duke (68-61). But on the heels of an impressive 78-67 win over Ohio State, the Jayhawks couldn’t shut down Davidson’s Nik Cochran. His 21 points and a decisive late-game 3-pointer keyed the stunning outcome, although Kansas coach Bill Self didn’t see it as a stunner at all.
“That wasn’t an upset tonight,” Self said. “Davidson is just playing better than us.”
On Thursday, Robinson cited the reality check against the Wildcats was one of the season’s keys.
“They were a good team that showed us what can happen when you don’t play your best every time out,” Robinson said. “That game helped change us.”
After that loss to the Wildcats, the Jayhawks won their next 10 games.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Kansas is 3-1 in the Edward Jones Dome, winning twice to advance to the Final Four in 2002, beating UAB and losing to Georgia Tech in the regional final in 2004. The Jayhawks also won twice at the old St. Louis Arena in 1993 on their way to the Final Four in New Orleans.
“We’re obviously very excited to be playing this weekend and happy to be in St. Louis, a short drive for many of our fans,” Self said.
N.C. State hasn’t played a game in St. Louis since a neutral-site meeting with UCLA on Dec. 15, 1973.