In the span of four days, N.C. State put together its best effort of the season and followed it with one of its most disappointing.
The only solace for coach Mark Gottfried? He saw it coming … in July.
With so many new parts after losing five of the top six scorers from last season’s 24-win NCAA tournament team, Gottfried expected his inexperienced group to struggle with consistency.
Back in July, he compared this team to his second at Alabama in 1999-2000.
“They had nights where we were good enough to beat Kentucky, but then the next night we’d lose to Ole Miss,” Gottfried said during his summer news conference on July 2.
“This year reminds me of that one. They’re going to be eager and ready and willing but how well and quickly will they understand what’s expected of them every single night in the league?”
N.C. State (17-12, 7-9 ACC) will play at Pittsburgh on Monday after a sobering letdown in an 85-70 home loss to Miami on Saturday.
The Wolfpack poured everything into Wednesday’s game against North Carolina, an 85-84 overtime loss, but couldn’t duplicate the effort against the struggling Hurricanes.
Gottfried understood those challenges before the season. He had talked to his team about the danger of Saturday’s game with Miami.
He saw the same pattern after a difficult loss to Syracuse on Feb. 15. The Wolfpack couldn’t avoid some of the same issues that cost it a 73-56 loss at Clemson after the Syracuse game.
Consistent effort on defense, another topic Gottfried addressed in July, has been the biggest culprit for a young Wolfpack team.
Miami scored a season-high 85 points Saturday, 45 more than it did just six days earlier at Virginia. The Hurricanes, 342nd in the country in scoring, have failed to crack the 60-point barrier in ACC play nine times, including a 56-55 home loss to the same N.C. State team on Feb. 8.
Clemson also put up its best ACC numbers against the Wolfpack. The Tigers, 335th in the country in scoring, also have failed to hit the 60-point barrier in nine ACC games.
The losses to UNC and Miami have crippled the Wolfpack’s NCAA tournament chances. N.C. State will probably have to win the ACC tournament to give Gottfried a third straight NCAA tournament bid.
The players understood the damage of last week’s losses but aren’t willing to give up hope.
“We have to stay together, make sure we are going for the same goal and that’s winning and getting in this NCAA tournament,” freshman forward Kyle Washington said. “We still haven’t given up on it, even though it looks bleak.”
Picked to finish 10th in the ACC in the preseason, N.C. State has a chance to finish seventh. With wins against Pittsburgh and Boston College (at home on Sunday), the Wolfpack would complete the regular season at .500 in the ACC.
The program hasn’t had three consecutive seasons at .500 or better in the conference since a three-year span under Herb Sendek from 2002 to ’04.
Gottfried’s second Alabama team, by the way, finished 13-16 overall and 6-10 in the SEC. The hope, as he pointed out in July, was the future payoff. Two years later, that Alabama group won 27 games and an SEC title.