Stepping Back — Again; What Could Have Been

Ned Barnett of the News & Observer was able to say some things that many State fans were not allowed to say on propaganda-laden message boards on Sunday in his piece, Pack Takes Step Back — again.

I want to personally thank Barnett for a fantastic piece on a variety of levels and for not subscribing to the national media’s obsession for coronating Herb Sendek as the most redeemed man in America for finally winning one game against one team on one Sunday afternoon. As usual, Barnett totally nailed the big picture wle also hammering away on many of the ancillary issues in a quick and concise manner.

In short, NC State AGAIN lost an important game that we EASILY should have won. It is a pattern that has existed throughout 3 to 4 different generations of NC State rosters that share only one common theme among them – Herb Sendek’s presence on the bench. In just the last 365 days, the Wisconsin game can now be added to a long list of losses and collapses to Vanderbilt, St John’s, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Florida State .

Over the last 35 games, NC State has lost 7 games in games where we were obviously more talented or in which we had double digit lead in the second half. That means that 20% of all games that State has played in the last year has ended in a result considered to be underachieving. Forget your ridiculous excuse-making regarding injuries. Tony Bethel or no Tony Bethel, this program/team has more than enough talent to beat Florida State and Virginia in Raleigh if we had enough to beat Wake and UConn without the same guy. Of course EVERY team loses SOME games that they ‘shouldn’t’. The problem is that NC State loses more than the other teams. Whether you like it or not, you now have your explanation of why most in the country considered NC State the nation’s “biggest disappointment” during the 2004-2005 regular season.

Conversely, over the last 35 games, State has defeated only TWO teams against which we were considered “less talented” or significant underdogs. Don’t get me wrong – I do not accept the backwards rationale that “they are better than us so it is ok to lose”-attitude that began rearing its head in the Les Robinson years and now continues to spread inside of Wolfpack Nation under Lee Fowler’s unambitious leadership. It is NOT ACCEPTABLE that so many teams around us are supposed to naturally be considered “better than us.”

The bulk of Barnett’s article is summarized as follows:

“The nation got to see that Villanova is back on the map,” Ray said. “Got to see a good group that goes out and plays hard, doesn’t back down from anyone.”

State came here with the same image. It left with the opposite one. Instead of putting itself back on the map, the Wolfpack is in need of a map one that shows the way over the hump.

In the first half, Wisconsin all but handed State a spot in the regional final, only to accept the gift in return from the Wolfpack in the second half. Compared to Villanova’s gritty show, State looked slow, tired and out of its element.

In the cold light of Saturday, the magnitude of State’s collapse began to look almost as stunning as the Pack’s second-half meltdown against Vanderbilt in last year’s second round.

Consider these notes on Wisconsin’s comeback after trailing 30-21 at the half.

Previous to meeting State, the low-scoring Badgers were 1-6 when trailing at halftime this season. Their comeback from nine points down was their biggest of the season.

State gave up 44 points in the second half to a team that scores 67 per game.

And here’s the big note: It was the first time in 25 years that State lost an NCAA Tournament game in which it led at the half…

…Still, State’s woeful show on a gloomy Good Friday evening squandered most of the respect it gained by getting here. The game was ridiculed as an ugly mess. It was. Wisconsin completed the first half with 11 turnovers and no assists. A team that set a school record for 3-pointers didn’t hit one in the first 20 minutes.

State should have pounded the Badgers and ended the half leading by 20. Wisconsin was that bad, but State had another half to be even worse.

The price of this loss will be heavy. The buzz building around State’s run died. Grumbling about coach Herb Sendek revived. And an opportunity State may not see again for years was missed.

Looking back, a Pack win could have been followed by a Villanova upset of Carolina, leaving only the wounded and emotionally drained Wildcats between State and a trip to the Final Four. At worst, the only thing between State and a stunning trip to St. Louis would have been a rousing showdown with archrival Carolina.

Instead of a breakthrough, there was a breakdown. When things break down, questions follow. One that came up for ninth-year coach Sendek was this: “Does it feel like you’re good but never quite good enough?”

Sendek, an exceedingly decent man who retains perspective about basketball as a game, gave an extended response. This was, after all, a question he knows well. In part, he said: “Would we like to win? Sure. Do we always want to win one more? Absolutely. Even if you win the championship, you want to win the next championship. But good enough is being around amazing young men like this, watching them grow, watching them do their best. “Isn’t that good enough?”

It would have been good enough if watching State’s players on Friday was to see them do their best. The Pack’s performance was far short of the best it can do.

That’s not good enough.

Play like Villanova. That’s good enough.

Reaction to the article on NC State message boards has fallen right along party lines — those focused on NC State’s success see another example of unreached potential for this once proud program who had not lost an NCAA Tournament game after leading at halftime in 25 years; and the Herb Sendek Sunshine Squad can’t understand Barnett since they were just happy to get to their first Sweet 16 in 16 years. So they are out in force with the name calling of Barnett and anyone who can’t see the “light” generated by a 2-1 NCAA Tournament record this year and Sendek’s 4-4 overall NCAA Tournament record.

In truth, the HSSSers don’t have problems with Ned any more than they have personal issues with me (whom most of them have never met). Their problems and issues are with the TRUTH that is INSIDE of the article. As much as people have wished and wanted that one single win over UConn could magically clean-up the entire season…it doesn’t.

How Significant is One Win?
The Wolfpack’s advancement to the Sweet 16 was very nice and LONG overdue for NC State and Herb Sendek. (Don’t worry, instead of just saying this and hoping it is true, we will take a more statistical look at this in the future).

To the HSSSers, the single win over UConn was more than enough to atone for 9 previous years of failing to reach the 3rd round of the NCAA Tournament on the heels of nine regular season performances that generated but a single Top 25 finish and one ACC Tournament seeding better than fourth. For others, State’s Sweet 16 flop was enough to make up for a regular season that saw us beat only two different NCAA Tournament teams (going 3-7 against NCAA teams) while compiling an 8-11 overall record against teams ranked better than #150 in the RPI.

Most HSSSers, including Lee Fowler, choose to focus their analysis and conclusion solely on the short term “stretch” of the last couple of weeks. They think, “Yay! We beat UConn and Wake without Chris Paul” and choose to stop; thereby ignoring the fact that we were 0-8 in our other games against teams in the RPI’s Top 25. At least this thinking is consistent with the entire HSSS position of carving away as much long term reality as possible to point to short term “success” of a couple of games here and a couple of games there.

My brain simply will not allow me to ignore all of the hours that I spent fighting physical reactions to losses at the hands of St. John’s, Virginia, Florida State, Carolina, Wake Forest, and others. As much as I appreciate the one win over UConn before the Wisconsin failure, State’s 1-8 record against the RPI’s Top 25 the rest of the year cannot magically be erased by the win when looked at against the backdrop of nine years of failure against top competition.

Sorry, but this season was nowhere near some overwhelming success all because we beat Charlotte and UConn on one weekend. As Barnett pointed out in his article, the Wisconsin game was such a large, squandered opportunity that it largely erased the good feelings generated by the previous weekend. It is a shame that one game can have such an impact on feelings and perspectives, but it is certainly no different than allowing the one UConn game carry such a large amount of positive feelings and conclusions.

Loosely Defining Some Expectations
I will indulge the crowd with a little hypothetical to help clarify some expectations (enjoy it while you can since you’ll never get this kind of discussion from your Athletics Director) —

If you magically take LAST season’s regular season performance and bundle it with this year’s post-season, then you would have what SHOULD be an “average” year at NC State. You can argue the finer points and details of the comment; but in general, the combination of these two components of the last two seasons create what our resources should easily be able to deliver 70% to 80% of the time – Top 3-4 finish in the ACC, Top 25 National Ranking, Top 4-5 seed in NCAA Tournament, be considered real competition for the ACC Tournament Championship and advance to the Sweet 16.

Unfortunately, even …after NINE YEARS of trying, Herb Sendek’s regular season and post season PEAKS are the lowest peaks ever achieved in any 9 year period since Everett Case arrived in Raleigh 60 years ago.

General Media NCS Basketball

7 Responses to Stepping Back — Again; What Could Have Been

  1. ForSt8 03/28/2005 at 3:43 PM #

    Hadn’t thought about it that way but you are right on target with the analysis of the fact that the combination of last year and this year would give the results that we should expect most of the time. Great point.

  2. Cardiac95 03/28/2005 at 5:40 PM #

    Flipping back through the ACC Archives, you’ll find this glorious postseason ranks far behind our 10 ACC Championship postseasons that included 2 National Championships. You’d also have to rank it behind V’s two Final 8 showings in the mid-80’s. That puts Herb Sendek’s peak post-season achievement in a solid 13th place tie with 1989’s Sweet 16 run (dating back to the formation of the ACC). Likewise, last year’s regular season clocks in just outside our Top 15 All-Time Regular Seasons.

    And yet people literally scratch their heads wondering why Amato is better liked. In half the time, he’s delivered one of the Top 3 regular seasons in school history & possibly the best ever “post-season” in school history. Why is that so hard for some to understand?

  3. Cardiac95 03/28/2005 at 7:02 PM #

    Actually, let’s take Herb Cut-‘N-Paste “Best Season” & see how it stacks up against V’s first 9 seasons…

    1981 – Herb’s CNP Season clearly wups V’s first. Winner = Herb
    1982 – V’s second team finished with only 10 losses (something Herb has yet to achieve). And really, given Herb’s penchant for cupcakes, comparing Total Losses is a far better comparison than Total Wins. Anyway…Herb’s CNP Season edges out this season. Winner = Herb
    1983 – ….Winner = V
    1984 – ….Winner = Herb
    1985 & 1986 – Elite 8 trumps Sweet 16. Toss in a 1st place tie in the ACC reg season.Winner = V & V
    1987 – ACC Championship. Winner = V
    1988 – This one is too close to call. V’s team finished tied for 2nd in the ACC Reg Season, lost in the ACC Tournament Semis, & bowed out in the 1st Round of the NCAA’s. BUT, they lost only 8 games that season & finished ranked 13th & 14th in the polls. Winner = Draw.
    1989 – Outright ACC Regular Season Champion + Sweet 16 => Winner = V

    So there you have it….Herb’s best results, cut & pasted into one season & V still trumps him 5 out of 9 times with one draw.

    I can’t imagine why anyone couldn’t be satisfied with those results.

  4. James Lawrence 03/28/2005 at 7:10 PM #


    A 13th place post-season and the Technician takes out an entire bloody page in today’s paper for a “commemorative poster” dedicated to “the most successful season since 1989”! Think Duke’s student newspaper followed suit after their loss to Michigan State on Friday night? I doubt it. Would the Daily Tar Heel had UNC-CH lost to Villanova or Wisconsin?

    It is just more evidence of how utterly conditioned the younger generation of NCSU fans have become – a characterstic, that if not arrested, may well result in our basketball program meddling in mediocrity ad infinitum.

  5. Craig Fisher 03/28/2005 at 9:08 PM #


    Great article. What is it gonna take to get a coach who/program that strive and want the best?

  6. BJD95 03/29/2005 at 8:35 PM #

    It was indeed the most successful season since 1989, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good to have the best season in 16 years, but it’s bad that a tie for 6th place, sub-.500 ACC season followed by a Sweet Sixteen constitutes our best season since 1989.

  7. scott 03/29/2005 at 11:16 PM #

    I hear some folks on talk radio say State fans’ criticism of Sendek doesn’t help his program. That’s probably true, but given that, year after year, there is so much debate about, & lack of support of, Herb w/in Wolfpack nation it is quite obvious this marriage is never really going to work. If either Guthridge or Doherty had remained at the UNC helm any longer there would have been the same debate/dissention in the Carolina community as well. UNC was wise enough to make changes BEFORE the fan base became disenchanted w/the program. Herb should seriously consider looking around for another school b/c his “stock” after 4 straight NCAA appearances & one Sweet 16 is not likely to get any higher, and any decline next year will have more wolves howling at his door. Sometimes divorce is the best option when two parties just can’t get along. C’mon Herb, let’s get this over with & move on. If only the Princeton job was vacant.

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