Champions or Also-Rans? Wolfpack Players Will Have To Decide Which They Want To Be

This year’s NC State team has a simple question they need to ask themselves: are we willing to do what it takes to be champions?

Judging by the results during the Duke game, the answer would have seemed like it was “yes.”  Ever since, not so much.

Compare and contrast: against Duke, NC State shot 50.8% from the field, went 4-8 from beyond the three point mark and when they were at the foul line with a chance to score, they knocked in twenty of twenty-three attempts.  And during the game itself, every time the Blue Devils tried to assert themselves and take over the game, the Pack’s players put their foot down, stopped Blue Devil runs and proceeded to roll up their sleeves and get needed baskets time after time when they needed to keep Duke in their rear view mirror.  Collectively, it was a solid effort that demonstrated what the 2012-2013 edition of NC State basketball was capable of: playing a solid game and beating perhaps any team in the country.

Ever since, a different team seems to be wearing Wolfpack uniforms: they shot a miserable 31.1% from the field against a lesser Maryland team, and from the free throw line, made only 58% of their attempts.  Despite that bad performance, while leading by one with a chance to win if they could stop Maryland’s last-gasp attempt at the buzzer, two NC State players inexplicably tried to block Pe’Shon Howard’s errant jumper — leaving Maryland’s Alex Len unguarded beneath the rim.  Len easily dropped the ball into the basket at the buzzer and NC State lost a game that it should have won despite itself.

That Maryland loss — road game or no road game — was one that can be blamed solely on a lack of mental discipline and consistency of effort.  The last shot only typified the night: a breakdown in discipline had led time after time to easy Terrapin baskets, and when the Wolfpack had the ball, all too often it seemed like one or two of the NC State players on the floor weren’t too interested in making the Maryland defense work very hard.  That in turn led to difficult and well-defended shots that missed their mark, and NC State found baskets hard to come by.

That trend of lax play continued in the next Wolfpack game back in Raleigh, this time against Clemson, another team that no basketball pundits would label a powerhouse on either end of the floor.  Perhaps thinking it won the game by simply running out of the dressing room before tipoff, State turned in another subpar effort: 45% from the floor and slightly less than 61% from the free throw line.  The Pack, lucky that night that it wasn’t playing a leading ACC foe, eeked out an ugly four point 66-62 win.

Last night’s second half against Wake Forest, however, was probably the worst twenty minutes of basketball for NC State this season.  Leading by twelve after the first half of play, State somehow turned Wake Forest into the reincarnation of John Wooden’s UCLA teams of yore: the Demon Deacons thrashed the Pack 51-37 and won a seemingly unlikely victory against a ranked opponent.

Credit where it is due: Wake wanted to win more than NC State, and held on to hand the Pack yet another W-T-F loss.  A closer look, however, shows the same problems: a decided lack of defensive intensity, poor shooting from the field and the free throw line and an inability to will itself back into the form it is capable of except when the team is in deep trouble and about to get blown out.  With around four minutes left, State trailed by ten points yet had a chance to tie or win at the end.  Which leads to a simple question: where was that effort with eight minutes to go?  Where was it at the start of the second stanza of basketball?

And that leads to the question posed at the start: are NC State’s players willing to do what it takes to be champions?

Frankly, right now, it doesn’t look like it.  It shows in the lack of defensive urgency.  It shows in lapses of offensive effort, which makes the opponent’s job easier – most teams can defend 3-on-5 pretty well when two Wolfpack players decide to be spectators.

It most definitely shows from the charity stripe. While not everyone is going to be a free-throw sharpshooter, any player can will themselves into being a reliable scorer from the line.  All it takes is the proper fundamentals and plenty of practice.  Lots and lots of it.

Julius Hodge, one of my favorite Wolfpack players in the modern era, took himself from being a mediocre free throw artist to a very dependable scorer from the line during his time in Raleigh.  He did it with dedication, hard work and then some more hard work.  He made his free throw shot into a good one grooved into muscle memory that he could depend on when game pressure was at its greatest.  When asked about it, Hodge uttered one of my favorite sentences ever to come out of a Wolfpack player’s mouth: “Champions are made when no one is watching.”

All due respect to Hodge, champions are also made in the heat of battle on the court, and to be a winner, you have to play every play like you want to win, in fact, like losing is an impossible outcome.

And that’s what NC State needs to show up with for every game, not just the Dukes, the Carolinas and the other top programs.  It needs it night after night for EVERY opponent.  If they choose not to, as they have in their last three games, they’ll forever be remembered by State fans as a team that didn’t have the heart to do what it took to be great.

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54 Responses to Champions or Also-Rans? Wolfpack Players Will Have To Decide Which They Want To Be

  1. blpack 01/23/2013 at 10:27 PM #

    Hope soul searching is going on in Raleigh.

  2. primacyone 01/23/2013 at 10:44 PM #

    #14 Minnesota 48. Unranked 11-8 Northwestern 55. Chit happens.

  3. ILpackfan 01/23/2013 at 10:46 PM #

    Maybe it’s just schadenfreude. But after seeing the Duke score from tonight against Miami, I somehow don’t feel as bad.

    On the other hand, we’ve got both Miami and Duke back to back in the next couple of weeks, so we’ll see how I’m feeling by the end of Feb 7.

  4. Alpha Wolf 01/23/2013 at 10:51 PM #

    #14 Minnesota 48. Unranked 11-8 Northwestern 55. Chit happens.

    Not three games in a row. That Clemson win could easily have been a loss.

  5. JeremyH 01/23/2013 at 11:08 PM #

    “With around four minutes left, State trailed by ten points yet had a chance to tie or win at the end. Which leads to a simple question: where was that effort with eight minutes to go? Where was it at the start of the second stanza of basketball?”

    My take is that a short-benched team having played just a night ago got into foul trouble and ran out of gas. Because of that, all our weaknesses were magnified in that latter half. Still a ton of games to be played. There will be highs and lows, the key is holding your composure. I agree with someone’s assessment on the board that it is the point guard’s job to be the steady force and maximize possessions, and that doesn’t always happen. Brown is absolutely fantastic in the open court and a little too loose with the ball otherwise.

    The blueprint is out on how to beat us. Can this team maximize their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses? Can this team, flip the script? Its up to them, minus ‘Shawn Painter, minus Amile Jefferson, minus Andrew Young, and yes, minus De Shey-dy.

    If that really is De They then I feel bad for him, mainly because he now must return his girlfriend back to nc state campus; that’s our policy. Clearly a Larry Drew type scenario, nothing to see. But honestly, its sad that he has decided to make himself an enemy of the program, how ungrateful. I recall that he was getting some minutes and then it tightened up a bit. He would definitely be getting more minutes now with the schedule in full force. I don’t really get it.

    On another note, I’m glad the blogs are closed, even for a different reason. Its fine to give your criticisms but too much blatant negativity is bad for the program.

  6. tjfoose1 01/23/2013 at 11:25 PM #

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this team has the makeup to be a champion. Wish we had Alex Johnson for one more year.

  7. Wolfman 9806 01/23/2013 at 11:31 PM #

    Embarrassing loss at Wake, Warren’s tweet…………..all signs point to a meltdown.

  8. sundropdrinker13 01/23/2013 at 11:40 PM #

    Here’s a question: Which is worse, #18 State losing 86-84 to Wake(10-8) at Wake, or #12 Minnesota losing 55-48 to Northwestern(12-8) at Northwestern?

    Top 25 teams that lost today: #1 Duke, #12 Minnesota, #9 Butler, #17 Creighton(to a now 9-10 Drake 74-69). State, #11 KSU lost to #3 KU, and #5 Louisville lost yesterday. #21 Cincinnati and #24 ND lost Monday. That’s 10 ranked teams that lost so far this week, though 3 were to ranked teams.

  9. primacyone 01/23/2013 at 11:40 PM #

    I agree. Having said that, and not to change the subject…..Jay Williams just said on ESPN: “this is not a typical Duke basketball team”…….


  10. primacyone 01/23/2013 at 11:42 PM #

    We looked great on the first half. What changed?

  11. JeremyH 01/23/2013 at 11:58 PM #

    primacy we got tired and Leslie picked up foul 3 and 4 by the 17 minute mark. He sat most of the 2nd half. In that sense it was very much like the Ok State game. Leslie needs to understand that it is his responsibility to the team that he needs to avoid foul trouble.

  12. Archdale Pack Fan 01/24/2013 at 12:04 AM #

    It doesn’t matter if every other ranked team lost. Alpha Wolf makes some great points. This team needs to play some defense and get better at the FT line if they want to win a championship. They have the talent, but do they have the other ingredients of a champion? Right now, I don’t think so. I hope they prove me wrong.

  13. primacyone 01/24/2013 at 12:14 AM #

    Don’t get me wrong. I agree with everything AW had said.

    My perspective would be this. CJ and Lo have Amerson fever and have to answer AW’s question Purvis and Warren do not…..

  14. tjfoose1 01/24/2013 at 12:53 AM #

    Maybe Richard needs to sic his beard on CJ and Lo?

  15. WeAreCured 01/24/2013 at 2:40 AM #

    I think they all care very much. There is no way that they don’t care. It is much more likely that they are putting too much pressure on themselves, which often creates negative results. I think we can all relate to that.

  16. Wulfpack 01/24/2013 at 4:31 AM #

    Howell said after the Wake loss that Wake wanted it much more. So I do think there is some truth to whether they care or not. I think they do, but as Alpha pens, not always against the “other” teams that show up on the schedule. Let’s be very clear, to be great, you must bring it every night. Bad habits creep in and take hold if you let them. We have been a completely different team following the Duke win. And you know what? Duke may not even be that good (see their blowout loss last night). I don’t claim to know what ails this team in the locker room, but they better get it straight, and do it soon.

  17. WeAreCured 01/24/2013 at 5:01 AM #

    Yeah, but one team wanting it more does not mean that the other team did not want it at all or did not care. Ideally, in an 18 game ACC season, we would all like for them to go nuts for every game, but they have real lives that involve school, families, friends, girlfriends, etc. I think it is perfectly reasonable to have a lull here and there, but I truly do not believe that implies they do not care. Perhaps they need to discipline themselves more in the mental arena, but they are young. Hopefully, this will affect them in a positive way, but as already mentioned, they are young, and the negativity they are receiving at this moment could make it all worse. I know that if 19 year old me popped onto a fansite to see what my fans were saying about me and my team in a time of crisis and the majority of the people were questioning the character of my team, I might be further discouraged. That’s why I think it is so important for everyone to relax and cut these young men some slack. We all want them to do their best, and we have to realize that we would not want people trashing us if we were in their position. It’s not productive.

  18. wolfonthehill 01/24/2013 at 5:14 AM #

    Great take – 100% agree. I’ve been looking at it a bit differently, but with the same results.

    This is the best collection of individuals NC State has put on the court in AT LEAST 22 years. Right now, they still appear to be a collection of individuals, but not a team. Each of the six main guys goes out to do his thing… on a given night, 3-4 of them are typically “on”, and it’s enough to win. That does NOT, however, make us a team.

    The difference? I’d like to see the guys appear to like each other. I’d like to see them pass it out of quadruple-teams (although that may just be a factor of basketball IQ, which is clearly at times lacking). I’d like to see them smile & high-five when things are good. I’d like to see someone on the court take charge, pull the group together, and get everyone’s heads back in it when things aren’t so good. I’d like to see a recognizable offense executed half the time down court. I’d like to see fewer possessions where you can tell a guy gets it and says “it’s my turn to score” – and takes the shot, no matter what the defense throws at him.

    Some of that’s coaching – some of it’s a willingness (or lack thereof) to put the team first, and to put showcasing your NBA talents second. Right now, we’re coming up short in both areas, IMO.

  19. WeAreCured 01/24/2013 at 5:16 AM #

    Also, before anyone starts with the, “Kids these days can’t handle the tough love,” or “let’s pat everyone on the back and tell them how great they are,” retorts, I just want to add that those sorts of things (tough love) are for the coaching staff, not fans. As fans, we are supposed to support them.

  20. wolfonthehill 01/24/2013 at 5:19 AM #

    Mods – side note – something new – “Your comment is awaiting moderation”. ???

  21. Wulfpack 01/24/2013 at 5:33 AM #

    I expect momentary lapses throughout the course of a very long season. But not three games worth of them. That’s what has me concerned. They should have learned the lesson following the Maryland loss. But they just kept on playing like crap. That is the pattern, and I sincerely hope it breaks Saturday night. If it does not, I do think our season is in jeapordy.

  22. papackman 01/24/2013 at 6:23 AM #

    The missing link – Did anyone expect the Baltimore Ravens to play for the Super Bowl ring this season? One reason…leadership. Who is that leader….Ray Lewis. I’m not a Ravens or Ray Lewis or even a professional sports fan. But that guy fires up his team, the fans, everyone!! Our Bball team lacks leadership…and that is not necessarily a point guard. It’s a player who drives the team on the floor and on the bench. It’s a player that no one wants to let down! That leader is the heart of the team. We have great players but do we have a leader among them?

  23. PackPatriot 01/24/2013 at 6:50 AM #

    The KenPom site has us losing 4 of the next 5 games (the lone victory a win over *NC this Saturday). Should be a quite telling stretch for this team as three of those predicted L’s are by 3pts or less. I’ve always liked that site, but when he picked us to lose to MD by 1pt… well, he got my attention.

  24. Hungwolf 01/24/2013 at 7:52 AM #

    I had us at a hopeful 11-5 (7-1 home 4-4 Road) ACC conference record prediction. Going into the season and that would put us in a position to make a run at winning the ACC Championship in the ACCT. Given that our freshman mature and get better as the season goes on.

    Couple of thoughts. The ACC is not as bad as thought. Remember this is really only Brown’s second year as a starting point guard. Leslie is a great player but he is not a physical player and Richard Howell is a bit undersized and has always had problems getting his shot blocked a lot and missing easy buckets. We lack depth in the big man department. So teams are going to be physical with us and take it to Howell and Leslie to get them in foul trouble. Warren needs to play more physical in defense and inside. Vandenberg lacks quickness. De Thaey would have been no help, he was not ACC caliber and glad he is gone.

    Wood is one dimensional and has a hard time getting separation for his shop against speedy defenders. We need Warren to be an inside man. (Notice we were regulated to Scott Wood playing defense against a Wake big man in the last game) We need maturity and a better 3 shot from Rodney Purvis.

    Bottom line is we on track with my prediction. We look to finish 10-6 or better in ACC play. That is improvement over last year and I can live with that. Plus that puts us in a better position to do well in the ACCT and NCAAT.

  25. LRM 01/24/2013 at 7:54 AM #

    I think a huge part of our problem is that we’re clearly more comfortable in transition, when the game is fast.

    However, when we’re not executing transition (like the second half against Wake), then it becomes a huge liability. Wake erased the halftime deficit in no time after capitalizing on a string of turnovers and bad shots in transition. We should’ve slowed the game down (at least for a little while) to regain our composure, but instead we kept trying to force the pace of the game, and that’s when it got out of control.

    I said it in December: We’ll lose on Saturday of the ACCT and in the SW16 simply because we won’t be able to hit key FTs.

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