Saturday, January 3, 2009

"Groundhog Day" ; Pack Loses Nail Biter to Florida 68-66

Ever seen the movie "Groundhog Day", you know, the one starring Bill Murray where he lives the same day over again and again and again? Well if you haven't and you're a Pack fan, then save yourself the time, you know what it's like first hand. Once again the Wolfpack challenge a national powerhouse, and once again their dreams are decapitated at the buzzer. Queue the opponents top player having a career day...Queue the final play ending with a heave off the backboard and Pack fans everywhere with their hearts on the floor and their heads hung low. In basketball you don't tend to see trends like this very often, especially ones that seem to last for over 10 years...but if you wear the red and white you are all too familiar with this type of heartbreak. The Pack, who led by 10 at half, and 11 at one point, allowed turnovers and the clutch play of Nick Calathes to crush their hopes as they fell 68-66 to Florida. With the Pack leading 58-56 and 4 minutes to go, Nick Calathes decided enough was enough and reeled in Florida's final 12 points. After a Calathes lay up with 52 seconds to play, the Wolfpack answered with a big play by Costner in which goaltending was called against Florida to give State the lead. But as fate would have it, as fate always has it, Calathes nailed shut the coffin with a tear drop floater over McCauley for the victory.

Why? I know it is the number one question on everyone's tongues. Why does this happen, what is wrong with us? Some blame Sidney while others blame the players, some even blame the curse of Jimmy V, but whoever you blame it is important to know what happened this afternoon.

Florida's attack on offense was based solely on Nick Calathes, and his ability to run the pick and roll. NC State decided to negate the pick and roll by switching on the screen and taking their chances on the mismatch, which most of the time was Ben McCauley out top guarding their star Nick Calathes. Good idea? Well that depends who you ask. What it did do was turn Florida's offense stagnant for most of the game. The bad news is that it left Calathes to go one on one with a much slower McCauley, who had no chance staying with the star guard. 32 points on 11-18 shooting was the aftermath. State held the rest of the Gators to 41% shooting, which is a very decent number against a talented Florida supporting cast. Costner, McCauley, and Smith completely imposed their will on the undersized and less talented front line of the Gators. They held the Gator's third leading scorer (Tyus) to 10 points under his average and their second leading scorer (Werner) to 5 under his. Overall state played a pretty good game of "TEAM" defense, but again it comes down to guards for the Wolfpack.

The lack of legitimate ACC caliber guards continues to be the Pack's downfall. Two stats tell the story... 32 points by Florida's top guard, and 18 turnovers...both of those fall on the NC State guards. Mays and Degand both looked scared and unsure at times against the constant Florida full court pressure. Fells, well we're not so sure what to say about Fells. As a Senior you'd like to see improvements in his decision making and his ball handling, but the evidence is not there. To his defense, he was playing on a hurt ankle, but his decisions and inability to handle the ball while under pressure continue to be daggers in the heart for the Pack. But the plague that continues to eat away at this Wolfpack team is the fact that they do not have a guard that can, with the game on the line, sit down in a defensive stance, dig deep, and get a stop.

While the negatives were apparent, and what everyone seems to focus on after this type of tough loss, I think you must also look at the positives. Brandon Costner is officially back and close to 2007 ACC Tournament form. He is hitting 3's, dominating in the post, and out quicking bigs on the perimeter to the tune of 24 points this afternoon. State shot a very impressive 58% against a team picked by some to finish first in the SEC, and did so in their house. The Pack followed Sid's game plan of working from the inside out and it paid off as the offense began to really start clicking. And apart from the final 3.2 seconds, the play of Farnold Degand was a breath of fresh air. For the first time since the Villinova game last season, we got to see a guard with the ability to create and finish in the lane. Degand's speed and quickness created problems for the Gators at times, but learning to harness that speed is something Degand still struggles with. Remember he is coming off of a year of knee surgery and rehab. We believe that as the season progresses, and if he stays healthy, we will see a pretty effective point guard emerge.

The fact is, the Pack took another close loss, but this is a good and capable team. They are learning, Sidney is learning, and the truth is that our 3 losses have come against quality opponents. Ones which have all been ranked at some point in the young season. Is this State team good enough to blow teams out, win a national championship, or take home the ACC title? While anything is possible, the answer is most likely "NO." But this is a competitive team who when healthy will win some big games and make a little noise in the ACC. Will that equal an NCAA Tournament bid or a top 25ranking? Well that depends on how the ball bounces and how much of a learning curve our guards have, but it will be close because this is a different State team on the court from the one we saw last season. This team has fight in it and the will to compete, like they showed us today.

Box Score


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