Most of the State fans we know aren't real happy campers, and to an extent,
it's hard to blame them: after four years, other than one brilliant run in the
ACC Tourney, State has little to show for the Sendek era - at least on the
In Herb's defense, the foundations of the program were in pretty pitiful
shape when he got there. Partly because Les Robinson seemed to be in over his
head, partly because of post-Valvano restrictions, and partly because of just
plain bad luck, State had a terrible stretch. It was truly horrid. The
players were bad, the games were bad, and the gym, though ACC fans revered it,
had gotten run down.
Sendek has sharply upgraded the talent at State over the last four years,
and of course last season State moved into the sometimes controversial ESA,
where they played all season to sellout crowds. And what of that season?
Part of the season was simply brilliant, perhaps peaking at the Duke game,
where State took Duke to the absolute limit. Playing a ferocious defense and a
dogged offense, State gave Duke a game which stands with almost any in ACC
memory. We left it being thrilled to have gotten a chance to see
it. We felt good because State made a statement, we thought: the Pack is
And for a while, they were.
Injuries to Ron Kelley and the now-departed Marshall Williams made things
more difficult, but the slide was really accelerated when Damon Thornton lost
his mind at Maryland. After getting a technical on a charge, which was his
fourth foul, Thornton's T fouled him out when State was in control late, State
let the Terps back in, and they came back and won. State's season slipped away
and didn't show any signs of life until Ron Kelley came back. They made a
decent run in the NIT, but the way things were looking early, they weren't
thinking about the NIT so much as the Sweet 16. What a letdown that must have
And what to expect this season? Hard to say. We can say though
that State will be much better after Damon Thornton and Kenny Inge are
out. Inge, to his credit, has grown up some, though people (read
referees) still treat him with kid gloves. Watch when there's a scramble on
the floor. The refs are there in a heartbeat. Thornton, though, has just
not shown much maturity. Nightclub fights, ill-timed technicals - he's
not helping his program. One hopes this season will be different, but
all you have to go on is past performance, and while it's no guarantee of
future results, we don't see anyone here rushing out to buy Pixelon
stock. At least we hope not. Thornton has talent but he has to
earn respect. He's lost a lot.
At least this year State has some options. Ron Kelley, who was key to
last year's early powerhouse performance, should be healthy. Freshmen
Marcus Melvin is supposedly an underrated talent. Michael Bell is a 6-9
guy who prefers the perimeter, but on the other hand, if he has a consistent
J, it can't hurt. State's offense has been erratic the last few years. Ok, the
last 10 years, but who's counting? Anyway, the nice thing about having
these guys is that if either Inge or Thornton has a meltdown, State has
options. They may not be prime time yet, but they are options.
At the small forward, Damien Wilkins was a very solid player for State last
year, though not the savior he was made out to be. But he's plenty good,
and moreover, he's got leadership qualities, something which State may or many
not get from the seniors.
|UNCC or Fordham|
|Penn State (ACC/Big 10/1
The frontcourt, as has been the case almost every year under Sendek, probably
has more talent than the year before. But the backcourt is truly intriguing.
Anthony Grundy showed us a lot last season. Willing to be a
hard-nosed defender, he set the tone for State's defense. This year he
is joined again by Clifford Crawford, Archie Miller, and freshmen Trey Guidry
and Scooter Sherrill.
Much like UNC, State has to find a point in there somewhere, and not
everyone's hoops skills are refined (Crawford and Sherrill both are good
athletes but not necessarily good basketball players yet. It's an important
difference). Like Archie Miller, Trey Guidry is reputedly a
teriffic shooter. But it's still clear who will play point, or how well,
If Sendek can teach his younger players quickly, and keep Inge and Thornton
from erupting (and as we said, Inge has been better lately) he has enough athleticism
to make a run up the ACC. Certainly with Grundy, Sherrill, Crawford,
Wilkins, and perhaps Guidry and Melvin, State can put tremendous defensive
pressure on the opposing offense. And with bombers like Miller, Guidry, and Bell,
not to mention Wilkins and Grundy, State can shoot with range and put a lot
lof pressure on the defense as well.
But still, it comes down to a few basic points: 1) luck. No one gets
bad luck forever. 2) emotional self-control from Inge and Thornton. 3)
point guard play. 4) incorporating four critical freshmen.
At Duke, Sendek's team was glorious, and we were privileged just to witness
that performance by both teams. At Clemson, they were utterly
atrocious. What is State's identity under Sendek? If it's to be the
former, State fans are in for a great ride. If it's the latter, with the level
of talent State has, and the frustration of a futile decade, Sendek might not
last. He might end up being the General McClellan of N.C. State, the guy
who buffed and polished a tremendous force but never figured out how to
actually employ it. That seems unlikely. The guess here is that health
and luck will swing State's way this season. And that the defense will
be simply brutal. However, the schedule is not. If State
struggles, games against New Hampshire, UNCG, UNC-A, and Cal Poly will really
hurt. But on the other hand, their new A.D. is on the selection comittee,
and though they say it doesn't matter, it usually seems to.