I am so absolutely sick and tired of hearing the same tired, lazy, lemming-like hack job that self-anointed sports “experts” spew about NC State basketball. Maybe somehow, somewhere this piece will get some attention and people can draw their own conclusions based on REAL analysis and facts.
According to the national and regional sports media, NCSU is hopelessly over its head in ACC basketball, merely because the university is within close proximity to UNC and Duke. Fans of the program that speak of its long history and tradition are living in the past and not in tune with the real world and can’t comprehend that that history is gone and cannot and will not ever be repeated. They’re in denial. They had a head coach that led them to the program’s modern ceiling, and the ungrateful and hostile fan base showed no appreciation and caused him to be terminated from the program. It is completely irrational and perverse for said fan base to ever imagine that a coach with any above-average ability or “sky is the limit” ceiling would ever consider coaching at NC State, because, again, the fans are completely irrational, unknowledgeable rednecks that care about nothing but beating UNC and Duke – in fact that’s why said fan base practically tarred and feathered the best coach they could ever hope to have again. Also, no coach in his right mind would ever consider going up against three of the best in the business (Williams, Williams and Krzyzewski), in the premier college basketball conference in the nation (at least it used to be), at a large, nationally recognized research institution, in one of the fastest-growing and highest-quality metropolitan areas in the United States, playing in a gorgeous, large facility.
I am only one NC State basketball fan. I don’t pretend to speak for an entire fan base. But I know when I hear and read all the tripe from the “experts” I get very irritated and annoyed with their sheer oblique ignorance. I am setting the record straight at least with regards to this one fan.
First of all, Herb Sendek did NOT coach at NC State for five seasons; he coached there for 10 seasons. It’s very disingenuous for the media to conveniently forget about Sendek’s first five seasons and focus only on his last five, as they can spout off arbitrary numbers to give the impression that State’s fans are ungrateful twits. It’s important to consider the full body of Sendek’s work, because quite simply, in my opinion, his fourth and fifth seasons tempered how he was viewed and tolerated in seasons six through 10. Even in those last five seasons, Sendek was not constantly barraged with derision; in fact, his biggest problem may well have been that he showed flashes of potential only to consistently backtrack.
To say State fans simply couldn’t tolerate Sendek because of his abysmal record against UNC and Duke must be one of the most ludicrous conclusions ever drawn in sports history. Here are some numbers to consider BESIDES his 8-38 record against those two teams. Please feel free to make use of these figures in future “professional” analysis.
· Overall record at NC State: 191-132 (.591)
· Overall ACC regular-season record: 71-91 (.438) – This corresponds to an average finish in the conference of fifth place. If Duke and UNC were State’s only problems, shouldn't that average be closer to third place?
· While State never finished in last place during Sendek’s tenure, in eight of his 10 seasons the team that did finish last beat the Pack. In two seasons the last-place team beat State twice.
· NCSU had a cumulative 13-10 (.565) ACC Tournament record, with three appearances in the championship…and three second-place finishes.
· NCSU had a cumulative 10-10 mark in postseason play – 5-5 in the NIT and 5-5 in the NCAA. State missed the postseason once, and made it to the NIT semifinals once (finishing fourth) and the Sweet Sixteen once. Beyond that the Pack never advanced past a second round.
· Sendek’s teams accumulated a 22-21 record vs. non-conference BCS teams (.512)
· But his teams also lost nine total games to non-BCS schools over the course of six of his 10 seasons (to his credit he did not lose to a non-BCS school in his final three seasons).
· State’s longest winning streaks by season: 6, 6, 3, 7, 4, 5 (twice), 5, 5, 8, 7. As you can imagine nearly all of these streaks occurred at the beginning of each season, against the softest portion of the schedule.
· The teams’ collective record over the last 10 games (including postseason and ACC tournament) of the 10 seasons in question: 49-51 (.490). What that boils down to is that Sendek won about 64 percent of his games thanks to often frontloading embarrassing early-season schedules, and finished each season floundering. In fact, only twice in 10 years did he finish above .500 over the season’s final 10 games.
· State’s record versus ranked teams over the decade in question? 28-71 (.283)
· If you went to every game NC State played against an ACC foe from 1996-97 season to the 2005-2006 season, you on average watched the Wolfpack lose 70-69.
· Since the media wants to make this all about Duke and UNC, if you just went to those games over those 10 seasons, you walked out of the arena after seeing, on average, a 77-67 defeat.
· Of Sendek’s 132 losses while at NC State, 62 of them were of 10 points or more – an astounding 47 percent of all losses.
· But even the close games weren’t much fun to watch; the Pack was 18-31 in games decided by three points or less (.367)
· And what about the other ACC schools? We hear all about the 8-38 record against Duke and UNC, but were fans any happier with going 1-3 against Boston College, 7-16 against Maryland or 9-16 against Wake Forest? In fact, Sendek’s performance against the teams he bested – Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech – comes out to a .682 winning percentage. But his record against Boston College, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina and Wake Forest add up to a stellar .255.
· His total ACC record, including ACC Tournaments and squaring off against Wake in the 2000 NIT, was 85-101 (.457)
We hear so often how Sendek took NCSU to five straight NCAA Tournaments (never mind the team made it to the second weekend only once), but how does that compare with the achievements of the Wolfpack’s peers during the same period? Under Sendek, NCSU finished runner-up three times in the ACC tournament. They made the NCAA tournament five times, as a 3 seed, 7 seed, 9 seed and twice as a 10 seed. These invitations led to one Sweet Sixteen appearance, three trips to the second round, and one one-and-done trip.
Now look what the other current ACC schools did during that time (Boston College and Miami numbers are mostly from their time in the Big East).
· Boston College
o One ACC Tournament runner-up
o Six trips to the NCAA Tournament, as a 3 seed, 4 seed (twice), 5 seed, 6 seed and 11 seed. In those appearances, the Eagles made it to one Sweet Sixteen, four trips to the second round, and one one-and-done.
o Two trips to the NCAA tournament, as a 4 seed (Sweet 16) and a 6 seed (one and done).
o Seven ACC Tournament championships
o Two ACC Tournament second-place finishes
o 10 trips to the NCAA Tournament, eight times as a 1 seed, once as a 2 seed and once as a 3 seed.
§ One NCAA title
§ One second-place finish
§ One other Final Four appearance
§ One Elite Eight
§ Five Sweet Sixteens
§ One trip to the second round
· Florida State
o One trip to the NCAA Tournament, going to the second round as a 12 seed.
· Georgia Tech
o One ACC Tournament runner-up
o Three trips to the NCAA Tournament, as a 3 seed, 5 seed and 8 seed. Those trips yielded a national semifinal appearance as well as a trip to the second round and a one-and-done.
o One ACC Championship
o One ACC Tournament runner-up
o Eight NCAA tournament trips, as a 1 seed, 2 seed, 3 seed (twice), 4 seed (twice), 5 seed and 6 seed.
§ One NCAA Championship
§ One additional Final Four appearance
§ Three Sweet Sixteens
§ Two second rounds
§ One one-and-done
o Four NCAA Tournament trips, as a 2 seed, 5 seed, 6 seed and 11 seed. That led to one Sweet Sixteen, one second-round appearance and two one-and-done shots.
· North Carolina
o Two ACC Tournament championships
o Two ACC Tournament runner-up finishes
o Eight NCAA Tournament invites, three times as a top seed, a 2 seed, 3 seed (twice), 6 seed and 8 seed.
§ One NCAA Championship
§ Three additional Final Fours
§ Three second rounds
§ One one-and-done
o Two NCAA Tournament invites, as a 5 seed and 9 seed, losing in the first round each time.
· Wake Forest
o Six trips to the NCAA Tournament, as a 2 seed (twice), 3 seed, 4 seed and 7 seed (twice). The invites led to one Sweet Sixteen, four second round appearances and a first-round exit.
Virginia Tech never made it to a conference title game or NCAA Tournament from 1997-2006.
This means that five ACC teams had more NCAA invites than NC State during Sendek’s time in Raleigh. Eight other ACC teams in addition to NCSU made it to at least one Sweet Sixteen during this decade. Three won national championships. Between all teams in Sendek’s decade at NCSU, there were a collective:
o 55 NCAA Tournament invitations;
o 11 first-round losses;
o 20 trips to the second round;
o 13 Sweet Sixteens;
o 1 Elite Eight;
o 5 Final Fours;
o 2 Runners-up; and
o 3 NCAA Championships.
So again, when looking at the big picture and objectively comparing with Sendek’s peers, State was solidly average: sixth in total number of NCAA invitations; eighth in average seeding; a five-way tie for fifth place in NCAA Tournament winning percentage; sixth in total number of NCAA Tournament games played.
And then, for me at least, there are some very specific instances that caused me to lose hope:
· Nov. 12, 1997 – Putting up 36 points in a loss to Princeton at the Meadowlands
· March 6, 1998 – Getting pummeled by 27 by UNC in the first round of the ACC tournament after beating the Heels by 16 two weeks earlier.
· The 1998-99 season – losing 9 of 14 games by 11 points or more, including a 20-point loss at Duke, a 46-point loss at Maryland and a 29-point loss at Wake Forest.
· March 15, 1999 – Concluding the 1999 season with another loss to Princeton, at home, in the NIT.
· The 1999-2000 season – Starting the season 15-4 before ending it 5-10.
· Jan. 27, 2000 – Bringing a respectable 4-2 conference record to Littlejohn Coliseum, including a win over 12th-ranked Maryland and close losses at 14th-ranked UNC and 5th-ranked Duke… and then proceeding to shoot 37 percent and turn the ball over on 29 percent of possessions to get waxed by 17 by Clemson, who was 6-12 heading into the game.
· Feb. 6, 2000 – Still 5-3 heading to College Park for a chance to sweep 25th-ranked Maryland. State went into the half up 12; then Damon Thornton got a technical foul, the Pack gave up 49 second-half points while getting outscored by 17, lost the game and thus began a seven-game losing streak and eight losses in 10 games (including another loss to Maryland in the ACC Tournament).
· March 28-30, 2000 – Feeling some part of the season was salvaged with at least a trip to the NIT semifinals…but then losing to Wake in the semis and Penn State in the third-place game.
· Nov. 18, 22, 2000 – Losses of 17 points against Charlotte in Reynolds Coliseum and 19 points against Fresno State in the RBC. State doesn’t put together any back-to-back wins after Dec. 22 and Dec. 30.
· Feb. 3, 2001 – I distinctly remember being on a weekend golf outing in Myrtle Beach and watching this game. State had a good lead, was playing well, and my non-State fan friends couldn’t understand my lack of excitement, since the Wolfpack was leading the 12th-ranked team in the nation by nine at the half. I proceeded to diagram the Pack’s collapse and they were slack-jawed as everything I said actually happened moments later. State loses 54-53.
· Feb. 20, 2001 – Horrendous 29-point loss at Maryland wherein the team essentially screams at the world that it doesn’t care. Pack finishes 13-16, a tremendous setback after four years of incremental baby steps forward.
· 2001-02 season – State begins 16-4, finishes 7-7, including a 30-point drubbing by no. 3 Duke in the ACC Championship after a dramatic win over 2nd-ranked Maryland in the semis. Sendek’s first trip to the NCAA tournament, with a quality win over Michigan State and an oh-so-close loss to Connecticut.
· March 17, 2002 – Pack’s down one to UConn with 47 seconds left and Julius Hodge gets screwed on a terrible foul call on a desperation Caron Butler heave from 3-point land as the shot clock expires (depending on who you ask, the clock had already expired, making the debate over the foul call irrelevant). State loses by 3, but it’s difficult to be angry at anyone but the refs, and hope springs anew.
· 2002-03 season – If the critics are right there should be nothing to complain about, as State knocks off UNC and Duke back to back on Jan. 22 and Jan. 26. Then they only lose by 11 at 8th-ranked Duke and beat UNC again. But the season stalls and starts: 5 wins, loss, 2 wins, loss, win, 2 losses, 3 wins, loss, win, 2 losses, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win, loss. The Pack concludes the regular season a pedestrian 16-11 and probably out of NCAA contention. UNTIL…
· March 16, 2003 – State knocks off 9th-ranked Wake Forest to earn a trip to the ACC finals for a third time under Sendek, this time to face 12th-ranked Duke. State builds a 15-point lead with 10 minutes to play and then proceeds to put together an immense choke, letting J.J. Redick – a freshman - score 23 of his 30 points in the final 10 minutes. State loses 84-77 and critics don’t understand that the way the game was lost was every bit as bad as the fact that it was to Duke. Had the loss been to Florida State it still would’ve been infuriating – maybe moreso.
· March 20, 2003 – NCSU can’t recover, and loses to Cal in OT in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This really is the beginning of the end, for me anyway.
· March 3, 2004 – State, ranked 16th, looks like it may be on the way to its first 20-win regular season in forever, as they face Maryland on senior day. The Pack proceeds to fall behind by 17 points in the first half before closing to 10 at halftime. They come back to lead 60-59 with 9 minutes to play but end up losing 70-69, relegating the season to 19 wins.
· March 13, 2004 – 10 days later State builds a 19-point halftime lead and leads by as many as 21 on this same Maryland team in the ACC Tournament semifinals, but never leads after the 8-minute mark of the second half and loses by three.
· March 21, 2004 – State leads Vanderbilt by 11 points with 3:30 to play in a very winnable second-round NCAA Tournament game. The Pack manages to get outscored 19-6 in only 3:26 to blow the game.
· Dec. 30, 2004 – State’s best start in a long, long time, 10-1, is impressive, and it looks like it can be built on as the Pack heads to Madison Square Garden to take on a bad St. John’s team on Julius Hodge’s senior trip back to his hometown. State scores 10 first-half points and shoots 20 percent for the game as they lose by 18. This was to a team that finished the season 8-19. State loses nine of their next 12. The 10-1 start leads to a 17-12 regular season finish.
· March 2005 – Nevertheless, State goes 2-1 in the ACC Tournament, including an easy win over 3rd-ranked Wake Forest that made up for a very contentious loss five days earlier. That’s enough to get the Pack into the NCAA Tournament, where they down in-state rival Charlotte, and get sweet revenge on 13th-ranked Connecticut for their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since what, 1986? A little hope creeps back up.
· March 25, 2005 – NC State leads or is tied with Wisconsin from about 15 minutes in the first half until about 11:30 to go in the game. But they go nearly five minutes without a bucket while the Badgers build a 10-point advantage. State is outscored 34-19 over the last 13:14 of the game and blows a chance to face UNC in the Elite Eight. No one is surprised.
· Feb. 22, 2006 – NC State is an unthinkable 21-5 heading into a home game with 21st-ranked UNC (though granted the five losses are by an average of 10 points each). Maybe the breakthrough season is finally here! Maybe State will build on the bitterSweet Sixteen experience from the previous year! Nope. The Pack gets their worst whuppin’ of the year, losing by 24. That’s the first of four losses and five losses in six games. That includes back-to-back losses, in six days, to Wake Forest – the ACC’s last-place team. One of those losses bounces the Pack in the first round of the ACC Tournament, so 21-5 became 21-8 and a first-round conference tourney loss to the lowest-seeded team. State wins an almost incidental game with Cal in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but nobody even cares when they get shellacked by Texas in round two.
Of course, it’s way easier for writers and analysts to look at the total picture from as high an altitude as possible, draw vague conclusions from the cursory glances and then have all their peers simply ape what they see. But if anyone bothers to take the time to read this, maybe they’ll think twice about their innate Sendek commentary. In the end, Sendek wasn’t a bad guy, but he simply exhausted his fan base by constantly teasing it, only to let the same script play out over…and over…and over.
Is Lowe any better? Of course not. Would Lowe be NC State’s head coach right now had Lee Fowler not directed the search for Sendek’s replacement? Of course not. But that’s another story for another time.