Wolfpack not keeping up with ACC neighbors

Published 11:27 pm Thursday, January 22, 2009

By By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
While North Carolina State believes it can play with anybody, the Wolfpack need to prove they can beat anybody.
Especially their instate Atlantic Coast Conference rivals, who are thriving while N.C. State struggles to stay out of the bottom of the league. Wake Forest is celebrating a No. 1 national ranking, Duke is right behind at No. 2 and North Carolina is No. 5.
Despite the obvious gap between the neighboring schools, Wolfpack players won’t let themselves worry whether their program is getting left behind.
Tuesday night’s 73-56 loss at Duke illustrated the Wolfpack’s dilemma. N.C. State led by six points in the second half and was in the game until the Blue Devils took control in the final eight minutes.
Yet there can be no moral victories at N.C. State.
Its tradition is comparable to its Triangle neighbors at Duke and North Carolina; all three have multiple NCAA championships and rank 1-2-3 in ACC titles. But these days the Wolfpack (10-6, 1-3) is fighting for every league win while those instate rivals are enjoying big success.
In the meantime, the Wolfpack’s season could be sliding away.
Coach Sidney Lowe said he was pleased with how hard his team played in its latest loss, but it’s unclear just how long N.C. State’s fans will be satisfied with just effort.
Wolfpack fans turned on the steadily successful coach Herb Sendek. It wasn’t good enough that he led the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament for five straight seasons. They wanted flashier offense, deeper NCAA runs and — most importantly — more wins against Duke and North Carolina.
Ultimately, Sendek left for Arizona State in 2006 and the Wolfpack turned to Lowe, who played point guard on the school’s surprise 1983 national championship team.
It doesn’t help matters that Sendek’s ASU squad is ranked 15th and Lowe and N.C. State sit near the bottom of the ACC.
The Wolfpack lost nonconference games against Davidson, Marquette and Florida, setbacks that will likely undermine its NCAA resume no matter how many league games it can win.
Sometimes, the Wolfpack has been a victim of bad luck, like when Dennis Horner led a 2-on-1 break against Duke in the first half only to have the ball get stuck on his hip and lead to a double-dribbling call.
At others, the Wolfpack is the victim of poor decision-making, like when redshirt freshman Johnny Thomas — in an attempt to play aggressive defense — reached in with both hands near midcourt and slapped Greg Paulus’ arms to put him on the foul line after the Wolfpack had taken the lead.
The rest of the time, Lowe is rotating Farnold Degand, Julius Mays and Javi Gonzalez in a desperate search for consistency at the point — a frustration to be sure for Lowe and assistant Monte Towe, two of the more successful point guards in program history.
Despite the Wolfpack’s problems, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he didn’t see much of a gap between N.C. State and the rest of the league. He said that the Wolfpack had played three straight tough games against Duke.
McCauley not only agrees with Krzyzewski that there is no gap, he says that the Wolfpack is close. After all, McCauley said, the Wolfpack still has two games against Wake Forest and North Carolina this year.