Caught You at a Good Time

By the time the Wolfpack’s fate was sealed in their Sweet 16 loss to Louisville in the NCAA tournament a week and a half ago, I had seen more NC State basketball in the month of March than I did in the previous five months combined. That’s as much a testament to NC State’s effort to extend their March as it was an indicator of how unsupportive I continue to be as a fan. But I am a fan, and I am so proud of this team. I’m also a little disappointed.

Making it to the Sweet 16 was a great accomplishment for this team, an iteration of an ever evolving program that some have called the most exciting they’ve watched in their lifetime. When I first read that sentiment, it gave me pause. I mean, how could you forget about those Hodge teams or even the grit and grind of the Grundy teams in the late 90s/early Aughts? Or, even more recently, Zo and TJ1? But then I realized those guys were all guards2. While we’ve had semi-athletic or smooth operating bigs in the past, it’s been a while since we’ve had a combination of athleticism and strength in the front court to go along with a cadre of nice guard play in the backcourt. And suddenly I find myself wondering if perhaps this is the most exciting Wolfpack squad we’ve fielded in more than thirty years.

Don’t worry, I’m not making the leap quite yet. It’s just something to consider. I don’t think we’re better than Louisville, and the outcome of the game late last week certainly bears that out – but we were good enough to beat them that night. Louisville stepped up and did what they had to do to put us away. I’m disappointed that we let some solid opportunities slip through our fingers, but I’m excited3 about next year. I don’t necessarily foresee an NCAA title or even an ACC title, but I think next year’s team will be a lot of fun to watch. I may have been late to the party, but it seems I certainly caught them at a good time.

Photo Credit: NC State

  1. Sorry, CJ.  ↩
  2. We’ll call TJ a wingman/really tall scorer.  ↩
  3. Don’t get too giddy, UNC fan. I’m not saying we’re going all the way. I’m not even trying to say we’ll be better than you. Sometimes, it’s not all about you.  ↩


Wednesday night’s instant classic in Durham resulted in bragging rights for Dookies until the teams meet again in a couple of weeks in Chapel Hill. Not only that, it means the rest of us are left with the insufferable whining of a select subset of Tarheel fans who think their HOF coach has lost his edge. Thankfully, there are national writers who, armed with a broader perspective and at least an average level of intelligence, are able to bring some semblance of reality back to the conversation. Here’s Chris Chase, writing for USA Today’s FTW:

Since returning to Carolina, after losing that title game with Kansas, Roy Williams has been the better basketball coach than Mike Krzyzewski. And not even the craziest at Cameron could say otherwise.

Chase certainly cites some interesting stats to support his assertion1. I don’t necessarily buy into his particular choice of statistics to compare the two almost equally great coaches. Coach K has a knock-out resume even outside of college basketball and Roy has the distinction of establishing substantial success at two different institutions, a not insignificant accomplishment even though he left Kansas without having won a title. But their respective personalities almost perfectly embody their programs2 in ways that, despite budding coaching trees, will be difficult to replace.

I think the subtext of Chase’s point is this – if you’re a Carolina fan and you’re cooing that it’s time for Roy to go, you’re off your rocker. The game hasn’t passed him by, he is a great coach and I don’t see any of that changing significantly before Roy decides for himself when it’s time to hang it up, no matter how near or far away that day is. Just cherish every game, season and ounce of success you have left with Roy because there’s no guarantee that there’s another Roy waiting in the wings to save whatever disastrous succession plan you’ve drawn up on a napkin.

  1. However, when referencing the coaches’ respective ACC records since Roy returned to Chapel Hill, Chase weirdly excludes Roy’s first year, correctly highlighting that Roy was coaching his predecessor’s players. Okay, but did Roy just roll the ball out for them and say “go play”? No. and pointing that out undermines any attempt to credit Roy with winning the national title the very next year with thos very same players.  ↩
  2. Coach K because he practically built Duke’s program, making it in his own image; and Roy because Roy is basically the perfect successor to Dean Smith – equal parts adaptable to the modern game and aww shucks good ol’ ball coach – though it took UNC a few revolutions around the earth and to Kansas and back to get him.  ↩

The Dean of Everything

When I saw the news on Twitter last Sunday about the passing of Dean Smith, my feeling of sadness was immediately followed by an urge to text JB and ask him to write something up for Notably Worthless. But after a brief moment, I realized it would mean more coming from me.

You see, I am not a lifelong Dean Smith fan. In fact, having been raised a Wolfpack fan, I was actually quite unimpressed with Dean Smith. But after he retired, the passage of time1 helped soften my hardened heart against Coach Smith. I was able to ignore the idol-worshiping noise a bit and finally absorb all of the stories that truly defined the man.

Sometimes talent, luck, hard work, and timing conspire to bring great fortune to a man. And other times, as in the case of Coach Smith, talent, luck, hard work, and timing conspire to bring great fortune to humanity. For a time, Dean Smith was measured by the players he produced and the wins he amassed. But that time has long since passed. Today, and for many generations to come, we remember Coach Smith for the men he served, the men he saved, and the men he sent out into the world better than he found them.

  1. And perhaps my own maturation.

Attack of the Future

National Signing Day for college football came and went this week and along with it came clear indicators of Dave Doeren’s plans for the Wolfpack’s future offensive attack. Highlighted by a pair of in-state, four star running backs, Doeren planted his flag firmly in staking his claim on in-state recruiting and a run-heavy offensive attack. Garner High School’s Nyheim Hines and Princeton High School’s Johnny Frasier highlight an incoming class that also features several solid offensive lineman. Obviously, the recruiting trail was blazed long before the Wolfpack’s late 2014 success; but that success, propelled by a run-first, throw-when-you-must attack, validates the recruiting strategy and should offer Wolfpack fans a mild dose of cautious optimism.

I’ve never been one to get sucked into recruiting season, favoring the dose of reality that comes in the fall over the pie-in-the-sky hope of less-than-perfect recruiting ratings systems. You can throw all the stars that you want at a player, but the player still has to play and the coach still has to coach. That said, I was drawn into this year’s hoopla by the mild national attention that a running back from my former high school received, even going so far as to watch the press conference announcing his commitment.

Taking the long view, I’m excited about the direction of NC State football. We have a young, enthusiastic coach who has tasted success and seems hungry for more. I just hope the university gives him time to grow and develop, just as many patient coaches work so hard to do with their young players.

Photo Credit: “Carter-Finley Stadium 1” by SMaloneyOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Power and the Steer

After watching yesterday’s Packers-Seahawks game, I found this observation from Grantland’s Robert Mays to be quite apt:

Wilson may steer the Seahawks, but Lynch is their power source.

I know Wilson’s great tosses to Baldwin and Kearse ultimately delivered the overtime win, but Marshawn Lynch was the only thing Seattle had on offense going into the 4th quarter. And the threat of Lynch is probably what gave Wilson the opportunity to check to that winning play at the line of scrimmage.

Hey, Marshawn. Thanks for playing. You’re pretty good.Yeah.

Finding Light in the Darkness

I know it has been a while, but with my beloved University under fire and my own personal misgivings about the situation it just hasn’t felt right. However, a recently published interview with UNC AD Bubba Cunningham has provided me with at least the hope that the athletic department has someone in charge who is up to the challenge. While, I understand there is a cynical view to be take here, you will get no such read from me. I am going to focus on the hope.

Bubba’s comments when asked about the planned renovations to the Tar Heel basketball cathedral should provide all Tar Heel fans with faith in his leadership:

I think we need to upgrade a number of our facilities, but I don’t think the timing is right. So it’s still there, it’s still on the back burner. And as soon as we feel like, as a University, that we’ve healed ourselves and we feel comfortable, then I think we’ll move forward.

I am most appreciative of the inward focus he shows here. The university community and family needs to come to grips with what we allowed to happen whether willingly or unwillingly. We all had a part to play in the compromise of the principals we said were so dear, and only when we as a Tar Heel community come together can we proceed.

But that’s when you have confidence and that’s when you have courage. And right now, we don’t. We’ve lost our own confidence; we’ve lost trust by our alumni, within the community, outside of the community…We have to get comfortable with who we are again and prove to people you can do both.

We have lost trust as a family just as the national academic and athletic community has lost faith in us. The University is too busy pointing fingers and plugging holes rather than focusing on the progress it has made to insure this will not occur again. We must focus on what needs to be done to prepare all who walk onto campus for the future whether they ever play a sport.

Some of it is time. And as Larry (Fedora) indicated when we hired him, I can say all of the right things, but we’ve got to do it. So we need to show that we’re going to admit students that can be successful. We need to provide them a great education while they’re here. They need to graduate. They need to get good jobs and go on and do things.

The University will not recover until it resolves to provide an education and opportunity to every student who sets foot on campus. That may seem like a sacrifice to some, but that is the place I fell in love with 25 years ago and the one to which I thought I belonged. Thank you Bubba, for allowing me to see that place once again.

“…but at some point, we can’t sit in neutral. We’ve got to move forward.”

Photo Credit: Zach Frailey via Flickr

What the Hess?

Being the casual NC state fan/observer that I am, my participation in tonight’s contest unfolded in much the same way it often does – I’m slightly aware that said contest is set to take place but I generally forget until sometime just before or after the contest starts when my Twitter timeline explodes with game time commentary. Tonight’s chatter was particularly loud because of the return of referee Karl Hess from a 3 year hiatus from Wolfpack competition. While I’m sure no one was surprised there would be D-R-A-M-A drama, I don’t know if Aaron Sorkin could have written a more tightly wound script than what unfolded in Reynolds Coliseum tonight. After setting the table brilliantly with an early technical foul against NC State head coach Mark Gottfried, Hess was handed the ultimate Wolfpack troll bait.

Down one after a reportedly brilliant set play from Wofford, State gets the ball back with two seconds left on the clock. Trevor Lacey takes the inbound pass, dribbles down the court and nails the game winning shot! Or does he?

Lacey’s shot dropped through the net after time expired so the burning question immediately following the quick celebration from the Wolfpack bench and Reynolds crowd – did Lacey’s shot leave his hands before time expired? Oh no, State fan, look who has the chance to redeem himself or just continue his lifelong troll of Pack fans everywhere.

In the end, Hess makes the right call, but I have to admit I got just a bit worried for him once I realized the call he had to make. Would the threat of a rabidly insane fan base be enough to tease him into making the wrong call? No way, he’s too much of a professional for that, isn’t he? What if he makes the wrong call? How would I feel about that, knowing that a redemption call played a part in ruining a well-earned victory for the Wofford players?

And here’s the real rub. Regardless of who was making the call, what call they had to make or why, there’s no way it should have even come down to that call anyway. If State fan wants to be upset at anyone it should be the players, the coach or just the night – a potentially off night that wasn’t going to see us walking away with the win even if we had the most pro-Pack referee giving us all the calls. I didn’t watch the game (all details provided herein courtesy of Twitter, Vine, and YouTube), but it certainly doesn’t seem like we were the better team tonight and that to me is a much harder pill to swallow than coming out on the wrong end of a great catch, run and shoot that was just a hair too late.

Photo Credit: @PackPride on Twitter via SI


This year’s NC State football team feels miles away from the 2002 team that went 9–3 and defeated Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. And yet, if the 2014 Wolfpack defeat the UCF Knights in the Bitcoin Bowl in St. Petersburg, FL on December 26th, they will finish the season 8–5, just two losses behind that highly touted Wolfpack squad. Further muddying the perspective, State fans were dismayed by the bowl selection process1, feeling like our 3–5 conference record earned us a spot in what? The Belk Bowl? Come on, State fan. Think about that.

We had a very nice season this year, but let’s not remove ourselves too far from reality. We looked good against our arch rival for 60 minutes and for 15 minutes against Florida State, a team that hasn’t shown up for a first quarter all season and a program that, somehow, we perennially match up well against for some reason or another. The rest of the season, we looked pedestrian and that probably serves as a clearer indication of where we actually stand as a football program – improving, but not quite good. Remember, our four non-conference wins did the most to make us bowl eligible and no one in their right minds is going to trot out that resumé as a justification for a better bowl game.

That said, we did what we needed to do. We won those early games, we competed in a few others, and we came away with victories in enough conference games to show some visible improvement over last year and we were rewarded with a trip to a bowl game. I personally would have loved a trip to the Belk Bowl, primarily because it’s closer and I might have considered attending, but the reality is we didn’t earn it and it’s time for State fans to take a step back and face reality2.

Photo Credit:

  1. State fans weren’t alone among ACC faithful in decrying the committee’s selection process and motives.
  2. I have no idea how we’ll do against UCF, but I think reality would have settled in real quick against the Bulldogs.

Matters of State

I am the last person who should be writing anything that even closely resembles celebratory talk about the Wolfpack’s convincing 35–7 rout of the Tarheels yesterday. Why? Because I’ve barely laid an eye on the Pack all season. That said, I had a lot of fun watching the game, especially in the 4th quarter with about five minutes left when I finally let my guard down a bit, cautiously optimistic that the game was a bit out of reach even for the quick-strike Tarheels. I won’t lie, I even got a little greedy, practically begging the Pack’s defense to hold on for the shutout.

That was actually the most fun I’ve had watching Pack football in a long time. Games where we execute so consistently throughout the entire 60 minutes are few and far between, especially against our arch-rival1 Tarheels. Do I think UNC put their best foot forward yesterday? No way. To be honest, I was dreading this game after watching the performance the Tarheels put up against Duke two Thursdays ago. In fact, the optimistic spin that Tarheel fans might reasonably put on this is that this was a classic hangover/trap game after beating their real rivals, and of course the Pack would come out fired up with an extra week of preparation for their “Super Bowl”. Sour grapes for sure, but that’s to be expected from the wine and cheese crowd and, quite frankly, I’d much rather have this win than whatever’s next for the Pack. Calling it our Super Bowl is probably an apt observation.

Just a quick aside on the note of rivalry. The rise of Duke’s football program under David Cutcliffe certainly won’t do State fans any favors in the not-our-rival conversation. It certainly doesn’t help that Carolina and Duke are in the same division, with their match-ups having potential head-to-head implications if they can ever sync up their relative success. And on top of all of that, you have the Victory Bell – a tangible spoil for the victor.

What does it all mean about our respective programs? Not much more than what we’ve already seen all season. Carolina has shown glimpses of great football, but they still have a long way to go to get back to where they were headed a few years ago. The Pack’s glimpses have been more rare, but it’s nice to end the regular season on such a high note and so convincingly. Hopefully that victory gave the entire team a confidence boost that will propel them into their potential bowl game and on into next season. Don’t let up. Go Pack!

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gerry Broome

  1. That’s right, I said it.

Hair of the Dog

As many of us try to recover from the World Cup hangover there is no greater cure than the Premier League (EPL), which kicks off Saturday, August 16th. With the TV rights migrating to NBC Sports last year there is no reason to miss any of the action as every match is now broadcast on the NBC family of networks. Gone are the days of only seeing United or Arsenal on an early fall morning. You can now look up Leicester City on a map and become a Fox, or become a fan of the club no one knows is in London, Crystal Palace. I am of course a fan of the bandwagon express, Manchester United, due in large part to the fact that when I began watching the Champions League in the late 90’s they were the only team on ESPN. Enough defending my fandom, its time to move on to the season at hand. As you may or may not know, I hate prediction columns, even if I am better than average. There will be plenty of predictions columns out there so I will simply give you the top 4 and the bottom 3 (I’d recommend against selecting a team from the bottom 3)

Top 4

1. Chelsea – They have made some smart buys (Fabergas, Costa, and Luis) and some head scratchers (Drogba on a free), but they have the best manager and weren’t far off last year. The re-signing of Matic should give them some grit in the midfield which is always the fulcrum for the Special One’s special teams.

2. Manchester City – The noisy neighbors lifted the trophy last year and have done nothing to hint at a dip in form. They also have Yaya and as long as he is making his marauding runs through the midfield I will be scared, very scared. I just think Chelsea have done a little more.

3. Arsenal – They have made the most noise in the offseason adding Chile star Alexis Sanchez and Debuchy to provide cover. If they can find a way to sign Sami Khedira, I believe they can challenge for the top 2. Wenger is still a great manager and he always finds a way to play beautiful football.

4. Manchester United – After the unmitigated disaster that was David Moyes 10 month tenure, the crazy Louis Van Gaal takes the helm. He is a nut and will give Mourinho’s ego a run for its money (this guy claimed he was responsible for Argentina’s Sergio Romero making the key penalty saves in the World Cup Semi’s since he coached him in the Netherlands 10 years earlier), but he is quality. Rooney is at the top of his game and they have added Luke Shaw and the one that got away last year in Ander Herrera. These signings along with a couple more that are surely to follow should give United enough to sneak back into the top 4.

Just Missing Out – Liverpool (No Suarez), Tottenham (they are Tottenham), Everton ($45m for Lukaku?)

Bottom 3

While no one wants to be a part of the relegation fight, it often produces some of the year’s best matches. Generally, two of the promoted teams get sucked back down and one will survive to fight in the top flight one more year.

18. Southampton – This is the trickiest of the predictions as I am tipping QPR to stay up at the southern club’s expense. We still don’t know what they will do with the bags of cash they have received from their fire sale, but we know they will have to pay a premium for whatever they buy. It will take time for the team to gel and while the former Dutch star turned manager Ronald Koemen may be a star in the making, it may all be too late.

19. Leicester – Leicester have spent some money and after winning the Championship have the chops to win, but I am not sure it will be enough.

20. Burnley – It is going to be a long year for the Clarets

In order to enhance the experience and keep up with the action, I highly recommend you check out the Men in Blazers and their weekly pod on the Grantland Network as well as all the Guardian’s football coverage including Football Weekly.

The Premier League is a grind, but well worth the follow so pick a team and get the beers in.

Photo Credit: “Stretford End” by Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.