Lail: Sendek's Monkey Business

It's a hard thing, really, trying to get a monkey off your back. It's even harder to try to get two monkeys off your back at the same time.

But that's just what NC State basketball coach Herb Sendek was up against last night: Two monkeys for the price of one.
In one fell swoop, Sendek could have celebrated his 43rd birthday by exorcising a demonic double of finally winning a big game and finally beating Roy Williams. Instead, the Pack lost at home in embarrassing fashion to arch-rival North Carolina.
But Sendek lost much more than a regular season basketball game. He may have finally lost his grip on the program.
You see, Sendek has always been playing from behind, so to speak, as State's coach. There's no real need to re-hash in this space the slings and arrows that have come his way in the near-decade he's led the Pack. When you drill below the surface of what has really driven his biggest detractors through the years, it comes down to just a few things: 1. He's not charismatic (i.e.: He's no Jim Valvano); 2. He can't win big games; and 3. He can't make up the gap between State and Carolina/Duke.
Of course, when you're talking about "big" games for State fans that really only means Carolina (and sometimes Duke). If you take care of concerns 2 and 3, folks are less likely to care about No. 1. Just win, baby.
Sendek appeared to be on his way to pushing aside even his detractors' concerns this season. Sure, State lost in Chapel Hill back in early January, but the Pack hung close up until the final minutes. "That's a good learning experience. They'll be fine," was the general sentiment.
Then, on January 18, the Pack traveled to Durham to face Duke. State rarely plays well at Duke, but this time Sendek's team took the Blue Devils down to the wire. Instead of just trying to get out of Cameron Indoor Stadium with some dignity and confidence, the Pack actually left thinking it could have – no, check that: should have – won the game. In fact, State fans were upset that that would be the only regular season meeting between State and Duke. (And only masochists want to play Duke more than once, right?) In essence, it appeared that State had turned a corner. The Pack seemed like a lock to finish second in regular season play and was making a push for a top 10 finish nationally heading toward March.
It would be just a matter of time (actually, February 22) before concerns No. 2 and 3 would soon take are of themselves, right? Wrong.
Something unthinkable happened last night at the RBC Center. Instead of beating Carolina and winning a big game and finally ridding himself of those terrible monkeys, Sendek added a familiar third.
His old foes, the naysayers.
"We were outplayed, outcoached and thoroughly whipped," Sendek told the media after the game.
Oh, the naysayers will have a field day with that one, especially the "outcoached" part. There have been plenty of Herb doubters over the years, but even they appeared to lessen in number and keep their thoughts to themselves as this season wore on. A win last night over Carolina would've not only gotten Sendek over the hump, but it would've perhaps finally quieted them for good. Instead, almost overnight, the naysayers are back in full force, and anything short of an ACC tourney championship and an Elite Eight run in the NCAAs may not be enough to quell the wolves. Already folks are talking about how great it would be to have a certain person with the initials. "R.B." calling the RBC Center home. (And they're not talking about Rod Brind'Amour.)
 "I want him out, I want him out now!" read an email this morning. "This nonsense will continue until our University makes a statement that mediocrity is unacceptable and being in the same conference with UNC and Duke is not enough.  … If we only want entertainment, let's go back to Reynolds where at least I can enjoy the sights and smells of a campus and coliseum that I love."
"God, I want to like Herb," read another email. "Give me a reason to like you, Herb."
Here's a few: Herb Sendek is a really nice guy and a pretty good basketball coach who is a fine role model for his basketball players.
But that may not be enough.

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