NC State Is Not Paying Attention To Preseason Hype
The words “NC State basketball” and “prohibitive favorite” haven’t often been said together in the last few decades. NC State fans, who have been disappointed by preseason promise before, are cautiously optimistic at best, downright skeptical at worst. NC State second-year head coach Mark Gottfried said that people around Raleigh have approached him to say, “Coach, we had a great year last year.” Despite the Sweet 16 finish, Gottfried knows that a 24-13 record (9-7 against a much easier ACC slate than this year’s) wasn’t a great year.
“We had a really fun finish, and it was exceptional for our group. But our year wasn’t great. We were just okay,” Gottfried said, citing early season non-conference losses to Indiana and Syracuse, missed opportunities to beat ranked teams. Eight of NC State’s 13 losses were to teams that finished the year ranked. “I just think in general, we have to take another step, our program does. That step has to take place before all this, the anticipation, the expectations, there’s a process that has to take place and we’re still in it.”
Gottfried’s biggest reason for caution was the loss of valuable role players like starter C.J. Williams, backup point guard Alex Johnson and backup big man DeShawn Painter. But NC State is bringing in a top-10 recruiting class this season – part of the reason for the unbridled optimism. NC State is also returning four of its five starters (also last year’s four leading scorers).
For the most part last year, NC State beat who it should have and hung tough against top-25 teams. Still, NC State had some head-scratching losses last season (at home to Georgia Tech, at Clemson) to bottom-feeder ACC teams. Last year, NC State only played Florida State and Duke once each. This year, they’ll face all three of the likely top teams – North Carolina, FSU and Duke – twice.
“Real simply, they’ve got to be able to understand that to be a great team – which they want to be a great team – that the price is high,” Gottfried said. “That’s not something we paid much attention to last year, so it’s not something we’re going to pay attention to this year, regardless of where you’re picked. The only thing that counts is how hard you work each day and how well you do your job each day. Now, can our players truly grasp that? We’ll find out.”
But Gottfried has embraced the fun of the college basketball hotbed of Tobacco Road. Gottfried’s last head coaching job was at Alabama, where he said only “close family and friends” showed up for most of his press conferences. NC State’s media day featured at least 15 media members hanging on his every word, questioning him for nearly 30 minutes. Duke and Carolina are always expected to finish in the top three of the league. It’s been a long time since NC State was, too.
“I read the paper. I don’t live under a rock. I’m normal. I watch TV and all that,” Gottfried said of the preseason hype. “I think all that is fun. But I’ve also been around long enough to realize that outside of that being some kind of fun jibber jabber, than after that, you’ve got to go play. We’ve got to work. I get it. It is fun to be a part of it.”
And the players, even the younger ones, aren’t necessarily buying in either. Freshman Rodney Purvis, NC State’s highest-ranked incoming recruit, said this without provocation: “There’s a lot of hype going around with us, but we haven’t really done anything yet.”
When asked if he’d rather be the favorite or the underdog, Purvis simply grinned. “I don’t care. I want whatever it is. I don’t care about whatever it is. I don’t care about none of it. I just want to play basketball. That’s it.”