North Carolina State fired its coach Mark Gottfried last week…yet the Wolfpack will continue to be guided by Gottfried for the rest of the current season. Perhaps his office is really messy and he needs an entire month to box up his keepsakes? There was once a time when NC State wasn’t just a player in the ACC, but royalty in Raleigh where the conference tournament was held for the first 13 years. The Wolfpack won with Everett Case as their head coach and cut down the nets with Press Maravich in charge, before winning it all under Norman Sloan and Jim Valvano. Perhaps they used up too much mojo during the 1983 National Championship run. Perhaps they used even more karma in their improbable ACC Tournament run as a #6 seed in 1987. That was their tenth title in 34 years-tying the Wolfpack with North Carolina. In the last thirty years NC State has as many ACC Championships as Clemson. Or Boston College. Or UCLA. That makes the natives restless and thus makes the seat as hot as their fire-engine red uniforms.
Gottfried guided NC State to a pair of Sweet Sixteens and four straight NCAA Tournament appearances before last winter’s 16-17 stumble. This winter has been even more bitter with losses that include a 51-point drubbing in Chapel Hill and a come-from-ahead collapse against Syracuse. But the endgame was a messy one in Raleigh…and now the school scrambles to find someone willing to compete in the shadows of the Smith Center and Cameron Indoor. Who will be willing to put their career in the hands of an athletic department that pulled the rip-chord on a mostly successful regime? North Carolina and Duke snicker at their poor country cousin.
Alma Mater Update- it’s NC State’s 30 years in the wilderness that makes other schools nervous. Schools who have only had one great head coach in the history of the program. Schools that have said coach nearing the final years of his career. That admitted, the 2017 Orange are perhaps paying up on a market correction from last March’s run. Three straight losses have SU on the back end of the bubble…likely needing to win two of three to finish the season. That means a win against Duke or at Louisville. When does lacrosse begin?
#24 Maryland (22-5, 10-4 Big Ten)- the Terps learned Monday that they’d be without the services of Michal Cekovsky for the rest of the year after the junior forward fractured his ankle in Sunday’s loss at #11 Wisconsin. Bad news for a team that ranks ninth in the Big Ten in rebounding. They’re one game behind the Badgers and Purdue…and in recent losses to each came up short on the boards. The good news is Maryland isn’t completely unfamiliar with Ceko on the shelf: the seven-footer had missed 10 of the team’s first 19 games this season. This week they host streaking Minnesota (five straight wins) and slumping Iowa (three straight losses). ESPN’s Joe Lunardi tickets the Terps to the Midwest Region as a #6 seed with a first round game against Middle Tennessee, while CBS’s Jerry Palm has the Terrapins a #6 in the West drawing Arkansas.
Georgetown (14-13, 5-9 Big East)- barring a run through conference tournament, Sunday’s loss at #20 Creighton likely seals the Hoyas’ NCAA tournament hopes. Since five 14-loss schools made the field of 68 as at-large teams in 2011, nobody with 14 losses on Selection Sunday has had their shoulder tapped. Three-point shooting has been an issue since league play began (they’re 9th in the Big East from outside the arc) and against the Bluejays poor perimeter production reared its ugly head again as they shot 3-for-22 from downtown. There is hope as John Thompson III’s team plays its next three games against schools that are currently sub-500 in the league…before wrapping up the regular season with #2 in the nation Villanova.
#18 Virginia (18-9, 8-7 ACC)- four straight losses? Back to back sub-50 scoring efforts for the first time since 1969? Trouble in Charlottesville as the the Cavaliers careen down the conference standings. If they had held on to that 14-point second half lead at Virginia Tech they would have moved into a first place tie; instead four losses later UVa is tied for seventh. They have to get London Perrantes on the right track-the senior is shooting 28% during the current slide (Monday’s 2-for-15 performance against Miami the exclamation point). Moving forward, they could also use some frontcourt production as Isaiah Wilkins has just six double-digit scoring efforts in league play. Center Jack Salt may be shooting 50% during the current skid, but the New Zealander has taken just six shots over 63 minutes. ESPN has UVa a #5 seed in the Midwest with a first round game against UT-Arlington, while CBS has the Cavaliers seeded sixth in the south and Middle Tennessee State as their first round foe. Both projections were released before Monday’s loss.
Virginia Tech (19-8, 8-7 ACC)- how does Buzz Williams not have a dry-cleaning sponsorship deal? The guy makes Jimmy Patsos and Sean Miller seem absolutely arid by comparison. Unfortunately, after sweating through his dress shirt against Louisville Williams had to put an orange t-shirt on, leading kids watching the Saturday afternoon game to believe that Charlie Brown on the Hokies’ sideline. A drier Williams watched his team top Clemson 71-70 Tuesday thanks to Seth Allen’s three-pointer with three seconds left. Last year’s team exceeded expectations en route to the NIT. This year? I would not be shocked to see the Hokies playing not just in the NCAA’s, but advance to the second weekend. Before Tuesday’s tilt, ESPN had the Hokies seeded 10th in the Midwest with a first round game against Oklahoma State while CBS has them facing VCU in the 8-9 game of the Midwest Regional.
George Mason (18-10, 8-7 Atlantic 10)- no shame in losing to conference-leading Dayton; what bothers coach Dave Paulsen was the team’s sluggish start in their loss to Rhode Island. The road to the double-bye gets tougher, as they always have trouble with George Washington and everybody’s having trouble this year with VCU.
George Washington (14-13 , 6-8 Atlantic 10)- the Colonials might not be in contention for the coveted double-bye…but Sunday’s win over Duquesne does lift GW further away from the dreaded opening round. A 2-2 finish is not out of the realm of possibility, and after an offseason of upheaval a 16-15 mark entering the conference tournament should be viewed as a success.
Howard (7-21, 4-9 MEAC)- after winning consecutive conference games for the first time all season, the Bison came back to earth in a 66-59 loss to North Carolina Central. While shooting 33% from the field and 4-23 from three-point range is not ideal, there’s no shame in coming up short against the conference leaders. The Eagles have won 12 straight to surge up the standings past Norfolk State. Gulp– that’s who the Bison have next.
American (6-21, 3-13 Patriot League)- the Eagles came up short on Senior Day to Holy Cross 69-54…which is not ideal but almost makes sense as the strength of this team is coach Mike Brennan’s underclassmen. The top two scorers are freshman Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini…while sophomores Delante Jones and Lonnie Rivera have also made contributions. AU is assured of playing in the first round; they need two wins plus two losses by Army and Lafayette to have any hope of hosting their first round game. Navy and Loyola, brace yourselves.