Lindsay Funke: You’ll never be able to pull this off, Michael. You’re the good guy. This isn’t you.
Michael: It’s me now, Lindsay. It’s the me that can recline.
[he leans back and hits his head on the railing]
Lindsay Funke: I’m saying every time something starts to go well for you, you blow it.
Tobias Fünke: Nothing has ever gone well for me, and you know that.
NC State has not been the favorite in quite some time, and whenever it had a semblance of preseason hype, the team has fallen flat on its face (see 2008). In the fan base, a phenomenon of NC State….stuff has arisen: the concept that what can go wrong, will go wrong, in all sports. And sometimes, things no one would even think could go wrong, go wrong. Sheer terror has gripped NC State fans as they see that their team is the prohibitive favorite to win the league.
2012 record/results: 24-13 overall, 9-7 ACC, No. 11 seed in NCAA Tournament, Sweet 16 (L to No. 2 seed Kansas). Yes, NC State lost 13 games last year. But they lost to just two teams all season that finished outside Pomeroy’s top 50, and 11 of their 13 losses were to top-33 teams (eight to the top 20).
Reason for optimism: As the Wolfpack bought into what then first-year head coach Mark Gottfried was selling, they became a better defensive team by the end of the year and won six of their final eight games. Their only two losses were to top-10 teams North Carolina and Kansas, by a combined five points. Oh, and they return pretty much their entire core from last year: four of five starters, including point guard Lorenzo Brown, who should complete the transition he began last year from very good to elite.
Reason for pessimism: There’s little depth on this team, and the depth they do have they’re not likely to use. Big men Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie are still going to pick up questionable fouls, and when those one or both have to sit down, freshman T.J. Warren could come in along with…Thomas de Thaey? Jordan Vandenberg? Both are unproven, and not as good as last year’s go-to big man sub DeShawn Painter, who transferred. Senior small forward Scott Wood is the only reliable three-point shooter on the team, and he has struggled to get off his shot against more athletic defenders. Who else can make outside shots if he’s not hitting?
Michael: Maybe we were better off with me being businesslike and you being the good time useless party guy.
Gob: It got us this far. And I must say I miss the laughter. Oh God, how they used to laugh with me.
Michael: AT you. We have to figure out a way to hire everybody back. A meeting.
Gob: A party.
Michael: No, we just had a party.
Gob: Yeah but I didn’t get to have any fun.
Gob: [arms crossed] Then there’s me. The joker. The goofball. The magician.
[quickly makes a magician's gesture with his hands]
Michael: I thought you were gonna do a little fireball there.
Gob: I was. It didn’t go off.
I have no idea why those quotes work for Virginia. They just do.
2012 record/results: 22-10 overall, 9-7 ACC, No. 10 seed in NCAA Tournament, First Round (L to No. 7 seed Florida). Virginia began the season 15-2 with one of their losses being a close one at Duke that convinced everyone the Cavaliers were for real. But they finished the season 7-8.
Reason for optimism: Head coach Tony Bennett will have Virginia playing pesky defense, as usual. UVa lost Mike Scott, who was one of the best players in the ACC last year, but they still have two starters left (wing Joe Harris and point guard Jontel Evans). Harris was always steady, but Evans had some very encouraging offensive performances last year. Bennett has brought in six freshmen, at least three of which should make a contribution.
Reason for pessimism: Scott was Virginia’s go-to guy last year. The only even semi-proven player on this roster is Harris, and even he averaged just 9.8 points in ACC play. Evans was far from consistent: somehow, he averaged 10.8 points in four games against FSU and UNC, but 7.6 against other ACC opponents. Akil Mitchell will have to replace Scott, and he found himself frequently in foul trouble last year. Through a combination of graduation and transfers, Virginia is dangerously thin.
Michael: You want to be in charge?
Michael: You want to deal with what I deal with? A sister who takes your money and throws it away. A mother who you can’t trust. A company whose founder may be on trial for treason. Is that what you want?
Gob: What kind of vacation time does it offer?
Lucille: The company is in danger.
Michael: What tipped you off? The falling profit margins or the fact that we’re a regular feature on Bill O’Reilly’s most ridiculous item of the day?
Gob: I’ve made a huge mistake.
Former Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg was on the hot seat, and his assistant coaches were jumping ship. On their way out, they gave exit interviews to Virginia Tech. James Johnson, who left to take the top assistant job at Clemson last year, was no different. Two months later, he was hired as the head coach at Virginia Tech to replace Greenberg, who supposedly (according to the aforementioned exit interviews) didn’t create a “family atmosphere” for his staff. Interesting. You wanted to be the boss, James Johnson? Well, good luck. I wonder if either he or the Virginia Tech administration thinks they’ve made a huge mistake yet.
2012 record/results: 16-17 overall, 4-12 ACC. The Hokies were 11-3 entering ACC season before the wheels fell off. They lost 12 games by fewer than ten points. Even their four ACC wins were decided by a total of six points.
Reason for optimism: Point guard Erick Green is a special player, and there is some experience around him. In fact, Virginia Tech will only have one scholarship freshman. Forward Cadarian Raines got a lot better last year, and neither Robert Brown nor Jarrell Eddie have been shy about trying to carry some of the scoring load. Their starting five is as good as any, but…
Reason for pessimism: …if any of them have to come out of the game for any reason – injury, foul trouble, anything – the Hokies will be in big trouble. There are only eight scholarship players on the roster. And the ones behind the starting five either aren’t very good, are unproven, or both.
Tobias Fünke: Come on, Lindsay. We’ve had some great times.
[a white screen appears with text reading: "Footage not found."]
Michael: I burned it. Down to the ground.
George Sr.: There was money in that banana stand.
Michael: Well, it’s all gone now.
George Sr.: There was $250,000 lining the inside walls of the banana stand.
George Sr.: Cash, Michael. What the hell did you think I meant when I said…
George Sr.: [yells] There is money… in… the banana stand.
Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik could make Ron Wellman look smart after all. It didn’t seem like a good hire three years ago, and the timing was strange considering former head coach Dino Gaudio had just made the NCAA Tournament. It seemed like an even worse hire when Bzdelik won just one ACC game in 2011 and showed just slight improvement last year with a 13-18 record. Wake Forest fans have had to cope with some pretty bad basketball along the way, and they’re still trying to rekindle fan interest. If Bzdelik’s freshman class is as advertised, though, it shouldn’t take long.
2011 record/results: 13-18 overall, 4-12 ACC. About the only good thing you can say about last year’s Wake Forest team is that it finished the non-conference schedule 9-5 with just two embarrassing losses (Arizona State and Wofford). Half of their ACC wins were against BC.
Reason for optimism: C.J. Harris and Travis McKie are one of the best returning duos in the country. And they might just finally have some help this year, particularly McKie, from a very highly-touted freshman class. Also, it can’t get worse for the Deacons than it’s been the last few years. Even if Wake struggles, the freshmen are good enough to start winning back the hearts and minds of Wake fans as they finally have a reason for hope.
Reason for pessimism: It’s essentially Harris, McKie, sophomore sharp-shooter Chase Fischer and a gang of freshmen at this point. McKie and Harris are great players, but it’s impossible to know how the freshmen will play on a given night. So, maybe it can get worse – at least before it gets better. They’re going to start a freshman at point guard (Codi Miller-McIntyre). Ken Pomeroy only has the Deacs projected for nine wins this year.
NC State (5-2, 2-1) at North Carolina (5-3, 2-2), 12:30 PM, ACC Network
North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner might be fiery on the field, but he is still the son of a football coach. And his answers – even during the week leading up to North Carolina’s biggest rivalry game of the year against NC State – reflected that. Turner Walston, a Tar Heel Monthly magazine editor and GoHeels.com writer, has covered Renner for a long time. So he decided to press Renner (playfully) for a bit more candor.
TW: Bryn, be honest.
BR: Gotcha. I always am.
TW: You can’t go to a bowl game.
BR: That’s correct. I’m aware of that.
TW: The ACC has said even if you’re top in Coastal, you can’t win it.
TW: The state championship is out the window.
BR: That’s correct.
If you’re going to salvage something from this season, the fans want you to beat NC State.
BR: Absolutely. (Sees teammates walking by. Waves at them, stalling for time, leans over in his chair to say something to them.) Hey guys! (Laughs nervously.) Yeah, you know. It’s sad to say, but I just don’t buy into all that stuff. I know it’s cliched and you guys are going to think I’m lying, but -
(Andrew Carter of the News and Observer): We think you’re a coach’s son.
BR: I am, but it just comes – it’s how I was raised. You’ve got to prepare for every game like it’s going to be NC State or it’s going to be whoever you guys want it to be. Whoever you guys want us to play, I’m so focused on what we have to do as an offense, that’s my main focus. How can we get the ball in the end zone for us to win games? I sound like a broken record. We could play the frickin’ Bears or the best defense in the league, the 49ers. We could go be playing them and I want to focus on how can we as an offense put the ball in the end zone.
And NC State head coach Tom O’Brien – who has been a responder during game-week and an instigator afterwards during this five-game winning streak – wasn’t biting, either. He and Raleigh News and Observer beat writer Joe Giglio always provide entertaining banter, but other reporters pressed him about the rivalry, too. And he did nothing but either praise the Tar Heels and their coaching staff or carefully dodge potential minefield-type questions.
He was reminded that in the off-season, North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said at a booster event that he didn’t want to “legitimize” NC State. Normally the type of comment that would provoke at least a subtle jab from O’Brien, he only said: “That’s like recruiting rhetoric – it’s the same thing that happens in rival games. You just forget about it and move on. It doesn’t mean a lot.”
So both teams are left to pump themselves up for this game. Of course, that hasn’t been an issue for NC State. But under former head coach Butch Davis, UNC was thought to be taking the game too lightly – or, at least, not as seriously as their neighbors up I-40. Davis often refused to recognize the significance of the game. North Carolina fans would often blame that attitude for the losses.
But Renner seemed to take offense to that notion. “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. We know how we prepare and how we want to play. I think if you’re a fan … you’re always going to have your opinion against the other person. So I think that’s where everybody voices their opinions from and it’s based on that. But as far as do we not take it as (seriously), (does NC State) take it more personally, I don’t think that’s the case. I think we really look forward to playing them. They’re a very good opponent. Right down the street from us, so we always want to play our best when we play them.”
Fedora isn’t taking any chances, though. He decorates the Carolina locker room with NC State paraphernalia on Sunday immediately after Carolina’s disappointing 33-30 loss to Duke. Posters of NC State celebrating wins, the Wolfpack schedule, even red and white ribbons (“it looked like almost like he went to party city and put up all the flyers and the big hoopla,” Renner said). When told about it, O’Brien got as controversial as he would get all week, and that was with a joke: “I mean, I wasn’t over there. I was flying back, so I don’t know who did it.”
NC State is on a two-game winning streak with a win over a top-five Florida State team and their first Atlantic Division road win a week ago at Maryland. North Carolina is coming off of a 33-30 loss at Duke, its third this season by five points or less. Carolina is 1-3 in those games while NC State is 3-1 in close games.
NC State safety Earl Wolff is never at a loss for words, and even he was low-key about the rivalry. For the most part. “I just feel like if we come out and play with that same intensity we played with last year, a lot of people say we’re not really road warriors, we’re not really that good on the road, but if you can’t get hype for the Carolina game then you shouldn’t even walk on the field that day,” Wolff said. “That’s how we feel. That’s how everybody feels. So we’re just going to try to stop them, stop their offense and win that game.”
If it sounds simple, it’s been just that simple for NC State in recent years. It’s an uphill battle for the Tar Heels, who have lost games to the Wolfpack in the last five years similarly to the way they’ve lost games this season: close, and late. Carolina has lost to NC State in a blowout, and after falling behind early and having comebacks fall short, and even after losing late leads.
Carolina has become famous for its comebacks this year, except for the fact that none of their comebacks have resulted in wins. But Carolina has erased – or nearly erased – second-half deficits of 29 points and 14 points (in the fourth quarter last week) this season, only to fall just short. “If we can just focus, put together our game plan, not shoot ourselves in the foot, do what’s necessary early on then it won’t matter,” UNC right guard Jonathan Cooper said. “If we’re able to finish drives not with field goals but with touchdowns then we won’t be talking about the last late minutes of the quarter.”
A few slightly different bounces of the football (specifically, Maryland’s kicker bouncing a 30-yard field goal inside the goal post), and NC State would have also been on the end of a heartbreaking loss. But after three close wins this season (two in the last two contests), the Wolfpack feels confident it can win those games. And of course, they’re confident that if they play like they should, they can win their sixth straight.
NC State has been an inconsistent bunch under O’Brien, but when they’re on, as Wolff pointed out, they’re hard to stop. They just want to stay loose, relax and have fun. And why not? It’s worked so far.
“Sometimes, you see spotlights during games, we bring that energy. When we have that energy, it’s hard for a lot of teams to stop us,” Wolff said. “Coach O’Brien talks a lot about enthusiasm, everybody being very enthusiastic and it starts in practice. I feel like once somebody makes a play and I get hype, it feeds off to other people….We’re going to have to just reenact that out, really, and just have fun. It’s all about having fun. That’s what football is about. We’re going to try to have fun and win Saturday.”
Moments in NC State-North Carolina history: Just as I ran across the gem of the Duke mascot nearly killing a UNC student with a trident in an old Daily Tar Heel, I found some other NC State-related tales as well. From the November 3, 1935 DTH:
NC State students came over right before the football game to try to steal Rameses III and got a ewe instead. They stole instead a black bull, a “perfumed billy goat and a horse that laughed.” They disguised themselves as Carolina students. “But the ways of city fellers are queer and, and, after chasing the poor critter half way back to Raleigh, they finally got it in the car to be put on display at a State pep rally. One thing was overlooked. Rameses III is a ram, but not this substitute which made no difference to engineers, reserve officers or city fellers. State students obviously don’t believe in stealing rams, like ewe, ewe and ewe.”
At the State game in Raleigh, State fans brought in two cows that had red-painted signs that read “We’ll Beat Carolina and This Is No Bull” and the other said “Carolina is a Lot of Bull”. One cow wouldn’t move and they had to carry it. The State ram got loose and threw off the State colors, causing the Carolina fans to stand and cheer, but they caught the ram. Some kids from Chapel Hill High steal a sign and half of the State stands chase after them and get it back.
From the 1999 10-6 Carolina win, a thriller that saw perhaps two of the worst quarterbacked games in each school’s history:
Equal time: Russell Wilson’s crazy “Hail Mary” against North Carolina in 2010:
A look back at the good old days when both coaches would talk some trash (and by “good old days” I mean “last year”):
Prediction: NC State, 27-24. Unlike Las Vegas, who has made the Tar Heels the favorites for each of the last five games, I’ll believe that North Carolina will beat NC State once it actually happens. They’re capable of doing it, and it seems like the rivalry is due for a UNC win. But of two inconsistent teams, I’ll go with the one that seems the least inconsistent.
NC State’s 17-16 win over Florida State two weeks ago was a potential season-changer for the Wolfpack. But after a bye week to bask in the victory, NC State (4-2, 1-1) is ready to get back to business at Maryland (4-2, 2-0). “This is going to tell us where we want to go, whether we want to just stay complacent with a Florida State win and that would be our season, or whether we want to go farther in the season,” NC State wide receiver Quintin Payton said.
Losing after a big win has been a bit of a trend in recent Wolfpack history. The best example was 2010, when NC State won at Georgia Tech and started 4-0 before falling in a close one at home to Virginia Tech. They got a huge win over Boston College the next week, finally beating head coach Tom O’Brien’s former school, a week before losing at a mediocre ECU team in overtime. They followed that up with a win over a ranked Florida State team before losing at Clemson the next week.
But in 2011, the roller coaster ride of NC State football seemed to even out towards the end of the year. They won their final three games, beating a top-ten Clemson team at home and then coming back for a win in the regular-season finale against Maryland.
The comeback is what’s key there, though: for awhile, it looked like the same old Wolfpack was back. They inexplicably crushed Clemson the previous week. Nearly three quarters of football later, they were down 41-14 at home to a two-win Maryland team. “You never want to put yourself in that position. Looking back, I think we tried too hard early. I’ve certainly never been in a situation where you had to score 35 fourth-quarter points,” O’Brien said.
And yet, they did: NC State scored 42 unanswered (35 in the fourth quarter) to win, 56-41. O’Brien knows that this year’s game will be different, though. “Their psyche at that point, they were a 2-9 team and now they’re 4-2 and they’ve won two in a row and they’ve won two ACC games. Certainly going to College Park has been a tough place for us to play,” he said.
But every Atlantic Division venue has been tough for the Wolfpack, seemingly: they are winless on the road in division since O’Brien took over as head coach. “It just means I’m a bad coach against opponents in our conference on the road,” O’Brien said dryly. “It’s my fault when we lose. I’ll try to be a better coach this week.” He added a derisive sniff.
Maryland has been one of the places NC State has had a chance to win a division road game more often than not under O’Brien. But Byrd Stadium is one of those sneakily difficult places to play for all ACC teams, not just NC State. In 2010, NC State only had to beat Maryland to win the Atlantic Division crown, and they led by 14 points late. But Maryland came back to win 38-31.
“It was cold,” defensive end Brian Slay said of his memories of that game. “It wasn’t a good trip to say the least. They spoiled our chance to go to the ACC Championship game a few years ago. So we’re going to keep that in mind and also just try to go out there and use what happened two years ago and be the first time in awhile that’s won at Maryland at NC State.”
NC State is 2-3 against Maryland under O’Brien and has lost eight of the last 12 meetings. This will only be the second time NC State and Maryland have faced off with NC State coming off of a win under O’Brien, and NC State is 1-1 in those games (including last year).
NC State has control of the Atlantic Division at this point after beating Florida State. The win over Florida State can revitalize this team for the second half of the schedule, but only if it takes care of a team it should beat.
The 2010 loss is still on the minds of this NC State team. A lot of the players remember it very well, and don’t want history to repeat itself. “(The team) was saying how two years ago Maryland ruined (Atlantic Division title hopes) for us, so let’s not let it happen again at Maryland,” Slay said.
Moments in NC State-Maryland history: Sorry in advance, NC State fans. But it’s the Torrey Smith game in 2010.
And sorry about this one too, but with a Doc Walker “locked up in the closet” reference and a long Chris Turner run, I had to:
But I’m going to make up for it now (from last year):
And from 2009:
And of course, the NC State-Maryland rivalry gave us this from Ron Cherry, otherwise known as one of the most important moments in ACC history.
Prediction: NC State, 26-13. Maryland’s defense is very good, but the offense is…not so much. And NC State’s defense is playing with renewed confidence after controlling Florida State’s powerful offense two weeks ago. At some point, O’Brien has to win a division road game. This feels like that point.
Okay, I went through and actually predicted this game by game because I’m either insane or…no, just insane. My ACC ballot was based on those predictions.
1. Florida State (14-4)*
2. Duke (14-4)*
3. NC State (13-5)**
4. UNC (13-5)**
5. Miami (13-5)**
6. Maryland (9-9)
7. Clemson (7-11)
8. Wake Forest (6-12)
9. Virginia (5-13)
10. Boston College (5-13)
11. Virginia Tech (4-14)
12. Georgia Tech (3-15)
*Duke and Florida State only face off against each other once, and I have Florida State winning. Ergo, Florida State wins the ACC regular-season. (But not the Tournament. I think NC State will win that. Since that’s the actual ACC winner, I figured I might as well go ahead and call that one, too.)
**Those 3-4-5 teams finish with the same record, so I just sort of arbitrarily ordered them because I didn’t feel like going back and looking at tiebreakers.
ACC Player of the Year: Michael Snaer, Florida State. NC State’s Lorenzo Brown, C.J. Leslie and maybe even Richard Howell will make a run at this. I think Miami’s Reggie Johnson and Kenny Kadji might also have something to say about this. But Snaer is a man on a mission, and while those other teams will be more offensively balanced, Snaer will be FSU’s best player on both ends of the floor.
ACC Rookie of the Year: T.J. Warren, NC State. Call it a hunch.
All-ACC First Team:
Michael Snaer, Florida State
Lorenzo Brown, NC State
Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
Mason Plumlee, Duke
(Honestly, they said “last call for ballots” and I panicked, writing down the first five or so names I could think of that I had been considering. But in hindsight, I think it’s a good list.)
Before NC State (3-1, 0-0) kicked off against the Citadel last week, a late announcement was made that none of the Wolfpack’s three running backs (Mustafa Greene, James Washington or Tony Creecy) would be available. Starting in their place would be a true freshman whose name invoked equal parts confusion and Biblical humor: Shadrach Thornton.
(The freshman was “thrown into the fire”, if you will? Anyone?)
Thornton had 145 yards on 21 carries in his first collegiate game, and is now NC State’s leading rusher this season (Creecy, who played three games, has 130 yards). Yes, it was against the Citadel. But NC State head coach Tom O’Brien has said all year he wanted someone to claim the starting job. Thornton might be on his way to doing that. ”He ran the right routes, did what he was supposed to do, which was good. With most kids, you hope that after his first experience, he’ll be better this week and more prepared to do things,” O’Brien said.
“(Miami’s) defense will pressure us a lot more than we saw on Saturday. But he’s a tough kid. From the first day of camp, we’ve always done pass protection running backs against linebackers. He wasn’t afraid. He goes up there and he’ll get in front of you. You saw him blocking downfield, so he’s not afraid to go block somebody. We’ve just got to make sure he goes to the right guy, because he’s going to have to pick up somebody in pass protection this week.”
(Side note: the name “Shadrach” is also purported to mean “command of the moon god”. No idea what that means, but it sounds awesome.)
O’Brien is right: Thornton may not be ready to make the leap to gashing the Citadel to taking on the full workload against Miami (3-1, 1-0). The Hurricanes often look equally parts horrible and unstoppable within the same game, like they did in a 42-36 overtime win over Georgia Tech last week.
Miami’s defense has hardly been dominant, but NC State will be missing two starters on the offensive line (tackles Rob Crisp and Andrew Wallace). NC State hasn’t faced a tough opponent since Week 2 at Connecticut, and the jump in the talent of the opposition will be significant, particularly for the NC State defense. Miami has enough offensive talent to get a big play or two over on the Wolfpack defense, which has been susceptible to that at times this season.
Ask Georgia Tech how quickly it can slip away: the Yellow Jackets went from trailing 19-0, to leading 36-19 in the fourth quarter, to tied at 36 at the end of regulation before losing in overtime. ”(Miami) gets up 19-0 and then they get down (36-19), and then they come back and score all the rest of the points. They’ve been streaky like that,” O’Brien said. “Once they get on a run, we’re going to have to stop the run.”
Moments in NC State-Miami history: Kirby Freeman really struggled shooting three-pointers, making just 18-of-58 for 31% – wait, what? He was a quarterback, not a shooting guard? Freeman had to come in for Kyle Wright during NC State’s last trip to Miami in 2007, and he completed 1-of-14 passes (his only completion was an 84-yard touchdown) and three interceptions. That completion was so historic, Miami fans took a video of it and of the ensuing celebration. Which looks exactly how you think it will look. (Sound quality is awful.)
(NC State won in overtime 19-16.) Miami fans did not like Freeman after that game. Freeman would transfer to Baylor and in his first game as the starter against Wake, he completed 4-of-11 passes for 31 yards and two picks. He was replaced later in the season by….wait for it….Robert Griffin III.
Prediction: NC State, 31-24. This is the most ACC game ever in that no one has any real idea who either of these teams really are. Would it be the ACC thing to do for NC State to get blown out in this game, then beat Florida State at home next week? Or would a Miami blowout loss at home, which might inspire another angry radio rant or two, be the most ACC thing? Regardless of the craziness and unpredictability of the league in general, I trust Tom O’Brien’s experienced bunch (particularly his defense) much more than Miami’s right now.
Last week: 8-1 (1-1 ACC)
Season: 26-4 (2-2 ACC)
NC State (1-1) vs. South Alabama, 6:00 PM, ESPN3
NC State got back on track defensively against UConn, holding the Huskies to just seven points and 239 yards. Connecticut crossed the 50-yard line just three times and entered the red zone just once (on a touchdown drive). The Wolfpack defense forced four turnovers and held Connecticut outside of the NC State 35-yard line on all but the aforementioned touchdown drive.
Now the concern shifts to the offense, which put up just 10 points and 258 total yards last week (including 54 rushing yards on 41 attempts). While the Wolfpack has had arguably the toughest first two games of any ACC team, they are 11th in the league total offense (332.5 yards per game) and tenth in rushing offense (86.5 yards per game).
The running game has been a rotation of Mustafa Greene, Tony Creecy and James Washington. Greene has the most carries (28) and yards (101) but Creecy has 16 for 62 (3.9 a carry) and Washington has 14 for 32 (2.3 per carry). Greene looks like the most explosive of the trio, but he hasn’t sustained it. NC State head coach Tom O’Brien is looking for one of them to separate.
“There’s glimpses of each one of them doing things that you want to do, but there’s not the consistency doing it all the time that you have to have to be the guy,” O’Brien said. “They have to make that decision for us, not us making the decision saying, ‘You’re the guy’.”
The offensive line, despite returning a lot of experience, has become an issue. NC State is last in the league in sacks allowed (seven). But six of those were by Connecticut, and O’Brien attributed that at least in part to an injury to starting left tackle Rob Crisp. His backup Tyson Chandler, a redshirt sophomore who had played just 26 career snaps (mostly on special teams), struggled at times against Connecticut defensive end Trevardo Williams, who had 2.5 sacks.
“(Williams) was after poor Tyson early and often, and he hung in there for awhile but like anybody else, he’ll be much better this week. That was his first extended time to play in a really, really tough situation,” O’Brien said.
“More than anything, it’s the psychological factor that you’re finally playing. It’s a big game. You’re on the road. You’re going against a guy that’s probably going to be an NFL guy next year. You’re not easing into anything. He hung in there and gave us four quarters worth, and now we’ve got a chance to work and get better this week because he’s probably going to have to play there.”
The statistics bear out the impact of Crisp’s absence – Tennessee sacked Mike Glennon just once and had 5.0 tackles for loss while UConn racked up six sacks and 11.0 tackles for loss. The injury to Crisp meant that NC State was starting a second new offensive line in two games, and it has affected continuity. But O’Brien, known for developing offensive linemen, isn’t worried.
“The biggest thing on the offensive line is continuity and playing to the guy next to you. We had the right guys in the right spots, but now we start the (Connecticut) game with a new guy at left tackle, which is a premiere spot in what we have to do protecting the quarterback,” O’Brien said. “Is it a position of strength today? No. Can it be? Yes, absolutely.”
Crisp’s injury is a week-to-week situation, and it’s unknown how long he will be out. But Chandler should be able to get a lot of meaningful reps at arguably the most important position on the field, since the left tackle protects quarterback Mike Glennon’s blind side.
Glennon has had his own issues: through two games, he already has four interceptions (a third of his total last year) and has completed just 55.3% of his passes. But the offensive line has been a factor, and he’s dealing with a relatively inexperienced crop of wide receivers who are still struggling to get separation against college defensive backs.
NC State will face South Alabama at home at 6:00 this Saturday before a home matchup with Citadel on Sept. 22, and those games should give the Wolfpack a chance to fine-tune their offense. But O’Brien knows that multiple things have to get fixed.
“It’s three-pronged. It starts with the protection, it goes to the route running and being in the right spot at the right time, and then it goes to him and decision-making and what he has to do. All three of those aspects have to get better if we’re going to get better throwing the football,” O’Brien said. “It’s a combination of everything, and it’s something that we have to solve and we have to make it work this week.”
Mascot facts: A jaguar is an awesome mascot, and only one other school uses it. (How is this possible with all of the Wildcats and Tigers?) South Alabama picked the jaguar in 1965. Three years later, someone donated a live South American jaguar to the school. By 1971, someone on campus in charge of such things thought to himself, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Probably not long after the time Mischka the Jaguar got out and “decided to take a tour of campus.”
Prediction: NC State, 44-7. The Wolfpack really needs to get the offense going this week, and South Alabama shouldn’t offer too much resistance. South Alabama lost 33-31 at Texas-San Antonio in Week 1 but beat Nicholls State 9-3 last week. This will be the Jaguars’ first road game.
NC State (0-1) at Connecticut (1-0)
NC State finished last season on such a positive note and returned so many of its core pieces that it entered this season with some dark horse Atlantic Division potential. Going into the opener, from their head coach Tom O’Brien and on down the roster, they all knew a chance to beat an SEC team on national television was a big deal, and they didn’t shy away from admitting that.
But a lot of veteran players on NC State’s roster picked the wrong night to have bad games, and that’s how the Wolfpack is looking at it. They’re still optimistic that this can be a special team, and they have 11 more opportunities to prove it. For now, though, they just want to get their first win of the year at Connecticut (1-0) on Saturday so that they can stop hearing about slow starts.
“We got off to a slow start (last year) and that’s one thing we’re not trying to get to this year,” senior wide receiver Tobais Palmer said. “We’re going to have a little bit more urgency to get to what we want to be and how successful we want to be this season. … We’re looking forward to going into Connecticut with a better head than we did last week.”
Quarterback Mike Glennon completed 27-of-46 passes for 288 yards but threw four interceptions. The offensive line did its job for the most part (he was only sacked once), but his pass-catchers let him down. NC State had three official drops (two by running backs), but it seemed like more. But he threw just 12 interceptions all of last season and he will develop a better rhythm with his receivers as the season goes on.
The NC State defense will have a chance to show last week was an aberration, too. While preseason All-America cornerback David Amerson was noticeably burned on a few occasions, the NC State defensive line never was able to pressure Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, who passed for 333 yards and was barely touched. The rush defense gave up 191 yards, but 109 of those came on two runs. On Tennessee’s other 36 attempts, they gained 82 yards. That was no consolation for senior defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop.
“We didn’t do a good job of stopping the run. We let up one big play and that gave them most of their yards on the run. In the future, we’re going to have to do a way better job of stopping the run,” Cato-Bishop said. “We’ve got to shoot gaps and apply pressure, come faster off the ball and be a penetrating defensive line.”
Big plays haunted the Wolfpack defense all game as it allowed five plays of 20 or more yards (three of which went for touchdowns). Most of that damage was done in the first quarter, but in the second half when NC State was trying to make a comeback, it couldn’t get off the field. Tennessee converted 6-of-10 third downs in the second half and had four plays of ten or more yards on third down alone.
“We try to get three-and-outs, but when we’re not good on third down, that means the defense isn’t playing well,” Cato-Bishop said. “In that stretch of the game, we were on the field for a long time so the defense was pretty tired. We’ve got to do a better job of getting off the field on third down.”
Tennessee’s offense had a lot more talent at the skill positions than Connecticut. Even against Massachusetts (an FCS team), Connecticut managed just two plays of 20 or more yards. Running back Lyle McCombs was a bright spot offensively last season, running for nearly 96 yards a game as a freshman. He ran for a workmanlike 82 yards on 23 carries last week, but his long run was 12 yards.
The Huskies have an experienced defense, and it showed against Massachusetts as they allowed just 59 total yards (three rushing) and three first downs. Massachusetts never crossed the 50-yard line. The Wolfpack may not get a ton of explosive plays offensively, but they have to be patient and take care of the football.
Turnovers killed NC State last week, and that can’t happen again. O’Brien said that ten plays – five big ones allowed on defense and five turnovers by the offense – were the difference last week. “You can’t take ten plays out of the game, but those ten plays dictated the final,” O’Brien said. “We have to make corrections in those areas to give ourselves a chance to win on Saturday.”
It seemed like the Wolfpack was pressing at times last week, thinking too much instead of going on instinct. They seemed tentative and unsure. Palmer admitted there were some nerves, but attributed them to first-game jitters. ”We’ve just got to go in there with the mentality that they’re not going to be able to stop us. We’ve just got to be confident in what we do and how we do it,” Palmer said. “We mess up, then we mess up full speed and come back and we adjust and do what we have to do to be successful the next time.”
Random mascot facts: UConn has had a live Husky mascot since 1934, but in 1970, the Student Senate voted to sell Jonathan VII because the dog “represented the establishment”. Oh, those crazy hippie kids. A student petition prevented that from happening.
Prediction: NC State, 27-12. NC State is 8-17 in road games since 2007 and 4-13 in out-of-state contests (1-1 in non-conference games out of state), but three of those out-of-state wins have come in the last two seasons (at Virginia, at Central Florida and at Georgia Tech). NC State has won its first road game of the year just once in the last five seasons. But having played in what was essentially a road game last week, they’ll be ready.
No. 1 North Carolina (31-5) vs. No. 13 Ohio (29-7), 7:47 PM, TBS (St. Louis, MO)
Kendall Marshall is likely out for this game, so Carolina is going to have to make do without its point guard. The Tar Heels are capable of doing that, but they’re playing an Ohio team that can force a ton of turnovers and will pressure the Carolina backup point guards.
Key to the game: Carolina using its size advantage. The tallest Ohio player is 6-8, and their two NCAA tournament opponents have hit 53.2% of their two-point attempts (Ohio made 46.2% from two). But the Bobcats have won in the tournament by getting to the foul line and hitting three’s (15-of-34, or 44.1%) while their opponents have hit just 9-of-38 three’s (23.7%). Maybe the Bobcats, who shoot 33.8% from three on the year, will go cold. But even if they don’t, Carolina has to make sure it dominates the paint on both ends, which it doesn’t need Marshall to do.
Opponent to watch: D.J. Cooper. The 5-11 junior point guard has been among the national leaders in both assist rate and steal rate since his freshman year, and he has basically been the Ohio offense. Lately, he’s been a tricky matchup for opponents since he’s hitting three-pointers (41.7% in the NCAA tournament) and slashing to the basket. He’s averaging 19.8 points and 6.4 assists over the last five games.
While Kendall Marshall was hardly a defensive dynamo, he still called the defenses for Carolina and helped his teammates get where they needed to be since he knew opponents’ sets. Michigan and South Florida are pretty good defensive teams, and even they couldn’t find a way to contain him. It seems like a tall order for a freshman point guard or even a very solid defensive player in Justin Watts, who is not used to guarding point guards.
Prediction: North Carolina 74, Ohio 65
Random Mascot Facts: Ohio was just known as the “Green and White” until 1925 when they picked the Bobcat “for its reputation as a sly, wily, scrappy animal”. They renamed their mascot “Rufus” in 2006 (because the bobcat species name is Lynx rufus). In 1940, Bing Crosby gave Ohio a live bobcathe had received from an fan of his swing band (called The Bobcats). It went to the Cleveland Zoo and eventually died after it was allegedly poisoned.
And today’s Bobcat mascot is perhaps best known for doing this to the Buckeye:
No. 11 NC State (24-12) vs. No. 2 Kansas (29-6), 10:17 PM, TBS (St. Louis, MO)
NC State believes it can win this game, even facing a very good Kansas team in St. Louis (which is just under a five-hour drive from Lawrence). If State can play smart basketball and maintain its self-belief throughout any adversity during the game, the Wolfpack will at least have a chance down the stretch.
Key to the game: NC State’s inside game vs. Kansas. The Jayhawks present all kinds of matchup problems for NC State on both ends with a front line of potential National Player of the Year in Thomas Robinson (6-9) and 7-foot shot-blocking machine Jeff Withey. But C.J. Leslie presents matchup problems for Kansas as well with his athleticism, and Richard Howell can be just as tenacious as Robinson on the glass. And like NC State, Kansas doesn’t have much of a bench. State needs to find a way to get Kansas’ bigs in trouble as they did Georgetown’s. If State is the team in foul trouble, it could be a long evening.
Opponent to watch: Tyshawn Taylor. After a very shaky start to the season, Taylor has been fantastic, leading his team in scoring during the Big 12 season. His strength has been as a scorer (of his 13 games with 20 or more points, 11 have come in the last 19 games). He shoots nearly 50% from the floor and 42% from three, and he takes plenty of shots. Taylor also bounced back from some horrifying turnover numbers (including 11 in a loss to Duke). He committed three or fewer turnovers in 14 of Kansas’s final 21 games.
If he has a weakness, it’s at the foul line where he shoots just 69.4 percent, and he doesn’t rebound very well. That’s a good matchup for State’s Lorenzo Brown, who averages 4.5 rebounds. With as well as Brown has been defending lately, this matchup could help turn the game in the Wolfpack’s favor. Brown seems more than ready to take on the challenge, but it will be a stiff test as Taylor hardly lacks for confidence.
Prediction: Kansas 78, NC State 71
Random Mascot Facts: A Jayhawk is a mythical bird (combination of a blue jay and a sparrow hark) and its usage dates back to 1848, referencing the settlers in the Kansas Territory. A blue jay is known to rob other nests and a sparrow hawk is a stealthy hunter, so as this website says: “Don’t turn your back on this bird.” But the best recent story about the Jayhawk involved a little girl (a Kansas State fan) who refused to color in a picture of a Jayhawk and instead colored in a picture of a Wildcat:
Last week: 5-4
Season: 146-54 (14-7 Postseason)
RALEIGH, NC — Mark Gottfried’s successful approach with C.J. Leslie has been well-documented. But it didn’t begin and end with the 6-foot-9 budding star.
Hired last April to replace Sidney Lowe, Gottfried inherited a group that had done more than its fair share of losing and seen plenty of disappointment. But Gottfried had a ready-made group of veterans – a senior and two juniors – that could help him win right away as he rebuilt NC State.
Senior C.J. Williams and juniors Scott Wood and Richard Howell had been through plenty of bad times, and they didn’t want to spend the rest of their time in school rebuilding a program only to see the fruits pay off after graduation.
And so the question became how quickly would they buy in, if at all?
“First thing that had to happen with all these guys is they needed to get to know me and I needed to get to know them,” Gottfried said. “Until there’s a level of trust, players sometimes, they build a wall and it’s hard to break that wall. Who is this guy? Why do I need to listen to you?”
The toughest of the three was Howell. The 6-foot-8 (on a good day, per his head coach) forward is an imposing physical presence despite his lack of size relative to his competition. Post-practice sweat dripped steadily off of the end of his beard and he stared straight ahead as he talked about learning to trust Gottfried.
“It’s very hard for a coach to come in here and just click instantly with a player, especially a player who had been here two years and had been through the worst possible times,” Howell said. ”The main thing is just trusting him. He tells us every day, nobody wants us to do better than he does and that’s something that we’ve bought into. That’s something that we’ve trusted and it’s got us this far, so we’re going to keep continuing to trust him.”
Getting through to Howell was a unique obstacle for Gottfried, particularly on a personal level. ”There was a hard wall there that was hard to penetrate – not just on the floor, but away from the game,” Gottfried said of Howell. “If we sat down and just talked about his family or life, there weren’t a lot of times he wanted to let us in, let me in. Over time, that began to break down a little bit more.”
Even with Williams, a well-respected team leader, acceptance didn’t happen overnight. Williams had seen his playing time fluctuate wildly in his previous three years while capable Wolfpack teams never came close to reaching their potential.
When Gottfried was announced as the new head coach, the first thing Williams did is look up the new coach’s records his first year at Murray State and Alabama. He liked what he saw, but neither of Gottfried’s first-year teams made the NCAA tournament. His future teams did, and often: in 1997 and 1998, Murray State made the tournament and from 2002-06, Alabama did as well.
Williams, though, had just one more shot to make the NCAA tournament. So he went to Gottfried days after his hiring and let his feelings be known. “I said, ‘Coach, if you’re for this rebuilding stuff, I can’t do that. I’m a senior. I need to win right now. I’ve always had a dream of at least playing in the NCAA tournament’,” Williams said.
“‘I need to know that that’s what you want to do.’ He straight up told me, ‘C.J., I’m trying to win right now. I’m not trying to do the rebuilding. I don’t want to waste time.’”
While no other player could pinpoint a specific “aha” moment, Scott Wood did. It was less than two weeks after Gottfried had been hired. Wood went up to what he called the war room above the Dail Center to meet with Gottfried and assistant coach Bobby Lutz.
“He showed me the offense and what he likes to see, and then he put it into the picture that this is where everybody’s going to be,” Wood said. “It let me see into the future of how it was going to work, and it really made me realize that this could be a good thing for us.”
Williams said Gottfried watched tape of each player from the previous year to evaluate what they could do. He let each player know what he expected of them individually, and each player had to buy into that before they could win as a team.
“He watched tape of us from last year and what we can do,” Williams said. As a coach, he just kind of coached us from that point, seeing what we did as a group and then taking it like, ‘Okay, now I see what you do. This is what I expect out of you.’
“The accountability that we have as individual players has helped us build this team environment.”
Williams recalled Gottfried showing the team tapes of his Alabama teams to give them an idea of what the offense would look like. “Each of us was like, ‘Oh, okay, so this is where my shot is going to come from and this is where his shot is going to be.’ We all saw that everybody is going to have an equal opportunity to score their points,” Williams said.
And they have. All five NC State starters averaged between 10 and 14 points in the regular season, which has held up in the postseason as well. Even after coming up short in a crucial three-game stretch in late February, which included a blown 20-point lead at Duke and home losses to Florida State and North Carolina, the Wolfpack managed to inch forward.
Their offense has been among the most efficient in the league all year, even as players like Wood and Williams went through slumps. They’ve returned to form, and both have hit huge shots in big moments in the NCAA tournament. Among the more recent improvements is a defense that has been downright dominant at times. That’s a far cry from where it was in November, or even December.
“(Gottfried’s) confidence is unbelievable in us. He tells us if we go out there and play hard, the sky is the limit to what we can do,” Howell said. “It definitely shows, not only on the offensive end but especially on the defensive end as well. I felt like that was something we were lacking last year.”
Howell’s progression has been part of the journey as well. He has a propensity to pick up silly fouls, and NC State isn’t the same team when he’s not on the floor, throwing his body around to fight for every available rebound. But he has stayed out of foul trouble for most of the last two games. He was dominant in the first round with 22 points against San Diego State and against Georgetown, he struggled to score but drew two fouls in the first 5:40 on the Hoyas’ star center Henry Sims.
State has always had Sweet 16 talent. It just had to believe that. The Wolfpack’s collapse at Duke and a disappointing close loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament called into question their ability to finish against good teams. Gottfried kept telling his team they were improving and they just lost to some good teams. But NC State ended the regular season without any great wins.
Now, the Wolfpack has two NCAA tournament wins over teams that spent most of the year in the top 25. Gottfried told his team all year that they were good enough to play with anyone in the country. Finally, the Pack and the nation have proof.
“It’s my job to convince our team that we are good enough, and we have to become good enough. It’s not smoke and mirrors. It’s not something you can just talk about,” Gottfried said. “You have to get better, and we did get better. But at the same time, I think this particular team needed – and still does – to believe that they’re good enough. And I do think that they believe that, so that’s exciting.”
No. 11 NC State (23-12) vs. No. 3 Georgetown (24-8), 12:15 PM, CBS (Columbus, OH)
This is a nightmarish matchup for NC State, but as the 11-seed playing the 3-seed, the Wolfpack have nothing to lose. They aren’t approaching the game that way, though (nor should they). Still, Georgetown’s Princeton offense and pesky defense that can go both zone and man-to-man will pose a lot of problems.
Key to the game: Patience on both ends. NC State won’t have an easy time getting good looks on offense. The Hoyas hold opponents to just 43.1% effective field goal percentage, fifth nationally, and just 27.1% from three. They are long, quick and experienced all over the floor. But State has faced some pretty disruptive defenses already (North Carolina and Florida State). Offensively, NC State has to work hard to get the best shot possible.
Defensively, head coach Mark Gottfried pointed out today that even if Georgetown gets a backdoor lay-up after bleeding 25-30 seconds off the shot-clock, it still counts for two points but it can be so demoralizing that it feels like eight points. The Wolfpack have to stay focused and not get down on themselves when that happens.
Prediction: Georgetown 64, NC State 61
Random Mascot Facts: There’s no such thing as a hoya, but in the late 1800′s students combined the Greek hoia or hoya (meaning “what” or “such”) and the Latin “saxa” to form a cheer: “Hoya saxa!” (“What rocks!”) It has stuck every since. Different breeds of dog have been used as the actual mascot since the early 1900s but Jack the Bulldog has been used since 1964. They’ve used a person in a suit since the 70′s as well as the live mascot.
No. 1 North Carolina (30-5) vs. No. 8 Creighton (29-5), 5:15 PM, CBS (Greensboro, NC)
Carolina’s bracket has opened up – the No. 2 and 3 seeds (Kansas and Georgetown) are still alive, but every other seed but one remaining is 10 or worse. The lone exception is the team Carolina faces tomorrow, Creighton (an eight-seed). So in theory, the Tar Heels could advance to the Final Four without facing a seed higher than eight. And in the Sweet 16, should Carolina advance, they are guaranteed to face a 12 (South Florida) or 13 (Ohio). But they have to win this first.
Key to the game: The three-point line. The only way Creighton has any shot at beating North Carolina is if they hit a ton of three-pointers. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, the Bluejays are capable of doing that, shooting a blazing 42.5% on the year. Five Bluejays have hit 20 or more three’s. Alabama defends the three-point line very well and Creighton hit 9-of-21 (42.9%) against them on Friday. Carolina will have to crowd the three-point arc and try to force Creighton to beat them with two-pointers.
Creighton’s not a very good defensive team either, but the Bluejays are going to pack the middle and try to force Carolina to beat them from the outside. Particularly if John Henson plays, the Tar Heels will have the horses to will their way to points in the paint. But they still could use a little more offensive balance than they’ve had the last few games, and now is as good a time as any for UNC to knock down a few extra three’s.
Prediction: North Carolina 84, Creighton 74
Random Mascot Facts: Creighton is the only Division-I school to use a bluejay as its mascot. Prior to 1924, Creighton’s teams were called the Hilltoppers but too many teams used that name. The Omaha Bee helped find a new nickname by asking readers to submit their choices. Since the school colors were blue and white, they decided on bluejay.
No. 3 Florida State (25-9) vs. No. 6 Cincinnati (25-10), 9:40 PM, TBS (Nashville, TN)
Florida State is inconsistent enough to have lost in their first NCAA Tournament game but good enough to reach the Final Four. The Seminoles probably would have lost that game to St. Bonaventure as recently as a month ago. But they didn’t, and now they’ll face a good Cincinnati team for the right to advance to their second straight Sweet 16.
Key to the game: Turnovers. Florida State has cut down on them when it mattered (just a 15.7% loss of ball against St. Bonaventure) but their 20.3% in the ACC title game against North Carolina (compared to just 7.9% by UNC) was one of many reasons that game was close. Cincinnati doesn’t turn the ball over much (just 16.2% per Ken Pomeroy, 10th-lowest nationally) and the Bearcats have a 12.3% steal percentage (18th nationally). Florida State has to avoid give-aways and be able to get stops if they can’t force any.
Prediction: Florida State 71, Cincinnati 60
Random Mascot Facts: When playing Kentucky in football in 1914, a cheerleader from Cincinnati (talking about fullback Leonard “Teddy” Baehr) started the chant: “They may be the Wildcats, but we have a Baehr-cat on our side.” The crowd started chanting “Come on, Baehr-cat!” and it stuck after awhile, but not until 1919. Here’s the worst bearcat suit ever made (from 1950):
And this, of course, is a real bearcat (worth it just for how weird it is):
Last week: 8-3
Season: (144-52) (12-5 Postseason)