In a surprising spot at ACC tournament, NC State addresses expectations

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMarch 13, 2013 

— Shaky, disappointing, up and down.

Asked to describe its fifth-place, 11-7 ACC finish, that’s what three N.C. State players came up with Wednesday after their final practice before the start of the ACC tournament.

Coach Mark Gottfried had a different answer.

"Good," the second-year coach said. "You know, not great, it has been good. I wish it would have been better and that falls on me, it’s my responsibility."

Picked to win the ACC in the preseason by coaches and the media, the Wolfpack (22-9) fell four games short of first-place Miami and one game short of an opening-round bye.

Instead of watching Thursday, with perennial heavyweights Duke and North Carolina, the fifth-seeded Wolfpack will play 12th-seeded Virginia Tech at 2:30 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Regardless of the outside expectations, it’s not where the Wolfpack expected to be.

"We had high expectations," senior Scott Wood said. "There were lot of games that we felt like we should have won."

Added senior forward Richard Howell: "We definitely could have finished a lot better. We feel like we’re a way better team than what our record says."

There was some "good" to the season, as Gottfried noted. N.C. State posted consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time since Herb Sendek did it three straight times from 2003-06 and it held its ground in-state, sweeping Duke, UNC and Wake Forest at home for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

But it’s also not "exactly where we wanted to be," Gottfried admitted. The Wolfpack needs four wins in four days for its first ACC title in 26 years.

How State got here, and what went wrong, also depends on whom you ask.

There have been concrete problems, specifically on defense and with rebounding, but there have also been intangible issues, such as chemistry and lack of focus.

The latter has been prevalent, even in the Wolfpack’s signature wins.

"We had some stretches where we looked like the best team in the country," freshman Tyler Lewsi said. "And we’ve had some stretches where we didn’t look like the best team in the country."

Gottfried said the biggest issue was team chemistry. The coach said the team has solved some of its problems but it has taken longer than it did last season and longer than he anticipated.

"It took us until six or eight games ago to really begin to play with the type of chemistry, and guys accepting certain roles, to become a real unit," Gottfried said.

That turning point in team chemistry, a 71-67 loss at Florida State not withstanding, has coincided with the team’s uptick on defense.

One of the best, most efficient offensive teams in the country, the Wolfpack has struggled on the defensive end. There are multiple defensive metrics to illustrate the Wolfpack’s problems, but the simplest is points allowed.

When N.C. State allows fewer than 70 points, it’s 6-2 in ACC play this season and 13-4 under Gottfried, including last year’s ACC tournament. When ACC teams hit the 70-point mark, State’s record is 9-11.

The Pack closed the ACC schedule 6-2 – in both losses it gave up more than 70 points.

"There should never be games where you don’t play good defense," Howell said. "That’s something we have picked up the last couple of games and something we need to pick up if we want to go far in the tournament."

Rebounding issues, which are related to the problems on defense, have also cost the Wolfpack.

N.C. State has allowed 13 offensive rebounds in 18 games, including eight in ACC play. State went 5-3 in those games, including Saturday’s loss at Florida State.

"We have relied on Richard too much and that has kind of hurt us," junior guard Lorenzo Brown said.

Howell led the ACC in rebounding, with 10.6 per game, but the rest of the team was eager to get out in transition instead of helping Howell rebound.

That’s one reason Gottfried changed the starting lineup after giving up 21 offensive rebounds to Virginia Tech in a 90-86 overtime win Feb. 16.

Gottfried moved forward T.J. Warren into the lineup and guard Rodney Purvis to the bench. Warren has averaged 8.0 rebounds per game since, compared to 3.4 in the first 25 games.

The lineup change also coincides with the point in the season where Gottfried’s said the chemistry has improved.

There’s no way to change the problems N.C. State has had until this point. It’s also not too late to save the season, Wood said.

"If we win a tournament championship, we’re not going to remember what happened in the regular season," Wood said.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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