In the old days, and those days aren’t that far removed, Roy Williams admits he would have responded to a loss as infuriating as Monday’s no-show at Virginia Tech by running his team until “seven guys threw up.”
“But I’ve matured,” Williams said.
Williams once had to instruct Jackie Manuel in the proper etiquette for mid-practice vomiting, but a self-proclaimed “mellower” Williams gave the team its NCAA-mandated off day on Tuesday and went recruiting, then left the trainer and strength coach in charge of Wednesday’s practice, not that the players took any solace in that.
“A little nervous walking in,” Luke Maye said. “You never know with coach. Our trainer was up in the air, saying ‘You don’t know how long practice is going to be, you don’t know when it’s going to to start, you don’t know when you’re going to get home.’ Yesterday was good. We needed it.”
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“I just walked around and smiled,” Williams said.
Whether it’s truly a kinder, gentler Williams or not – he says he’d prefer to find other ways to make his teams want to win as badly as he does, without motivating by fear – this week wasn’t like it would have been in the old days for sure.
It’s the same approach Williams took after the Wofford loss, and given the eight-player turnover from the national championship, it’s by necessity as much as anything. The old ways aren’t going to work with this North Carolina team anyway, because it has so little in common with its predecessors.
The same is true of N.C. State, which imploded in the Smith Center last season on its way to a record-smashing 51-point loss, unprecedented in the long history of the rivalry. Massive turnover followed, from the coaching staff to the roster, and this year’s edition of the Wolfpack has made a habit of doing things differently in just about every way. The results haven’t always been there, but with the exception of a 30-point loss at Notre Dame, the effort has been.
I think our guys are starting to believe in our team. And obviously the way that we press and we run, we don’t ever feel like we’re out of a game. Every game, we feel like is within reach.
NC State coach Kevin Keatts
“I think our guys are starting to believe in our team,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “And obviously the way that we press and we run, we don’t ever feel like we’re out of a game. Every game, we feel like is within reach.”
Williams had some sympathy for the Wolfpack’s outside shooting woes as he watched N.C. State’s game at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, a roller-coaster turnaround that saw N.C. State trail by as many as 15 before closing the game on a 15-2 run to earn its late-night road-win ice-cream reward. The Wolfpack was 9-for-35 from 3-point range at Pitt; the Tar Heels were 10-for-31 at Virginia Tech.
“If Kevin had any hair, he’d be pulling it out this morning, too,” Williams said.
All of which means just about anything could happen Saturday in the Smith Center.
This has historically been a combination of circumstances – North Carolina with four days to stew over a bad loss, N.C. State requiring an unexpected amount of energy to keep Pittsburgh winless in the ACC – that would result in the Wolfpack being fed into a wood-chipper.
But this isn’t a typical North Carolina team in so many ways, from its personality to its weak inside presence to its dearth of scoring depth to its overreliance on the 3-point shot.
“They definitely lost some bigs from last year and they don’t really have the post strength that they had,” N.C. State’s Omer Yurtseven said. “But they’ll probably figure out a way to guard us.”
And this isn’t a typical N.C. State team, one capable of beating some of the best teams in the country and competitive in all but one ACC game so far, showing improvement in several areas but especially with the ongoing emergence of Yurtseven as an all-ACC caliber player.
It’s hard to take the conventional wisdom about this rivalry too seriously when each team is so unconventional this season.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock