Some time ago I wrote a brief entry outlining a few factoids about NC State’s history in post-season, post-conference tournament play. When you look at the rich history and tradition NC State has, it becomes quickly apparent that a quick-and-dirty review of NC State’s tournament past really doesn’t do NC State’s basketball program justice. NC State is one of the most heralded programs in college basketball. Its history deserves a bit more attention by it’s fan base. For that reason, I want to expand on what I started a few days ago with a deeper, more detailed look into the program. Rather than barrage the readers of SFN with a 10,000 word essay, we’ll take this in bits and pieces by first looking at the program chronologically, then picking apart a few overall observations. Join us over the next few days until NC State’s Sweet Sixteen match-up against Kansas this Friday at 10:17PM.
If you didn’t see yesterday’s article on “The Early Years“, please take a moment to honor the accomplishments of those that are so often over-looked. Make sure you also review NC State’s accomplishments during it’s “hay-day” from 1974 until 1989.
In 1989, Peter Golenbock published his book “Personal Fouls”. In the words of one editor, “Among other allegations, Golenbock states that players’ grades were fixed by Coach Valvano, positive drug tests were kept secret, and players received money, cars, etc., from a special fund.” These allegations were not only serious, they were dramatic to the point of being laughable. Jimmy Valvano invited the NCAA to investigate the program and the NCAA found no major infractions at NC State. Still, the Board of Governors and NC State’s administration feared the negative publicity and had Jimmy Valvano removed. The result was devastating. The following athletic directors prioritized programmatics over success on the court and NC State’s record reflected it. NC State’s first coach during this period, Les Robinson, was handed an unbelievably difficult situation following in the shadow of Jimmy Valvano and leading a team that had been stripped of not only post-season play and scholarships, but also it’s dignity and pride. After failing to produce winning results in a difficult situation, Herb Sendek accepted the position and lead NC State to several post-season appearances in the NIT, then the NCAA. Once Sendek proved he had hit a plateau, he was ‘pressured’ to leave or ‘fired’ by the fan base depending on who you ask.
Sidney Lowe stepped in to solve a problem that had again been started by an inept administration (refering to the 2006 coaching search) and failed in similar fashion to Les Robinson. It’s important to note that both of these ‘failed’ coaches were the result of administration incompetence on the level of the Board of Governors and/or NC State administrators who had little idea into what they were doing. Les Robinson stepping into a crippled NC State was a losing prospect, and so was Sidney Lowe coming to NC State with no college coaching experience just to save his beloved Wolfpack from continued embarrassment at the hands of former Athletic Director Lee Fowler.
Conflicting Trends. Since NC State’s first appearance in post-season play, the NIT has grown by 300% and the NCAA tournament by 800%. As would be expected for a top-national team in this climate, NC State went from attending post-season play 40% of their seasons under Case to 80% of their seasons under Valvano. During the 1991-2010 period, NC State would only reach post-season play 63%, an almost 20% drop from the pre-Robinson era. This may point to way NC State fans were not happy with simply “making the tournament” under Sendek, among other factors.
Double Barrelled Tourneys. Unlike the era prior where NC State found itself attending the NIT tournament 3 out of 12 post-season appearances, the Wolfpack would spend 50% of their post-seasons in the NIT. Unlike the 1976 and 1978 NIT tournament teams which would have certainly made the NCAA tournament (only 44 teams were selected between BOTH tournaments), the NIT tournaments of the ‘late era’ equates being selected below more than 60 other Division 1 programs. NC State appeared in both tournaments six times during this period (excluding the 2012 tournament).
Seed Germination. As NC State appeared in the NCAA tournament from 1991 to present day, its seedings have grown worse and worse. In 1991 after ‘non-scandal’ was over, NC State was able to reach the NCAA tournament with a 6 seed and a 20-11 overall record. The next 7 appearances (including the 2012 tournament), NC State would be seeded 7th, 9th, 3rd, 10th, 10th, and 11th. The only seed to improve on previous seasons, a 3rd seed in 2004, resulted in a first round victory against 14th seeded LA – Lafayette followed by a loss to 6th seeded Vanderbilt. NC State has only been ‘seeded’ in the NIT tournament twice and both times it was a 6th seed out of an 8-team division.
No Rabbit In This Hat. During the previous era, NC State had proven itself a surprising team. during it’s 1983 run, it upset 4 of the 6 teams it faced. Likewise, in 3 of it’s 12 post-season appearances they were ‘upset’ by a lesser team to end their tourney run. This made NC State exciting to watch and kept the belief alive that it was capable of anything. Beginning in 1991, NC State would not long shock anyone. The only time NC State managed to upset anyone in post-season play was in the later years of it’s NCAA tournament appearances and in it’s NIT appearances. In 2006, NC State ‘upset’ #7 California as a #10 seed. Both NIT appearances under Lowe had one ‘upset’ in the first round. The only exceptional upset during this period was #10 NC State over #2 UConn in the 2005 NCAA tournament. The only silver lining was that NC State also failed to surprise anyone in their departing from the tournament. The only season NC State was upset to exit the tournament was in 2004 when #3 NC State lost to #6 Vanderbilt in the second round.
Living On Easy Street. NC State made post-season play over 60% of the seasons it played (the NCAA tournament 50% of the time from 2000-present), but the way it got there was less than inspiring and proved the fallacy in tournament expansion. During this 20 year period, NC State averaged just 60% in victorious against all opponents and an even worse 45% in the ACC. This was sufficient for making the NIT and NCAA tournaments over 50% of the time during this period. That is the equivalent of an 18-12 record overall and 7-9 record in the ACC. That is a 15% decrease in performance from the previous era overall and a 25% decrease within the ACC.
Embarrassing Firsts. Sidney Lowe was the first NC State coach to never reach the NCAA tournament. In his first and fourth seasons, he reached the NIT tournament as a 6-seed, but his overwhelmingly poor conference records (6-11 at his peak) and poor performance against week RPI teams wasn’t sufficient to make the expanded 65-team field. Les Robinson made the NCAA tournament only once during his tenure in 1991, shortly after taking over a program formerly coached by National Champion Jimmy Valvano.
I Know It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time… After reaching the NCAA tournament in 1991, it would be 11 years before NC State went dancing again. During that period, the US would go through 3 Presidential terms, cell phones would go from something you strap to the console of your car to something you can fit in your back pocket, the US would go from focusing on Communists to focusing on Terrorists, and Michael Jackson would transform from a pop icon to a child molester; all of these would occur without seeing NC State in the big dance once.
Second Rate Tournament; Second Rate Performance. During NC State’s 6 NIT appearances, they would only win more than 2 games once. That averages to 1.17 wins per tourney. This represents a 15% drop in NIT performance from previous eras. Also consider that during those eras, the NIT was composed of significantly higher talent then in the later period.
First Rate Tournament; Still Second Rate Performance. During NC State’s 6 NCAA tournaments from 1991-2006, they would win an average of 1.7 games per appearance which is composed of 9 of 16 appearances where NC State won more than one game. During the modern era, NC State has averaged only one lonely win per appearance which represents a 40% drop in NCAA tournament production. Every season has composed of a single win except the 2003 seasons where #9 NC State fell to #8 California and 2005 when #10 NC State beat #7 Charlotte and #2 UConn.
A One-Season Glimmer Of Hope. In 2012, NC State reaches the NCAA tournament for the first time in 5 years and for the first time ever under a first year coach. The two wins over #6 San Diego and #3 Georgetown also represent the furthest NC State has been in the NCAA tournament since 2005 and if they beat #2 Kansas on Friday, it will be the furthest NC State has been since President Ronald Reagan was in office (and before I was born).
Entrance Criteria. This year NC State enters the tournament with a 22-11 overall record which matches the record NC State needed in 2006 to make the big dance. Its ACC record, however, is the best it has had since 2002 and 2003. The season following those, NC State would enter the tournament a #3 seed and go 11-5 in the conference. The last time NC State had a 22 win season and went into the Sweet Sixteen was 23 years ago when the 1989 #5 seeded NC State beat #12 USC and #4 Iowa to lose to #1 Georgetown. 1989 was also the last time NC State entered the NCAA tournament with a winning ACC record and followed it up with a run beyond the second round.
NC State is in a familiar situation in some regards and a very different situation in others. In 2006, the #10 Wolfpack played a #7 seed and #2 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen. This season, the #11 Wolfpack played a #6 and #3 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The difference has everything to do with the administration and the support they have given to the program, including the introduction of first-year coach Mark Gottfried.
What NC State had in 2005 was athletic director Lee Fowler, a man more concerned with the budget and keeping the boosters happy then advancing the athletic program, and Chancellor Oblinger, a man who did not burden himself with the concerns of the students, fans, or much of anything else with the exception of staying politically connected. Now, NC State is equipped with Chancellor Woodson who entered his position by publicly stating that athletics was a priority in rebuilding the image of North Carolina State University. We also have athletic director Debbie Yow who has proven to be a fiery woman dedicated to not only the business of the program, but also the hearts and minds of the fans. All of these moves were essential in getting to where we are today in this one sport within our athletic department, as was the interim chancellor, Dr. Jim Woodward who laid the ground-work, including informing Chancellor Woodson of NC State’s past, for making the changes need to be where we are today. Moving forward, it would be foolish to expect a Sweet Sixteen every year, but it would likewise be foolish to expect our players, coaches, administration, and university to fight for anything short of perfection.