Last year’s predictions didn’t have many hits — the Panthers did select NC State offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu in the first round of the draft — but that doesn’t dissuade the NSJ Sports crew. From a championship on the ice to a 10-win season on the gridiron for one of the state’s college football teams, NSJ has all the 2023 sports hot takes you can handle.
Cory Lavalette, Sports Editor
Hurricanes raise their second Cup
In their 25th season in North Carolina, the Hurricanes will claim the second Stanley Cup in franchise history. And like in 2006 when they were backstopped by a rookie goalie to the title, the Hurricanes ride newcomer Pyotr Kochetkov to the top of the NHL. But it won’t be a one-man show. Andrei Svechnikov will join the league’s elite goal scorers with a breakthrough postseason performance, while Sebastian Aho makes the leap to superstardom and wins the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP when Carolina beats the Dallas Stars in five games.
Kyle Busch has rowdy start with RCR
Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch channels his inner Intimidator in his first race with Richard Childress Racing, rubbing doors with former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap to win the Daytona 500. It will be the only win for Busch during the season, but he used his playoff berth to make a run to the championship race. In the end, another former JGR driver, Denny Hamlin, will finally win his elusive title, beating out Busch, Chase Elliott and 2022 champion Joey Logano.
Shawn Krest, Senior Reporter
Leaky will outshine fellow Heels
The Tar Heels will bid farewell to Armando Bacot and Caleb Love, as two of the best players on last year’s Final Four team and this season’s top-rated team forgo their remaining eligibility (Bacot still has a COVID year left and Love has two) to enter the NBA Draft. However, another Tar Heel on those two teams will play more NBA minutes than either — Leaky Black, who has the size and length to defend several NBA positions and has improved his shooting significantly this year, will be a better fit as a role player at the next level than either of the two college stars, much like Theo Pinson has played more minutes than Brice Johnson, Joel Berry, Marcus Paige, Kennedy Meeks or Luke Maye.
Elko says no to A&M
Texas A&M will part ways with coach Jimbo Fisher after another rough start to the 2023 season, and Duke will need to hold its collective breath as the Aggies come after head coach — and former A&M defensive coordinator — Mike Elko with the offer of a large raise if he’ll depart for the Lone Star State and the challenge of competing in the SEC. The Blue Devils won’t match the A&M money, but a raise and extension for Elko and his assistants will take the reigning ACC Coach of the Year off the market, at least for this year’s high-profile opening.
Jesse Deal, Reporter
Hornets’ draft luck finally arrives
After years of historically poor NBA Draft Lottery luck paired with unfortunate drafting decisions, the basketball gods will finally smile down upon the Charlotte Hornets on June 22 as they select center Victor Wembanyama with the first overall pick. The 7-foot-4, 209-pound French phenom will instantly give the Hornets the mix of athleticism and size they’ve desired in the paint since Al Jefferson wore teal and purple back in 2014. The downside is that the Hornets will be attempting to bounce back from having the worst record in the NBA — making it difficult to convince star point guard LaMelo Ball to stay in Charlotte or to take his talents elsewhere.
App State parts ways with coach Shawn Clark
Hoping to improve from a 6-6 record following eight consecutive winning seasons, Appalachian State will run into a Sun Belt wall for the second year in a row, costing fourth-year coach Shawn Clark his job. The in-game coaching decisions by the Mountaineers alumnus — combined with the drop in roster talent spurred by the transfer portal — will force App State Athletic Director Doug Gillin to make a tough decision late in the season as fans grow restless with the team’s inability to get back to the top of the Sun Belt.
Ryan Henkel, Reporter
Young QB leads Wolfpack to elusive 10-win season
After a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Devin Leary in 2022, NC State learned they had two legitimate options for his replacement in MJ Morris and Ben Finley. With Leary transferring to Kentucky and former offensive coordinator Tim Beck hired as the new head coach at Coastal Carolina, NC State’s 2023 offense will be filled with new blood. That infusion will be just what the Wolfpack needs to propel its offense to be a legitimate complement to their stellar defense, leading them to their first 10-win season since 2002.
ACC football runs through North Carolina
It’s been a long time since North Carolina was filled with legitimate college football threats all at the same time. With Drake Maye at UNC, Mike Elko turning the tides at Duke, the receiving corps at Wake Forest and the defense at NC State, the Old North State is primed to become the toughest gauntlet for the ACC. All four of the state’s teams will be in contention for the ACC Championship Game late in the season, making North Carolina a hotspot for both college football and basketball next season.