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State Reflections

Before we start talking about the game, let's make something clear: we like State and we usually pull for them unless they're playing Duke. We would have loved to have seen them in the finals for a number of reasons, not least of all that it would have guaranteed them an NCAA bid.

As much as we like State, though, some of their fans have gone off the deep end.

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As was the case in Durham and against UNC previously, many State fans are of the opinion that State didn't lose the game but rather that a number of factors either passively or actively conspired to prevent State from winning.

Let's start with the obvious: State is responsible for at least two elements of the loss: 1) Mark Gottfried says he didn't know how many fouls CJ Leslie had when he picked up his fourth and 2) no one was near State's players - no one from UNC, no officials, nor John Swofford - when they idiotically let the ball fall out of bounds.

Nobody forced Alex Johnson to shoot an airball down three with 2:37 left and down (with Harrison Barnes playing matador defense no less. Seriously, go look at it - it's embarrassingly bad). The Scott Wood foul at the 2:23 mark was unquestionably a foul - Tyler Zeller was pulled over backwards by Wood - yet Wood was shocked and coach Mark Gottfried protested mightily.

There's no question about that one.

Nor is there any question that Zeller shortly thereafter earned his fifth with a stupid foul with just 1:08 left.

Nor was there an issue with James Michael McAdoo's screen on Johnson. It's almost exactly the same thing that Maryland did to give Nolan Smith a concussion.

Nor was there any question that Scott Wood put his arm on Barnes' forearm with 58.6 left when Barnes was shooting.

But the stupidest mistake - with the exception of Gottfried's inability to count fouls - was the pass Johnson threw to Lorenzo Brown which just fell out of bounds without even the slightest pressure from Justin Watts, the only defender anywhere near the action - was just horrible.

Now. State fans might have an argument about Kendall Marshall's game-winning shot. It's extremely close though.

When Marshall gathers himself to shoot, there are 13.1 seconds left on the clock and Johnson's right foot is not on the ground. At 12.9 he braces himself, and at 12.8 there is contact.

We'd rather ask the Playcaller for a more technical explanation, but all of this takes place in 3/10ths of a second and Marshall plants his feet and does not lower his shoulder.

Quite frankly, we'd have loved to have seen him pick up a charge here, but it's a judgment call. The baseline official has a pretty clear view of what happened and didn't call it. Could it have gone the other way?

Possibly. But keep in mind that it's a call made in a fraction of one second. We've rewound it, we would love to say it's a UNC foul. But we don't think it is.

Still, even then State had a chance to tie or win: Scott Wood, tightly guarded, opted to pass the ball to DeShawn Painter for what looked to be an easy layup.

Unfortunately, UNC had something at that moment which State has lacked all year long: a useful, experienced reserve.

Justin Watts intercepted the pass and, a la Magic Johnson, which is the last time you'll ever hear those two compared, chunked the ball as far away from the basket as possible (in a similar situation in the playoffs, Johnson just tossed his ball as high as high as he could while the clock ran out).

State might also have a legitimate beef on the final play, when the ball was thrown full-court to Richard Howell.

Howell, though, jumped before Barnes and Reggie Bullock, who were therefore able to knock the ball loose (you can see that Howell's hands are the lowest of the three when the ball is just inches away).

He is able to jump again first though and when he catches the ball, Bullock's elbow is in his chest and his hand is very near the ball and apparently knocks it loose.

To us, this is the only legitimate place to make a beef, because it was the final option, the final play.

The question, as Mike Gminski put it on the local broadcast, was whether he ever had control of the ball. If he did, then he was fouled. If he didn't, then we're not real sure how that scenario should play out.

Regardless, State deserves clarity on the play.

When we were watching the setup, we were thinking, wow, if they had David Thompson, this would be an easy play: just let him jump over everyone.

Then we thought, wow, they could sure use a high flyer on this play.

Then we realized they had one, only he had fouled out.

If ever there was a play which perfectly suited CJ Leslie's many talents, this was it.

Unfortunately, due to Gottfried's ignorance of his foul count, he was on the bench where he was useless to his team.

So just to count up the crippling mistakes: an airball, a dumb foul by Woods on Zeller, a completely idiotic pass, a pointless touch foul by Wood, Leslie on the bench because his coach can't count and Wood passing the ball directly to Justin Watts with a full four seconds on the clock.

And incidentally, Zeller's fifth was about as dumb as Wood's touch foul.

Another way to look at it: State gave away three points on the foul line, four if you count Painter's miss, two on the airball, two on the dumb pass and two on Wood's turnover.

Add it up, and they gave UNC three and cost themselves as much as seven.

It takes a lot of nerve to blame someone else when you screw up that much, but there you have it.

But here's the rub: people are onto it, and by people, we mean potential future coaches. They understand that State fans have, in the past couple of decades, run off or ruined the careers of Les Robinson (who memorably said that he would step aside because wolves in the same pack shouldn't fight), Herb Sendek, who at least had State in the tournament on a regular basis, Sidney Lowe, who was one of their own, football coaches Mike O' Cain and Chuck Amato,  and A.D.'s Todd Turner and Lee Fowler.

That's why it was so hard to find someone to replace Sendek - you may remember that Lowe was sort of the final option - and later Lowe, when State ran through a long list of candidates before settling on a guy who had been out of coaching after being fired at Alabama.

Even Yow alluded to the problems she had in her search, though she blamed Gary Williams, her coach at Maryland, for undermining it.

Now as it turns out, Gottfried has done a pretty good job and State looks to have a guy who is very likely to turn things around. He's taken a group of kids who were barely mediocre under Sidney Lowe and took them to just an eyelash of upsetting a #1 NCAA seed Saturday.

He's also recruiting very, very well.

Instead of being thrilled, instead of being happy to finally be heading out of the wilderness, what do you see? Whining about referee conspiracies, about the ACC being out to get them, muttering about finding a new conference because their current one makes life too tough.

It's amazing.

Things will never get better that way. And if you don't believe that on face value, look at the worlds Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski walked into.

Smith took over at UNC when they were about to kill the program outright after the scandals of the McGuire years. It was an impossible situation. He couldn't schedule games outside of his geographical region and recruiting was restricted.

We all know how that turned out.

Coach K got to Durham and had to learn to go toe-to-toe with Smith, who owned the state at that point.

He did what Smith did and what Gottfried is doing: a solid job coaching and getting better players.

Unless of course, they catch on to what they're about to walk into with the State fan base and decide, like the departed coaches and A.D.'s,  they don't want the headache.

Maybe then State fans can start recruiting players for a different sport.

It's the most destructive fan base we've ever seen.