State faces Davidson in the opening round of the NIT

Later tonight, NC State begins postseason play with an opening round NIT game against the Davidson Wildcats in Texas. Nothing about that sentence seems right. The Pack wasn’t supposed to be in the NIT and if they were, surely, they would have had a home game. The idea that two NC teams would travel to Texas to play in the first round of the NIT is just strange.

But with the way the season unfolded, it wasn’t a sure thing the Pack would even get an NIT bid. Often dubbed the “Not Important” Tournament, it’s still a nice thing for the seniors to get a chance to extend their college careers. And if we’re going to play and keep score, we might as well win.

Davidson is tiny compared to North Carolina State but the Wildcats enter this game as the favorite. They have multiple shooters on their team, which as Syracuse has shown three times this year, is a tough thing for State to handle. However, Davidson is not a particularly good offensive rebounding team. Since State has trouble securing defensive rebounds, this will be a key point.

The Wildcats have some size on the wings but how they match up inside against D.J. Funderburk and Manny Bates in the post will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.

In normal times, you always need to be concerned about how a Power Five club would react to being in the NIT. Would they look at it as beneath them? That certainly happened with State back in the 1983-84 season. The team had checked out and got bounced at home against Florida State, their seventh straight loss to close the season.

But it doesn’t feel like that’s the case here in 2021. If the team was mentally done, they could have easily declined the bid, opting to stay safe at home rather than subjecting themselves to more Covid protocols in Texas. And while that ’83-’84 team fell apart down the stretch, this State team had won five straight games before the ACC tournament.

The NIT was cut to 16 teams for this season. Two wins and State would be in the Final Four. It’s not the tournament you want to be in but let’s focus on the chance to play more games for the seniors and to get more experience for the freshmen. Oh, and State also has the chance to avenge a loss to Davidson the last time they played. Of course, that Wildcats team had a player you might have heard of – Stephen Curry.

It’s time for the 2021 ACC tournament

NC State begins its 2021 postseason with a noon game Wednesday against Syracuse in the second round of the ACC tournament. Outside of the start time, the draw worked out as well as State could have hoped for. No one wants to play a noon game, pretty much ever. The lousy game against Virginia Tech a few years ago, where State was held under 30 points? Yep, a noon game.

Now for the positives. The biggest one was getting the first-round bye. It’s next to impossible to win five games in five days and the tournament absolutely needs to be reorganized so that’s not necessary for any team. Next up is a matchup against Syracuse. It seems an odd thing to say, given that Syracuse won both games during the regular season. Yet both of those games came after losing Devon Daniels, when the team was struggling to find its footing. And both games were close, with State blowing a lead late in the first matchup. The old saying – back from when each team played home-and-home matchups against every conference foe – was that it’s hard to beat a team three times. It’s not hard if one team is clearly better than the other. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. State and Syracuse seem fairly evenly matched.

Next up in the positive camp is that Virginia edged out Florida State for the top seed. Basketball is so much about matchups and the Wolfpack just has a ton of difficulty with the size and athleticism of the Seminoles. Virginia certainly has some size, most notably with 15th-year senior Jay Huff, who checks in at 7’1. And there are three others on the UVA roster at 6’9 and above. But Virginia’s deliberate style of play is a better draw for State. And should the Pack advance past Syracuse, they’ll face off against Virginia in the third round. Another team State played twice this season but this time it was a split during the regular season, with each winning on the other’s home floor. State actually led in the first game before a late Virginia rally. The Cavaliers are a better team. But State, which won in Charlottesville in the 2019-20 season, too, isn’t intimidated by facing this team.

If somehow State gets past Virginia, its most likely opponent in the semis would be Georgia Tech. The two teams did not play this year because of Covid. Tech presents its own matchup problems for State, not for any particular size or style of play but just … because. For whatever reason, Kevin Keatts has not fared well against Josh Pastner, despite having arguably more talented teams. But a lot has to go right before the Pack gets a shot to settle that particular score.

What we know for sure is that the Pack is both well-rested and playing its best basketball of the season, having won five straight games. The freshmen have acclimated to the league and gotten over the hump of losing their best player to injury. Keatts has made the adjustment to being more of an interior-focused squad. There’s a lot to like here, even if there are a few obvious shortcomings.

The injuries to Daniels and Thomas Allen have eliminated the depth. State is still not a great defensive team. They turn the ball over a bit more than they should. While they have several players capable of scoring 20 on any given night, there’s no go-to guy when they need a bucket. You never know how freshman are going to react in the pressure of the tournament.

But with no dominating teams at the top of the conference, pretty much every outcome is in play. As the ninth seed, it wouldn’t be a surprise if State lost in the opening round. Yet, with the draw they have, it wouldn’t be a shock if they made it to the finals. Perhaps there’s no better indication than that of the wild basketball season it’s been for the Pack in this time of Covid.

Survive and advance, baby!

State upsets #15 Viginia in remarkable late-season turnaround

There were high hopes coming into the 2020-21 season for the Wolfpack. However, Covid disruptions, injuries and a longer break-in period for the freshman than hoped for have all contributed to a disappointing season. However, the team seems to have finally found its footing, despite the season-ending injury to Devon Daniels, and nowhere was that more apparent than in yesterday’s 68-61 victory on the road against #15 Virginia.

Immediately following Daniels’ injury, State lost four of its next five games, with the lone win coming against a Boston College squad struggling with its own Covid issues. But State has now won three straight games and another injury has helped pave the way for this latest winning streak.

Starting guard Thomas Allen, a junior playing his first season in Raleigh after transferring from Nebraska, has missed the last three games with a leg injury. With Allen sidelined, redshirt freshman Dereon Seabron has been inserted into the lineup. A 6’7 wing, Seabron can do a little bit of everything and his intensity has made a big difference in the lineup.

Down Allen and Daniels, there have been more minutes for Seabron and true freshmen Cam Hayes and Shakeel Moore. Hayes looked primed to play major minutes before being sidelined with Covid and it’s taken longer than expected for him to return to his early-season strong play. But in his last three games, the point guard Hayes has combined for 38 points with just eight turnovers in 93 minutes, terrific numbers for a freshman in conference play.

With Seabron in the starting lineup, the Pack has done more full-court pressure, the system we’ve been hoping to see since Kevin Keatts became coach four years ago. The pressure is not as successful as Keatts’ teams at UNC-Wilmington but State is trying to run it while only going seven deep, which is less than ideal.

But paring down the rotation has resulted in better play, as it seems the freshmen are comfortable in their roles. It’s up for debate if the improved play is the result of more minutes or if it’s a case of the youngsters simply adapting to the level of play. Whatever the reason, we’re now seeing the type of team that we hoped to at the beginning of the season.

In the Virginia game, State jumped out to an early lead and essentially dictated play for 40 minutes. The color man for the game, former Notre Dame star Jordan Cornette, said near the end of the contest that people would think this was a game that Virginia lost. But anyone who watched it would know it was a game that N.C. State won. It’s an important distinction.

State has three games left on its schedule before the ACC Tournament. However, there is the possibility that games that were postponed earlier in the year could be made up. State lost three conference games to Covid earlier in the year. Yesterday’s Virginia game was rescheduled from its original January 20 slot. Still outstanding are a game at Louisville and home against Georgia Tech.

In an interview with Mike Waters that was published on February 4, ACC Senior Associate Commissioner for Basketball Paul Brazeau said:

” It’s going to be difficult to play all of the postponed games, but we are exploring all options to make up as many as we can. We want to keep them on the table. We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve been able to schedule some games to replace postponed games and we’ve been able to make up some postponed games.’’

Here, three weeks later, it seems unlikely that any more games will be added to the schedule. The Georgia Tech game would be a good one to have available, as the two teams are close in the conference standings and it would be a chance for State to add a win to its resume.

An NCAA bid would probably require the Wolfpack to advance to the ACC tournament finals, if not an outright win of the tournament. It’s not what we expected but given all of the uncertainty with the world at large, it’s hard to complain too much about a basketball team’s output.

To end on an encouraging note, this State team did not quit when it would have been incredibly easy for them to do so. Despite a lousy record and losing their top player to a season-ending injury – on top of all of the extra precautions that athletes need to take to avoid the virus – this team fought to the very end. They played their most complete game of the year on February 20 against Wake Forest. And then they played a better game on February 24 against defending champion Virginia.

In the last two seasons, only two conference teams have won a game at Virginia. That would be N.C. State in 2019-20 and State again in 2020-21. The Pack should have at least four more games remaining this season. Hopefully they can keep up their strong recent play and give fans another highlight or two before the year ends.

State loses Devon Daniels in win over Wake

My thought coming into this college basketball season was that this NC State Wolfpack team was going to surprise a lot of people. My expectation was to write about them regularly and even have a Game Chatter or two, especially when the Pack played UVA, the alma mater of two former Mets360 writers.

But then Covid has disrupted the college basketball season even more than the college football season, which caught me off guard. In football State had to push back its first game but other than that, did not have any disruptions to its schedule. When you figure that there are roughly 90 people on a football team – not to mention all of the support personnel required – that gave me a false level of confidence for basketball season.

State has had numerous player absences due to Covid plus four games outright canceled and three others postponed due to the virus. It’s tough to remember when they’re actually scheduled to even play.

Last night they played Wake Forest and perhaps for the first time all season, they had all of their players eligible to play. After falling behind 8-2 early, State built a double-digit lead, despite not playing particularly well. They shot well from behind the arc but there were way too many turnovers and rebounding was a surprising issue, given the respective rosters.

They led by 14 points midway through the second half but things came to a screeching halt when senior Devon Daniels went to the floor and stayed down, even though it was hard to see what caused the injury. He did not return to the game and his status is still unclear around noon the following day. Reports right after the game indicated it might take up to 48 hours to determine the extent of the injury to Daniels’ left leg.

Daniels is the team’s best player. He’s not afraid of doing anything on the basketball court, including taking the tough shot or guarding the other team’s best player. Yes, he tends to dominate the ball a bit too much and his teammates too often defer to him. But there’s no denying his ability to take the ball to the basket against any defender. He scored 20 points before leaving with just over nine minutes to play in the second half.

And State struggled offensively without him on the floor.

Prior to the injury, State was playing the type of game that we’ve been waiting to see since Kevin Keatts took over the program. They utilized 10 players and picked up defensively all over the court. The defensive pressure helped force a ton of Wake Forest turnovers, although it’s not like Wake needed a bunch of help to throw the ball away.

But without Daniels, both the players and coaches seemed uncertain of just what to do. The big lead allowed them to weather the storm and they finished with a five-point win, snapping a four-game losing streak. But instead of it being a joyful night, it brought up a big worry.

Still, it’s hard not to recall Dereck Whittenburg back in the 1982-83 season. Then #19 ranked State was playing top-ranked Virginia and Whittenburg was having a great game. He had 27 points in the first half and State held a double-digit lead. But then Whittenburg injured his foot and had to leave the game. Virginia ended up winning by eight points. Whittenburg missed 14 games but came back at the end of the year and helped guide State to an NCAA Championship.

It’s wishcasting of the highest order to think that history will repeat itself here. But State learned to play without one of its top players and became a better team in the process. And they were able to incorporate Whittenburg back into the offense when he returned to the court. Those things could happen now, if Daniels has to miss a few games.

State has two potential impact guards in its freshmen class, who need more playing time. It figures that if Daniels is sidelined that it will lead to more playing time for Cam Hayes and Shakeel Moore. Hayes got off to a great start before being sidelined with Covid. His play has been spotty since his return and his minutes have gone down. Moore seems to play well whenever he’s on the court. Both should be the recipient of more playing time.

Of course, the concern is that Keatts will give most of Daniels’ minutes to Braxton Beverly. At his best, Beverly brings good decision making and strong outside shooting. But he’s always a defensive liability and, quite frankly, he’s almost never at his best when it comes to shooting. Keatts needs to suffer the growing pains with Hayes and Moore. Last night, all three played an equal number of minutes. Beverly and Hayes each logged 20 minutes while Moore totaled 18. Without Daniels, Hayes and Moore should each play significantly more minutes than Beverly.

Covid has ruined what seemed like a breakthrough season for State. The injury to Daniels just throws everything into an even more uncertain outcome. Keatts can choose to play it safe by giving more minutes to the senior Beverly. But here’s hoping he opts for the greater upside with Hayes and Moore.

State 79, BC 76 (12/20/20)

Yep, another post about N.C. State basketball on a Mets site.

Last night, State eked out a win over Boston College, 79-76. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a game to write about, especially on a baseball blog. But, it just seems that this season is going to be memorable and that these games should be chronicled. Shoot, maybe along the way a few of you will become fans.

BC isn’t very good but somehow, they always seem to give State fits. Of course, it’s not like State has had unparalleled success the last 20 years, either. It’s just that you see BC on the basketball schedule and you think, “well, here’s a win.” And it’s never easy.

The game started the way Wolfpack fans expected, with State jumping on top early. And then DJ Funderbuk came off the bench, making his first appearance after a long Covid absence. And it seemed like he never was gone, as he immediately became a force down low, scoring buckets in bunches right around the rim.

State jumped out to a 15-point first half lead. But midway through the half, Manny Bates left the game with some type of knee injury. He collided with a BC player away from the ball and it certainly didn’t look like much. But he didn’t play the rest of the game. Bates has become an important offensive piece for the Pack this season. And his shot blocking is a major weapon, too.

At the half, State led by 10. But in the second half, everything fell apart. BC came out with much more energy and on top of being lethargic, State ran into foul trouble. Braxton Beverly, who eventually fouled out, was sent to the bench but given how poorly he was playing, that wasn’t a big deal. But Funderburk picked up a quick two fouls in the second half and was nowhere near the factor he was before intermission. And with Bates gone, State struggled to score.

Jerricole Hellems did his best to keep State afloat but he didn’t have much help. And eventually BC took the lead. It was back and forth down the stretch until freshman Shakeel Moore hit a jumper to put State up, 77-76. After a steal, Moore provided the game’s final points with an attempted dunk that didn’t quite go as planned, yet still went in the basket. It should be noted that Moore failed to pass the ball ahead to a wide open Funderburk.

Wynston Tabbs shot the Eagles back in the game, hitting a bunch of 3s in the second half. But he made the mistake of intentionally bumping into Devon Daniels after a made bucket. There was no reason to do that – other than taunting. No foul was called but Daniels got his revenge, as he came up with the steal in the final moments that clinched the win for State.

BC entered the game shooting 31.7% on 3-point shots. State entered the game holding opponents to 26% from behind the arc. So, of course, BC proceeded to hit 10 three-point shots in the game, at a 43.5% clip.

But even with BC’s hot shooting, Bates out with an injury and Funderburk in foul trouble – State came out with a win. It’s the type of game that State absolutely would have lost in the past. The Pack is now 6-1 with a 2-0 mark in the conference.

This was their first game after defeating then #17 ranked UNC. Under State’s previous three coaches, the Wolfpack was 2-20 following a win against either UNC or Duke. Under current coach Kevin Keatts, the Pack is now 3-1 in such games. As the coach said during his introductory press conference, “Kevin Keatts is a winner.”

Ramblings about State’s win over the Evil Empire

Every now and then, I’ll write a post on my college team, the North Carolina State Wolfpack. There are some similarities between the Pack and the Mets, chief among them is that both team have won it all twice and how both programs take a back seat in national stature to other programs in the state. Much like Mets fans relish beating the Yankees, State fans like nothing better than beating UNC. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t happen all too often, as the Tar Heels usually have an edge in both talent and coaching. And, as a conspiratorial State fan, they always have an edge when it comes to the calls in a game. If Jamie Luckie is the ref, you can guarantee that some pivotal calls will go against you. And he’s not the only one.

UNC’s coach is Roy Williams, who is unquestionably an outstanding basketball coach. His teams run an offense that is very fun to watch. They typically rebound the ball very well and get down the court on a normal possession faster than most teams do when trailing by one with five seconds remaining. Because of their coach, history and their current record, they usually are in the running for the 5-star prospects. It’s a tough cycle to break. But Williams himself may be showing signs of … imploding. Last year was a down year for the program. Of all of the awful things that have happened in our Covid world, one of the toughest sports things for me to take was having the NCAA Tournament canceled – one that would have included State and have had UNC on the sidelines. During the year, Williams said this about the squad made up entirely of guys he had recruited:

the least gifted team I’ve ever coached in the time that I’ve been back here.

It gained a little bit of national attention but really there were no repercussions. If a coach at just about any other ACC school had said that, he would have been roasted by the national media. But there was nothing of the kind here. And it didn’t affect recruiting, as the Heels had the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, including three 5-star recruits. Last night was the State-Carolina game and the good guys won, 79-76. It’s hard to think that this year’s UNC team won’t be much, if any, better than last year’s disappointing squad, despite the fact they came into the game as the #17 team in the country.

State was playing without its top offensive weapon and one of two reliable big men on its roster, DJ Funderburk. On top of that, it had one of its top players returning for the first time in over three weeks due to a Covid-related issue. Cam Hayes played well in his return but played reduced minutes as he wasn’t in game shape. In normal circumstances, this would have resulted in a UNC win by at least 20 points. For once, it’s nice to say that these are not normal times. Sure, UNC enjoyed its typical rebounding edge. And it received a few calls along the way, too. But nothing else about this game seemed normal at all. As a Knicks fan, State had a play in this game that brought back memories, as freshman guard Shak Moore went baseline and threw down a lefty dunk over Player of the Year candidate Garrison Brooks. It was like watching John Starks all over again.

The final margin was three points but it was only that way due to State missing six of its final eight free throws and Carolina enjoying hot shooting down the stretch. State led by as many as 17 points and had a double-digit lead with just over four minutes remaining in the game.

Usually, a State win over Carolina brings elation but somehow not this time. Yes, it would have been crushing to have lost this one but the feeling of watching this version of UNC brings to mind the old Peggy Lee song – Is That All There Is? What should have been a unique and wonderful experience instead was a disappointment. Maybe this was just a bad night and we’ll soon see again a typical UNC squad.

But what really matters is that this State team, picked in the preseason to finish eighth in the conference, has the chance to have its best season in years. This is coach Kevin Keatts’ fourth year in Raleigh and he has his deepest team yet. The team has two good big men in Funderburk and Manny Bates and two other 6-10′ guys to use in case of foul trouble. And they have waves of guards and wings who can score, handle the ball and apply defensive pressure. The preseason ranking made sense, because the Pack lost their top two scorers from a year ago. But the incoming freshman class includes two guards ready to play, and play well, right now. There’s also a redshirt freshman who’s 6’7 and can handle the ball in transition.

In any sport, there are teams that are good but aren’t necessarily fun to watch. This State basketball team will be a fun one when everyone is healthy. Bates is perhaps the best shot blocker in the nation and he put on a bunch of muscle in the offseason, making it tougher for people to go thru him or push him around down low. A shoulder injury robbed him of his senior year of high school and caused him to redshirt his first year at State. Last year he came back and led the league in blocked shots but was pretty much a zero offensively. The shoulder looks completely healed and last night he scored 14 points. Funderburk can score inside and out and is a terrific offensive rebounder.

Devon Daniels likes to go 1-on-4 sometimes but can take it to the hole in the halfcourt better than just about anyone around and is a dogged defender. Braxton Beverly consistently makes good decisions with the ball and you cannot leave him open for a three. Jerricole Hellems does the dirty work and has games where he does it all on offense, too. Nebraska transfer Thomas Allen has yet to have a big game but has a reputation as a scorer. Hayes and Moore bring undeniable energy. Hayes should move into the starting lineup as the point guard before the year is out. Moore is considered the team’s best one-on-one defender, which is a pretty good thing to be on a team with Daniels.

Don’t be surprised if this Mets blog features a State game chatter before the season is out. There are two games upcoming against Virginia, school of former writer Brendan Vachris. You’ll might see a chatter for one of those. Come join me and talk trash about Virginia and its Neanderthal offense.

The Mets360 NCAA tournament wager

By far baseball is my favorite sport. But I’m a sports fan and I’ve spent quite a few Sundays watching nine hours of football, too. Despite those two statements, the best day of the year for a sports fan is the first day of the NCAA basketball tournament. And it just so happens today is that day.

I imagine that many people reading this today have filled out a bracket. I actually have two this year, both free ones as I’ve never won a bracket pool in my life. In one, Michigan wins it all and the other one has Xavier. My goals for these are realistic ones. There’s no worry about me finishing first; my only hope is not to finish last.

But beyond my bracket, my hope is for the North Carolina State Wolfpack to make a good showing in the tourney. At the beginning of the year, you could have asked 1,000 fans of the Pack if they expected to make the tournament and all 1,000 of them would have said, “no.” They were picked to finish 12th in the preseason ACC media poll and no one argued with that assessment.

They had a new coach, who was coming in to take over a program that missed the tournament two straight seasons. The program graduated a lottery pick to the NBA, two other players left school early to pursue professional opportunities and two seniors used up their eligibility. The only recruit they had coming in left with the coaching change.

Kevin Keatts brought a new system and a new mindset. He brought in a couple of graduate transfers and two last-minute recruits and somehow molded this rag-tag collection of players into a team that had 11 conference wins and entered selection Sunday sure that they were going to make the tournament and not sweating things out.

A stumble down the stretch, where they lost two of their last three games, hurt their tournament seeding. The Pack ended up in the dreaded 8-9 game, meaning a tough matchup in Round 1 and if they were lucky enough to advance, they had to play #1 seed Kansas in its home state. So, State fans enter today with conflicting emotions. On one hand, we’re giddy about being back in the tournament when at the start of the year the NIT wasn’t even a realistic goal. But on the other hand, a decent finish could have put a sixth seed in play. Oh well.

And as far as what all this has to do with Mets360, well it turns out that State’s matchup today is against the Seton Hall Pirates. As you may or may not know, that’s the school where current Mets360 writer Dalton Allison attends and has done broadcast work for several different sports. Awhile back, we talked about the possibility of our two schools playing in the tournament and somewhat remarkably it has come to be.

So there’s a wager with Dalton on the outcome of today’s game. He suggested that we put up a baseball card as the prize. So, if Seton Hall wins, Dalton will be the proud owner of an EX-MT 1968 Topps # 27 Gil Hodges. As of last night, Dalton was unable to access his card collection to see what card he could put up for his half of the deal. Perhaps he’s thinking it won’t be necessary.

Seton Hall has a veteran team, is the higher seed and at last check were 2.5 point favorites.

In this crazy year for N.C. State basketball, the opponent makes almost no difference. State can beat any team in the country – evidenced by victories over Arizona, Duke, Carolina and Clemson – and they can lose to any team in the land, too. Among the low points this season were losses to Northern Iowa, UNC Greensboro and Georgia Tech.

The Pack plays a small lineup and gets abused when the other team successfully runs its half-court offense. For State to win, they have to hit 3-pointers, force turnovers and keep the other team from having a good day from beyond the arc. Because it’s a given that they are going to hit the majority of their 2-point shots, as many of them will be easy layups.

So, if you’re watching today’s game – which is at 4:30 p.m. – and the Pirates seem to be running a layup drill – that’s to be expected. The key for the Pack is to keep the game close early and rely on better conditioning and no fear of the big moment to pull out the game at the end.

Who’s going to win our wager? And who do you see winning the tournament?

Despite what announcers think, N.C. State made the right move firing Mark Gottfried

My college team is North Carolina State and if you know anything about college hoops, you know it’s been a tough year for Wolfpack basketball. In short, never has someone done so little with so much. And as you might expect when reality doesn’t match expectations, State made the decision to fire its basketball coach.

In somewhat of a surprise, Coach Mark Gottfried requested that he be allowed to coach the remainder of the season. Since the season had long gone down the tubes, and no one on the staff was a realistic replacement, it was an easy request to grant. Gottfried looks somewhat heroic and if he can coax the team to a few wins, maybe it helps him land his next job.

What’s certainly come out of this is the opportunity for the announcers that cover the State games to go on and on about what a fine man that Gottfried is, with the implication being that the powers that be at State were too quick to get rid of a guy who led the program to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and two spots in the Sweet 16.

Those are absolutely part of Gottfried’s record at State. So are a record number of transfers, two straight losing seasons and the fewest home wins in conference play in school history. Somehow the announcers fail to tell that part of the story.

Before joining the Wolfpack, Gottfried was an analyst at ESPN. Undoubtedly, it’s hard for broadcasters to criticize one of their own. That would be okay if they just reported on his firing and his desire to continue coaching. But when they go into editorializing and saying that somehow he got a raw deal, well then it’s a problem.

Saturday, the announcers went on and on how Gottfried was coaching hard. He allowed himself to be mic’d up for the game – the snippets they replayed for the audience were nothing more than rah-rah stuff – and he stood for most of the contest and gesticulated wildly. His team also lost by 15 points at home on Senior Day against a team that had lost four straight, twice failing to crack 50 points. They scored 70 against Gottfried’s club.

Gottfried has always been an offensive coach, one who once famously said, “Hey, they’ve got to guard us, too, pal.” He made those Sweet 16s by utilizing the UCLA high post offense and featuring multiple guys who could score from various places on the court.

But this year’s team (last year’s, too) had no resemblance to that offense. Instead, there was a lot of standing around, with a bunch of passes around the perimeter and then either a contested 3-point shot or a reckless drive to the basket with the hopes of getting bailed out by the officials. The high post offense turned into the clogged toilet offense.

And with seemingly no emphasis on defense, the result has been one blowout after another. In State’s last 17 games, they’re 4-13 with eight of those losses coming by double digits and five of those by 20 or more points.

They’ve been primarily a man-to-man team under Gottfried and this year any ball screen by any team anywhere on the court results in a wide-open jump shot. They tried to play more zone this year and the results were predictably horrible. The zone didn’t eliminate the open shots but on the rare occasions the other team missed, it led to way too many offensive rebounding chances.

Gottfried has been an excellent recruiter at State and this year landed point guard Dennis Smith. It was understood that Smith was a one-and-done guy, an elite talent projected to be a lottery pick before he played a single game in college. Smith put up two triple-doubles earlier in the year, a testament to his broad range of skills. Lately all he does is play one-on-one because he has no confidence in any of his teammates. Saturday he was torched on defense by a freshman reserve with a man bun. We’ll be charitable and say Smith hasn’t progressed at all since suiting up at State.

Another high-profile recruit was 7-footer Omer Yurtseven, another assumed one-and-done and lottery pick. Yurtseven was suspended the first handful of games because of irregularities with his former club in Turkey. He looked lost from Day One and the idea of him playing in the NBA is laughable. In Saturday’s game he never left the bench. Yurtseven should have been the focal point of the high-post offense. Instead he’s completely broken and it’s hard to imagine a more complete coaching failure.

A step below those two guys but still a highly-regarded freshman was Ted Kapita, a big man with a motor. Kapita was instrumental in State’s upset win over Duke, as he logged 14 points and 10 rebounds. Two games later he played all of six minutes in an overtime loss. Kapita played 20 minutes, scored eight and grabbed six boards in State’s win over Georgia Tech. Their next outing he played just two minutes in the 15-point loss to Virginia.

Gottfried had a team this year that was legitimately 10 guys deep, with quality players at every position. But he insisted on playing guys 35 minutes or more a night. This team should have been like Louisville, aggressively playing defense all 94 feet, substituting regularly to keep guys fresh. Instead they played a brand of defense equivalent to what you see at the NBA All-Star game and guys never knew from game to game what to expect minutes-wise.

So, we have non-existent defense, an unimaginative offense, screwed-up substitution patterns and not one player appreciably better at the end of the year than he was at the beginning. And the talking heads want us to believe that the Administration is giving Gottfried the short end of the stick? Hey pal, you’ve got to give us something, too.

Hopefully director of athletics Debbie Yow will hit a home run with her new coaching hire. She’s done an outstanding job bringing in quality people in the non-revenue sports but her hires in both the basketball and football programs have drawn criticism. The last couple of coaching searches for basketball have been far from smooth and the national media are bending over backwards to predict that few will want to take the job.

State has retained Parker Executive Search in Atlanta to assist in the process of hiring a new basketball coach. A third-party can contact coaches to gauge interest and also do background checks and save State’s Administration a lot of time in narrowing down the list of suitable replacements while also (hopefully) eliminating any surprises.

There should be no illusions that the State job is an easy one. But it’s also an extremely high-profile job with top-notch facilities that should draw interest from anyone with a desire to prove himself the best. In a way, it’s similar to Theo Epstein in Chicago. Win here and you become an instant legend.

The new coach will have to stem the tide of transfers out of the program. It’s the new reality in college basketball and while it may not be realistic to expect zero transfers with a coach leaving, hopefully the damage here will be minimal. Center BeeJay Anya, the school’s all-time leader in blocks, and a guy who publicly cursed out Gottfried this year, will have used up his eligibility. Terry Henderson is applying for another redshirt season, but he’s likely gone, too.

Smith is off to the NBA. Malik Abu put his name in the NBA Draft last year but came back for his junior year. It will be a surprise if he’s back. The new coach will have to convince Yurtseven to stick around as well as point guard Markell Johnson, who should take over for Smith. Those two and Kapita would be a nice foundation for the new coach, should he be able to keep all three.

The other player who may move on is Shaun Kirk, a little-used reserve who should have been seeing 15 minutes per game this year. Kirk is long and lean, hustles all over the floor and can jump out of the gym. This year, in what little we saw of him, he developed a nice baseline jumper. He had an offer from Kentucky but chose to stay in state and play with the Woflpack. Assuming the new coach doesn’t insist on playing four guards, like Gottfried has done the second half of the year, there should be playing time available. Hopefully Kirk has enjoyed his non-basketball time at State and will stick around.

Maverick Rowan can fill it up from the outside but has been hurt tremendously by the clogged toilet offense. It was also a giant mistake by Gottfried to play both Henderson and Rowan at the same time, two guys with identical skill sets. If they’re not hitting jumpers, they’re simply not helping you at all. Rowan was also miscast as a power forward. A new coach could come in and get great use out of Rowan with better utilization.

The other key returnee is Torin Dorn, who transferred to State from UNC-Charlotte. He’s not a star but he plays hard and can score if needed. His best fit is probably to act as a defensive stopper on a wing player. If coached to focus his energy on the defensive end, he could be a nice asset.

If everything breaks right, the coach would have six guys who saw court action this year. Plus Lennard Freeman would be back for his senior year after taking a medical redshirt. Freeman is a decent rotation big man, perfectly fine if he only has to play 15 minutes a night. Also, the Pack has signed combo guard Thomas Allen, who has already confirmed his commitment after the news about Gottfried being fired broke.

It’s not quite the talent that Gottfried had this season but clearly the cupboard isn’t bare. And if Herb Sendek could recruit when he was in Raleigh, whoever the new coach is should be able to bring in quality newcomers, too.

The triumph of good over evil

There will be another baseball post today but right now, my thoughts are 100 percent on basketball.

NCSULast night was a reminder of why we invest so much in sports. My team, the North Carolina State Wolfpack was playing the Evil Empire, also known as the University of North Carolina. In recent years, the rivalry was extremely one-sided, with the good guys on the short end of the stick. On top of that, most of these were of the blowout variety. And for the final kick in the pants, the few that were close seemed to sway on questionable calls that always went the ways of the baby blue, none worse so than a few years back in the ACC Tournament.

The past two games were close, with UNC claiming one and two-point wins. It had been a roller coaster ride for both teams this season, but both schools came into the game on an up note. State was coming off back-to-back conference wins, including an upset road win over ranked Louisville. Carolina had played that epic game in Durham, falling in overtime to Duke, and then blew out Georgia Tech.

There was a lot riding on the game, with Carolina looking for an ACC Tournament double-bye, given to the top four teams in the conference and State looking to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume with another win over a ranked opponent. Plus, UNC coach Roy Williams has never been shy about his feelings about the Wolfpack, famously claiming that he’d rather beat State than eat.

State had never beaten a Roy Williams coached team in Chapel Hill, with their last road win in the series coming back in 2003 when Matt Doherty was on the bench. And Williams came in with a 23-2 record against State while leading UNC. Essentially, the Wolfpack was his unwanted redheaded step child that he beat at will.

Tuesday night, UNC scored first and had a 2-0 lead. It was the only time all game they were ahead. Neither team played particularly well offensively but with State taking away Carolina’s vaunted fast break offense, it took an 11-point lead into halftime. Early in the second half, the lead expanded to 16 and it looked like not only would a long-awaited win in this series materialize, but it would be a rout, too.

Of course, things are never easy for State. On the offensive end it became one and out and buoyed by getting stops, UNC got out and ran the floor for easy buckets. At the 7:58 mark, a three by Carolina cut the State lead to four. Each team missed three shots in the next six possessions before State’s 3-point specialist Raulston Turner buried one from downtown. Carolina would get no closer than five points the rest of the game.

Despite missing several free throws down the stretch, State emerged with a 58-46 win. If before the game started you had told any Wolfpack fan that their team would shoot 35% from the floor and win, they wouldn’t have believed it.

OK, now you must be thinking that it’s all well and good that the underdog won a rivalry game but what makes posting a basketball story on a baseball blog worthwhile?

Unless you are around the area, it’s impossible to know the arrogance that UNC and its fans exude. However, it’s something you should be able to relate to, assuming you’ve ever spent time talking to a Yankees fan. Yet, the UNC arrogance/entitlement takes on an even more heinous air with things that have gone on outside the court.

My guess is that most of you are aware of charismatic former State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who led the team to the NCAA Tournament championship back in 1983. That didn’t sit very well with the powers that be at UNC and they took their revenge in two distinct ways – one that was painfully obvious when it happened and the other that the public at large is just starting now to understand some 25-plus years later.

Shortly after the ’83 season, Valvano became the school’s AD in addition to the basketball coach – a promotion that would prove to be disastrous. There was a lack of institutional control, rules were broken and the school ended up in trouble with the NCAA. After an exhaustive search, the NCAA concluded that players sold complimentary game tickets and basketball shoes. The more serious charge of grade changes was not found to be true.

Trouble with the NCAA was bad enough. But the local paper made it job one to “get” Valvano and essentially drove him out of town. That was a kick in the pants that the school would have recovered from in a couple of years. But State is part of the UNC system and the UNC Board of Governors put in restrictions and personnel that effectively neutered the entire athletics department – but most notably the basketball team – for two decades. Only with the hiring of Debbie Yow as AD has the athletics department at N.C. State had independent leadership and the turnaround in the past five years, in all sports, has been amazing.

People now talk about UNC and Duke as being the premier college basketball rivalry. That one only came to the forefront once Valvano was disgraced and the program was thrown into disarray. Before that it was three schools that were rivals and even that was only once Mike Krzyzewski had built the Duke program back up. When State won the national championship, Coach K and Duke were 11-17 overall and 3-11 in the conference.

Somewhere in this time span – no one knows exactly when – UNC, which always boasted about doing things the right way (The Carolina Way) and how they were a “Public Ivy,” devised a systematic way of cheating that would make SEC schools blush. There have always been easy classes – each school in the nation has “Rocks for Jocks” or some such similar course – but UNC developed an entire major which had independent study courses that did not require attendance of any sort and grades were given on papers that weren’t written by the athletes.

Rashad McCants went from being on academic probation to making the Dean’s List thanks to these no-show classes. And he was far from the only one. News of this began to leak out a few years ago in regards to the football team. The UNC reaction was to deny that it happened. When that lie was no longer working, they started to say that it wasn’t an issue because non student-athletes were in the classes, too.

Let that one sink in for a minute.

At the same time, they tried to shield the storied basketball program – saying it was just a football thing. That, too, was proven to be a lie. Then they started in with the idea that no one knew about this – that it was the result of a couple of “rogue” administrators. Evidence is coming out to refute that one, too. Coach Williams has done the “aw shucks” thing and has been under a lot of scrutiny but so far there have been few (read: none/no) repercussions other than some bad local press.

Right now the big thing for UNC is to shield the sainted Dean Smith from any involvement in this scandal. It would have been valuable to have Smith shed some light on the history of athletics and academics when he was coach but he recently passed away after a bout with Alzheimer’s, which he had been battling since at least 2011.

Incredibly, the NCAA investigated and instituted no sanctions against the university despite its blatant academic fraud. Only the tireless efforts of Dan Kane – click here for one of his detailed stories on the cheating – has kept the scandal from being buried by those who profit handsomely from UNC’s basketball factory.

It’s an extremely difficult thing for N.C. State fans to accept that selling complimentary shoes and tickets is a bigger infraction than receiving credit for non-existent classes, which gave Carolina a serious competitive advantage for decades.

Meanwhile, the company line among UNC fans has gone from how they’re different (The Carolina Way, Public Ivy) to how everyone does it and they just got caught. Somehow, the idea that getting “caught” usually means some kind of penalty being invoked has been completely lost on these people.

If it was a just world, all of the victories by the basketball team while this program was in place would be vacated and the NCAA championship banners, won with athletes who had no business being academically eligible, would be taken down. Me, I’d settle for a public admission of responsibility and guilt from both UNC and the NCAA.

It’s hard not to notice that UNC is now 1-3 since coach Smith passed. It’s almost like his deal with the devil has expired and karma is finally coming home to roost, even if the NCAA and the ACC pretend that nothing wrong happened.

Oh, somehow it hasn’t been mentioned yet that the head of the ACC, John Swofford, is a former AD at Carolina. The league office has no interest in seeing UNC disciplined, even though they brought the hammer down on Florida State for far less serious issues.

So, this wasn’t just a rivalry win. It was a win for a program that received a punishment far greater than what was merited, over a program that commits academic fraud and controls people in high places to avoid punishment. The ultimate conquest of good over evil.

Yow has made it a priority to bring in the best possible people and to demand accountability. She’s cut ties with the coaches in the two main revenue sports, who achieved little or no success. The football team has made a gigantic turnaround. Its five-win improvement this past season was the second-biggest increase among Power Five schools. This past season ended with a bowl win and State just signed four of the top 10 in-state football prospects for the first time ever.

The basketball team seems headed for its fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, is peaking at the right time and this season secured wins over its two biggest rivals (UNC, Duke) including a double-digit road win over the hated Tar Heels, a squad with six former McDonald’s All-Americans. Now, State, Duke and Carolina now are all fighting over highly-regarded forward Brandon Ingram, who saw the State-Duke game in person.

Ingram hails from Kinston, N.C. – which in recent years has been a prime recruiting area for UNC, yielding players like Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Bullock, among others. Stackhouse is Ingram’s AAU coach. For him to go elsewhere besides UNC would be a major upset. Yet there’s a belief that Ingram is concerned about the academic scandal and is no lock to pick Chapel Hill. Five years ago, there’s no way that Ingram would pick State. Now, anything is possible.

The accumulation of prospects is completely different in college sports and professional baseball. But it’s exciting to see the progress that State has made in recruiting the top local players once Yow took over as the AD. Just like it’s exciting to see top prospects for the Mets finally starting to make an impact.

The Mets and N.C. State basketball both enjoyed tremendous years in the 1980s, each winning a championship. After years of depressing play from both teams, fans are ready for what’s coming next. The Mets won’t be able to match the joy of State’s big win Tuesday night. But they can come out and compete against the Nationals and show they’re ready for the beatings to cease.

Go Pack! Let’s Go Mets!