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2013: A Window Of Opportunity Missed

March 23, 2013

And just like that, it's over.

The 2012-13 season, one filled with so much hope and promise for this Wolfpack basketball team at the start, has come to an abrupt and disappointing halt at the hands of the Temple Owls just one game into the NCAA Tournament.

Loaded with talent and skill at all five positions in the starting rotation, media and fans were quick to clamor onto the Wolfpack bandwagon in the preseason. Let's be honest, the bandwagon picked up far too much momentum for its own good; this team should've never been ranked THAT high before the season started. Nevertheless, most folks were right to expect this team to be a top-15, top-20ish squad given all the pieces in place.

And coupled with what appeared to be down years for Duke and Carolina, it wasn't unreasonable to pick State to win the ACC ahead of both of those programs. State was a logical pick to win the league with all the uncertainty at the top of the standings.

Flash forward four months, and all of those preseason predictions have fallen flat. Duke and Carolina finished second and third the league, Virginia fourth, and a team few folks expected to finish in the top-third of the standings, Miami, wound up finishing ahead of everyone. They finished first in the regular season and parlayed that into an ACC Title in Greensboro.

State meanwhile finished with the 5th seed in the Tournament. Significant, of course, because it meant an extra round had to be played in order to win the title. While State had plenty in the tank for Virginia Tech and Virginia on Thursday and Friday, it was clear State's short rotation lacked the legs to keep up with eventual champion Miami in the semis.

Goal #1–Winning an ACC Title for the first time in 26 years: Not met.

Goal #2–Deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Here's where falling short in the regular season really caught up with State. Forget the heartbreaking last-second losses to Miami and Maryland. Let's say State simply takes care of business in the should-have-won games against Wake Forest and Florida State on the road. Aside from State finishing third outright in the ACC standings, winning those games would've netted at least a one or two-slot boost in the tournament selection committee's seeding process.

Instead of landing in the 8-9 matchup with Temple, a 7-seed NC State in the East (let's assume they stay in the same region for purposes of this argument) would've faced #10 Colorado–a team who lost to Illinois last night. They would've then faced #2 Miami in the round of 32, this time with fresher legs. 

Or lets say finishing third in the ACC nets them a 6-seed. They would've faced #11 Bucknell, whom Butler easily dispatched on Thursday. Advancing to the round of 32, they would've faced #3 Marquette, who needed a minor miracle to knock off #14 Davidson. 

Point being, one or two head-scratching losses in the road games the Pack slept-walked through ultimately sank State's NCAA Tournament hopes. It's easy to look to the tip-in losses against Miami and Maryland and blame those for winding up as an 8-seed, but it was this team's inability to focus and play consistent game-in and game-out that did this team in.

Goal #2: Not met.

So what now?

The Wolfpack basketball team faces a very uncertain future moving forward. The heart and soul of this team, Richard Howell, now graduates along with the team's only legitimate perimeter scorer, Scott Wood. Juniors CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are almost certainly gone for the NBA draft, though this season didn't do them any favors in terms of their draft stock (DraftExpress.com has Leslie drafted 25th overall and Zo drafted 30th with the final pick of the first round; NBADraft.net has neither player drafted in the first round).

Those four players accounted for 68% of State's scoring this season–only TJ Warren accounted for more points than any of those four–so if they're all missing from State's lineup next year as most expect, that's a huge hole in the team's offensive production that will need to be filled by guys like Warren, Rodney Purvis and…um…Tyler Lewis?

You immediately see the dilemma: The Pack must now turn to unproven scorers outside of Warren and Purvis to carry the load on a team that relies on scoring at a high level in order to be successful. The incoming freshmen will get their wish–they'll be looked to as point producers from day one–but for the team as a whole, that's a scary proposition. And forget scoring–without Howell and Leslie to rebound the ball, who will fill that role? TJ Warren? Incoming freshman BJ Anya? Next season could be filled with lots of second-chance points for the opponents offset with one-shot-and-done trips on the offensive end.

The Wolfpack will suddenly go from fielding one of the most experienced, explosive starting fives in the league to one of the youngest with a LOT of question marks. 

Looking ahead to 2014 puts an even finer point on why 2013 was such a disappointment. This was IT. THIS year was our shot to reclaim at least some measure of respect in The Triangle by winning an ACC Title and making some serious, Final Four-esque noise in the NCAA Tournament. 

THIS was the 30th anniversary of the 1983 title. THIS was the year folks outside the state of North Carolina got to experience a bit what we felt in '83 when they watched the amazing "Survive And Advance" 30 For 30 film. And all of this came together in a year when the rest of the league and the country's instability gave State a legitimate opportunity to recapture some of that magic.

I mean, everything lined up perfectly. If you could have drawn up a scenario for State to succeed in, 2013 was the blueprint. And even at the end, after everything else fell apart, State still had an incredibly favorable draw as an 8-seed potentially facing a vulnerable Indiana team that, had they won, would've paved the way for something magical to erase all the disappointment from failing to meet the expectations set four months ago.

And yet…this is what we're left with. A gut-punch loss to Temple. Sitting at home on Saturday, watching a bracket filled with beatable teams from top to bottom go forth without State in it. Watching the same teams in the ACC we've been chasing for 30 years continue on without us.

Watching that brief window of opportunity for something truly special slowly… painfully… inevitably close right in front of us.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. mariel permalink
    March 23, 2013 12:43 pm

    Well said.

    • admin permalink
      March 23, 2013 8:07 pm

      Thanks very much, and thanks for reading.

  2. Colin Reed permalink
    March 23, 2013 5:16 pm

    You’re a really whiny individual. Grow up and gain some perspective. Two years ago, we didn’t even have an NCAA tournament to worry about. Keep that in mind.

    • admin permalink
      March 23, 2013 8:13 pm

      Whiny? I may be disappointed but I don’t think putting that disappointment down on virtual paper makes me “whiny.”

      While I’m certainly grateful this team made the NCAA Tournament (a feat Virginia, Maryland nor UK could do), it’s hard to deny that this team underperformed at key junctures in its season, damaging their Tournament seeding which ultimately led to a very short trip to Dayton.

      Bottom line, this team had the pieces to accomplish much, much more than they ended up accomplishing.

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