It's too boring, soccer critics may say. Or there's not enough scoring, or the strategy is just not aggressive enough for my tastes.
Sound familiar, NC State fans?
While most of Wolfpack basketball coach Herb Sendek's critics point solely to his won-loss record and lack of NCAA Tournament success as a reason for a change at the top, some like to top it off with less-than-flattering comments about the team's style of play. (Think: "You stink, Coach. And your team is boring, too!")
Sendek, to his credit, has battled these storms before and does so with scholar-like patience. He stubbornly stands by his system and his players (his "interchangeable parts," if you will). It's still way too early to tell, but Sendek may just win the battle for another year, even if he doesn't win the war in the long run. (Few coaches ever really win the "war"; they all admit that it's just a matter of time before they are told to hit the road.)
It may have taken a month of games, but Wolfpack Version 03.04 appears to be hitting its stride. The team's performance against Brigham Young was as close to a "Beautiful Game" version of NC State basketball as you can get. And while the win at Florida State this past Sunday wasn't quite the masterpiece that the BYU game was, it was still a sign that this NC State team not only can win on the road, but can win on the road against a solid conference opponent - even after relinquishing the lead late.
One can point to several factors for the Pack's "mini-stride." The maturity of the team's elder statesmen comes to mind: Marcus Melvin wants the ball under the basket more; Scooter Sherrill, though in a serious shooting funk, continues to make aggressive moves to the hoop, attempting to create; and Julius Hodge, though still as dramatic a player as you will find in college basketball, has become the leader that the Pack has lacked since the departure of Anthony Grundy.
Perhaps the most critical cogs of Sendek's "interchangeable parts" have been Levi Watkins, Jordan Collins and Engin Atsur. Watkins hit the most important 3-pointer of his career to deliver the knock-out punch to the Seminoles - and that was after air-balling his previous two. Collins isn't a tremendous scorer, but his size and fundamentals were key in shutting down BYU All-Everything Stud center Rafael Araujo. Keep in mind Collins wasn't even able to play in a game until the Pack's December 20th trip to South Carolina (the last time the Pack has lost, by the way). In that game, Collins played just 11 minutes.
As for Atsur, the native of Istanbul has apparently adapted to American college life in a hurry - both on the court and off. It took little time for him to jump into the starting lineup, and it doesn't look like he'll give up that spot anytime soon. He, along with fellow European expatriate Ilian Evtimov, is getting more and more comfortable with his shooting touch, which just adds another dimension to the Pack's attack.
But at the center of the system is Sendek, a man who appears relegated to the fact that he will always be a marked man in Raleigh. That is, unless his team continues to win - and win pretty. Then his critics will have to note that the coach rarely wears red.
'Now' Regular Season ACC Basketball Standings
1. Wake Forest: Eric Williams has grown into a force
down low that the whole nation should take notice of.
2. Duke: There have been flashes this season where these Blue Devils don't look like Duke teams of the past. However, they are also 12-1 overall, which IS very Duke-like.
3. North Carolina: If the Heels' players keep their heads on straight, they could be very dangerous.
4 (tie). Georgia Tech and NC State: Defensively, the Pack is probably the better team. But then again, Tech did knock off the No. 1 team in the country - but has also dropped two in a row.
6. Maryland: It's hard to get a true feel for how good this Terps team can be.
7. Florida State: The Noles won't lose too many at home this year.
8. Virginia: Only eight years of the Pete Gillen Era remain, Wahoo fans!
9. Clemson: For whatever reason, Chris Hobbs still has trouble staying in games.
'Later' ACC Basketball Standings
1. Wake Forest
3. North Carolina
4 (tie). Georgia Tech and NC State
7. Boston College
8. Florida State
12. Virginia Tech
And finally ... Final Football Prognostication Record This Year (as far as picking the correct winner goes): 59-21. (Went 4-2 in ACC bowl games, missing on the Orange and Peach Bowls - sorry I doubted you, Clemson.)