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 TJ? But then I realized those guys were all guards. 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 excited 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
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: stpetersburgbowl.com
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
Editor’s Note: JB & I come from different worlds. That is, our respective alma maters are rivals. Back in March, we put our differences aside to show some mutual respect for past greats from our respective school’s basketball program. What follows is the pigskin edition of a similar exchange. Enjoy. Continue reading