Night Line: Schizophrenic Wolfpack Fail to Keep Momentum… AgainPosted by BHayes on January 30th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
For NC State fans that thought the rollercoaster may have finally been headed for level ground, Tuesday’s nights’ 58-55 loss to Virginia was yet another reminder that the seat belts should never come off when riding with this Wolfpack team. Consistency has eluded Mark Gottfried’s club all season but especially of late, as the Pack have now alternated wins and losses over their past six contests. Included in the trio of wins were seismic victories over Tobacco Road rivals Duke and UNC; but like many a college student after a momentous Saturday night, the Pack watched as each high subsided into a full-blown hangover. Little seems to have been learned by either coach or team along the way, and State fans have to be wondering whether the inconsistency might ultimately derail a season that has quite frequently felt immensely promising.
Nobody can deny that the talent and capability to be not just good but great are there for this team. We knew about the collection of talent all the way back in the preseason, when the paper version of the Wolfpack was impressive enough to net the team a top-five preseason national ranking and the grandiose title of ACC favorite. Unfortunately, we have seen that talent mesh and deliver on all its potential far too infrequently for the Pack to maintain those lofty preseason standards, but is there time yet to bounce back? Are we silly for believing that it isn’t too late, for thinking that Mark Gottfried can find a way to get his team to sustain that energy and emotion ALL the time, and not just when they take the floor with college hoops titans like Duke, UNC, and Michigan?
Those examining Gottfried’s track record might tell you that yes, we would be quite foolish to believe he is the guy to establish that consistent level of effort. But the old Alabama head coach has never had the luxury of this much talent at his disposal, and his team also has a quick turnaround opportunity this weekend. The ACC leaders arrive in Raleigh on Saturday, and wouldn’t it just be so NC State for the Pack to shake off tonight’s defeat by handing Miami its first ACC loss? It’s as if the ACC schedule-makers cooked up the perfect recipe for this NCSU rollercoaster to carry on interminably.
So there may be no end in sight for this up-and-down season, as plenty of potential drama looms on the horizon. But there may be a more important question to consider here — does the Wolfpack’s inconsistency really even matter? We all have a tendency to overreact to single games, and team stocks (across the country) fluctuate more dramatically than they probably should (e.g., no, Louisville is not all of the sudden a terrible basketball team). Despite their myriad struggles, the Wolfpack will be in the NCAA Tournament field, and guess what – those games feel a whole lot different than mid-January matchups with ACC also-rans. There would be a whole lot more teams with “Sweet Sixteen potential” if all it took was beating Virginia and Wake Forest to get there, but in the case of this bizarre NC State team, an NCAA Tournament stage with NCAA Tournament teams may actually be a more comfortable setting.
If I am an NC State fan, I’m not worrying myself too much over these losses. The Wolfpack have already proven they can play with best teams, and don’t forget what happened a year ago when an inconsistent bubble team put it all together in March to make the Sweet Sixteen before ultimately falling narrowly to eventual national runner-up Kansas. Sure, ACC titles are fun, and a deep NCAA run would be an easier sell to the talking heads if the Pack was tearing through the ACC. But in this sport, it’s March that matters, and I don’t think NC State fans would be too unhappy if this was one rollercoaster ride that ended on a peak.