A big day in the ACC with six games: Clemson visits Miami, Notre Dame treks down to State, Wake visits Duke, Virginia Tech heads over the mountains to Louisville, Florida State leaves sunny Florida to go to Pitt and in the nightcap, struggling Virginia makes a dangerous trip to Chapel Hill.
Let’s start with the ACC’s current drama queen, NC State.
Does anyone have any clue what to expect here? The buildup to this game is as weird as a telenovela. Team tanks! Player challenges fan to a fight! Coach is fired! Coach will coach the rest of the season!
Who the hell knows?
State could come out and lay a massive egg and quit again. Or State could come out and finally live up to their considerable collective ability.
It’s the weirdest lead up to a game we can recall and it’s impossible to have a feel for it.
We will say this though: it’s State’s last stand. If they blow this one they might as well just call it a season.
Without Chris Clarke, we don’t think Virginia Tech will have enough to beat Louisville on the road. The Cards are the best team in the Commonwealth currently, one of the very best in the nation, and they are closing in on a big ending.
Pitt is making a nice late surge but will they have enough to take down FSU? Well we doubt it but consider this: Florida State lost to Georgia Tech and Syracuse before beating Miami, Clemson, State and Notre Dame.
They should have won all of those games and lost all three road games.
Since nearly beating UNC at Chapel Hill, Pitt gave Duke a good game, beat BC and Syracuse and lost to Virginia Tech by just three.
So yes, we could see it. Pitt is much improved and Florida State hasn’t been playing to their potential. No guarantees, but this is probably the best bet for a Saturday upset.
Clemson has a golden opportunity at Miami since the ‘Canes won’t have Ja’Quan Newton and have some other guys who are injured, recuperating or limited. Last time out Miami had just seven players available.
You never want rule Virginia out but UNC has a lot of the things that Virginia has struggled with, not least of all size and an ability to play well down the stretch.
No one blows Virginia out, not really, so they should be hanging around at the end as usual. How will they stop UNC inside though?
It won’t be an easy game for either team but UNC appears to have some slight advantages.
However...if Virginia wins, UNC comes down to 9-4 and Florida State and Duke move ahead of the Heels on tiebreakers.
Back to Raleigh.
Jay Bilas had some cold water to toss at State fans Thursday. But Backingthepack.com is taking exception to Bilas’s comments and challenges his integrity. We expect Bilas would have an answer for them if he is concerned enough to make it.
State fans understandably don’t like being told the old red coat it ain’t what it used to be - they got mad at Mike Gminski when he said something similar a while back.
A lot of guys will look at this job and say what one guy said anonymously the other day - he isn’t touching that job.
And that’s fine.
State’s impulse to hire Herb Sendek in 1996 was fundamentally correct and in line with State’s history (and most of the ACC’s for that matter).
The pattern is to hire a promising young coach rather than to lure a big shot away. Everett Case was an Indiana high school coach when State hired him. Vic Bubas was an assistant at State when Duke hired him. Lefty Driesell and Terry Holland came to the ACC from Davidson. Tony Bennett was a bit of a reach coming to the ACC from Washington State. Skip Prosser came from Xavier when Xavier wasn’t quite as prominent as it is now.
Big hires are rare: Frank McGuire at UNC and South Carolina, Gary Williams came from Ohio State. Duke bizarrely tried to hire Adolph Rupp after he retired from Kentucky and only a death at his farm kept him from arriving in Durham in 1974.
Of course it doesn’t always work out. Les Robinson had a brilliant run at ETSU; he tanked at State. Pete Gillen was wonderful at Xavier. His career ended at Virginia. Sendek came from Miami of Ohio and was reasonably successful before fleeing NC State’s harsh fans. Paul Hewitt got Georgia Tech to an NCAA championship game but his program collapsed.
It’s always a gamble though but when it pays off it really does.
Dean Smith was an assistant; he became a legend. Coach K came from Army; now he’s a legend. Same for Jim Valvano (Iona to State), Bobby Cremins (App State to Georgia Tech), Driesell, Holland and, more by the day, Bennett.
Could State have another bad search? Sure. Is it unavoidable? Certainly not.
Coaching in the Triangle means regular whippings from Ol’ Roy Williams and Coach K, but remember that when Coach K showed up Duke was at the bottom of that triangle and State was the power that ruled beside UNC.
It’s hard to remember for those who experienced it and for those who never did, impossible. State had a pipeline to DeMatha (Kenny Carr, Hawkeye Whitney, Sidney Lowe and Derek Whittenburg).
It’s also hard to remember that Coach K came in at the end of the Norm Sloan era at NC State, when the Pack was still basking in the glory years of 1973-74, and when Dean Smith was at the height of his genius at Carolina.
As great as Williams and Krzyzewski have been, the old lions will give way to younger ones eventually and a perceptive young coach will see the opportunity.
State’s job is to find the right guy.
Whatever her strengths, Debbie Yow is no Tom Butters, who hired three great coaches when no one else would: Mike Krzyzewski, Steve Spurrier and Gail Goestenkors.
She has to overcome her own reputation to an extent and find someone who will embrace the challenge. Not only that, she has to find someone who can handle it.
Looks like she’s thought about it a bit:
“It comes down to the profile of the person. I’m looking for a person with an edge. I wouldn’t say chip on the shoulder, but an edge. Somebody who has the work ethic and the edge to take because we are still building. I know that sounds crazy or discouraging to some, but it doesn’t discourage me. We have made strides as we just said under Mark, but the right person can take us to the next level.
“We know in our neighborhood we have two Hall of Fame coaches that are near retirement. They will soon find out what searches are like in this day and age.”
She also had a few words for WTVD which broke the story about State contacting Archie Miller. Not so, says Yow. And furthermore:
“The thing about the search that is the one element that concerns me is all of the crazy rumors on the Internet. I cannot chase all of them down and correct them. It is noise but it does matter. Once it gets picked up by a legitimate news source as fact, it is now more than noise.
“There was a day where a legitimate news outlet would not do that, but we are past that now. We saw that with the ABC affiliate in Durham when they said we had contacted another coach [Archie Miller of Dayton] while Mark was our coach. We had not talked about the separation. That was all false, completely and totally. We are not doing interviews with them because of that. I’m not doing an interview until we can sit down and understand why they did that. If I don’t get a satisfactory answer, I will probably never do an interview with them again.”
So in case you missed it, Yow is pretty pissed off at WTVD.
As we’ve said before, State’s competitive DNA really requires a certain amount of flashiness. Think about Everett Case and fast break basketball. Think about Norm Sloan’s best teams. Think about what an easy, natural fit Valvano turned out to be for State.
We listed a bunch of potential candidates the other day but for our money these are the most intriguing: Dayton’s Archie Miller, UNC-W’s Kevin Keatts, NC Central’s LeVelle Moton (our apologies for getting his name wrong in Thursday’s column) and Grand Canyon’s Dan Majerle.
State could also pick up someone like Ohio State’s Thad Matta or Indiana’s Tom Crean, both of whom are likely to either be let go or motivated to move after this season.
We can’t get over how tough Majerle’s team has proven to be and if he can do that at Grand Canyon, there’s no reason why he can’t do it at State.
Assuming Miller is a reach - he can have his pick of jobs and suggested that just because he went to State doesn’t mean he has to coach there too - the most likely guy is probably Keatts.
He is a Rick Pitino protege, he’s done a tremendous job with the Seahawks, and his style would be a big hit at State for fans and players.
We’re guessing hiring a UNC guy would be a tough sell so we haven’t listed King Rice, Wes Miller or Scott Cherry. All three have been pretty solid at Monmouth, UNCG and High Point. It wouldn’t fly at State (or Duke) but any other list would have at least Rice and should have Miller as well.
One other thought on State: Yow will be there a while longer yet but if we’re looking ahead, the best most State could make would to find a world-class A.D. Look what Tom Jurich has accomplished at Louisville. Duke did very well to hire Kevin White. Look at what a great job Whit Babcock has done at Virginia Tech in a short period of time. Leadership starts at the top.
State might consider pursuing Northwestern’s Jim Phillips.
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