We’re talking a lot of football on the site, and rightfully so. But let’s take a quick side trip to the basketball court ahead of Saturday’s game and discuss expectations.
Do You Believe the Hype?
As we anticipate the start of the 2012-2013 hoops campaign, we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory for our favorite team: high expectations, national attention, hype, hype, hype! In general, most pre-season polls have the Wolfpack in the top ten, although there are a few outliers. I’ve personally seen the ‘Pack as high as 4th, but in most polls, the team seems to fall in the 5-15 range. One notably divergent opinion is the recently released kenpom.com stats, where the Wolfpack debuts at 24th.
I’ve seen national media personalities predicting a Final Four appearance, and I’ve seen others strongly suggest that the team is highly over-rated. How do we set proper expectations for the upcoming season?
The Good ‘ol Days
One of the frequent claims about NC State fans is that we “live in the past”. While I don’t agree with that assessment at all, if we’re going to get accused of it, let’s indulge our detractors for a brief spell.
In thinking about setting expectations for this season, I wondered how previous coaches and teams, especially those often referred to as “the good ‘ol days”, fared during the seasons when they went to the NCAA tournament.
NC State teams under Case and Sloan were sometimes dominant (locally, if not nationally). But it’s instructive to note that while Norm assembled what I consider the greatest college team ever from ’73-’74, he only took teams to the NCAA tournament three times in 14 years as head coach. Yes, he should have gone in ’73 and yes, it was a lot harder to get in back then, but everybody else played by the same rules. For those doing the math, that’s making the tournament at a clip just north of 20% of the time.
How did that tenure look, season by season? The following chart shows, by season, overall win % (blue) and conference win % (red):
During his tenure, Sloan took the Wolfpack to 3 NCAA tournaments:
During his entire tenure, Sloan was 266-127 (68%) overall and 103-77 (57%) in the conference.
What about Valvano?
Jimmy led the ‘Pack for 10 seasons, from 1981-1990. His tenure, from the same perspective, looks like this:
By contrast, Jimmy went to the NCAA tournament 7 out of 10 seasons, with the following results:
During his entire tenure, Jimmy was 209-114 (65%) overall, and 71-69 (51%) in conference.
So what’s the point? Simply that even during our historical high points, those that we look back on warmly and fondly, successful NC State teams were rarely dominant (at a national level) to the point that they swept through the season with ease.
In my line of work, one of the most important things to do before starting a project is to establish success criteria at the outset. So what do I consider success in a college basketball program?
- Build on previous success, year over year. Expectations for an emerging program should build on the previous year’s accomplishments.
- Play to potential. In my opinion, this is the ultimate measure of a coach’s effectiveness – his ability to get the individuals to coalesce into a team and maximize their performance. Easily said, but difficult to measure.
- It’s all about the NCAA tournament. It really is. All that matters is getting in the tournament with the best seed possible, and making sure that the players are peaking at tourney time.
- Don’t cheat. Find ways to maximize within the rules, compete hard with everybody, but don’t cheat.
Bearing in mind the vast difference between something I hope for and something I expect, my expectations from last year were pretty simple:
- Work hard in practice, play hard in the games. Not some of the time, all the time.
- Play together as a team.
- Learn the coach’s system, especially on offense. Get good at it, to the point that when I see it, I think “hey, these guys are actually doing things on purpose.”
- NCAA tournament bid was not required, but would be icing on the cake
Judged by my expectations, 2012 was a great year.
So here’s what I expect this year:
- Continue to fine-tune the offense, especially in light of incoming talent.
- Focus on defense. Outscoring opponents is fun, but risky. Shutting them down defensively demoralizes them.
- Don’t panic if you lose a game – even a game that you should have won. A consistent winning culture has to be built. Analyze it, learn from it, and fix it.
- Compete in every game. No blowout losses to ANY opponent.
- Finish in the top three of the ACC. The regular season “championship” is relatively meaningless, but to get there requires winning enough games to ensure a higher seed in the tournament.
- Make the final game of the ACC tournament.
- On NCAA selection day, be in a position to already know you’re in. Duplicate last year’s success in making the Sweet 16.
- Don’t cheat. Don’t embarrass the University. Go to class, make the grades. Get help if you need it.
My advice to fans going into this season is to enjoy the hype, but view it cautiously. Remember that most of the hype is being generated by national media figures. These same individuals told us years ago to remember our place and to embrace our subservient position to the blues. They told us we were fools to expect to compete with the blues. They told us we were fools to be dissatisfied with HWSNBN’s mediocrity. It’s ironic (to say the least) to see them jumping on the bandwagon, but they still have zero credibility with me.
Based on past experience for the program, I don’t expect to see this team buzz through the season crushing all competition with relative ease. I foresee some head scratching losses, especially early in the season. I will not panic when this happens. But for the first time in years, I also anticipate some very, very satisfying victories as well. During the Valvano years, I didn’t panic when the teams lost a game, because I felt like they would be ready at tournament time. It’s nice to have that feeling again.
So, those are what I consider realistic and reasonable expectations. I hope the team wins the ACC tournament, and puts together a Final Four run. But that’s hope, not expectation.
For Those Who Can’t Help Themselves
In a nod to a friend, a die-hard State fan and absolute eternal optimist, there is a very small minority of fans and media members who are talking in hushed tones about national championship aspirations. As I said before, I really, really hope to see that, but I don’t expect it. Just for grins, I looked at the teams who won the eventual title from 1980-2012 and charted the total number of losses for the year:
As you can see, the number of losses varies widely from a low of one (UCLA, 1995) to a high of 11 (Kansas, 1988). I made an attempt at constructing a 95% confidence interval around the number of losses and came up with 4.16 – 6.08. So if the team gets to 7 losses, history says you’re not likely to be champ. BTW, I haven’t done a statistical calculation in 30 years, so caveat emptor.
Fire away in the comments – where did I miss the mark? And what are your hopes and expectations?