Thursday, December 23, 2010

Early season efforts raise doubts about Wolfpack

This just isn't turning out to be the season N.C. State expected, and you can bet there will be a rising tide of concern if the present trajectory continues.

Wednesday's events were significant if you were a Wolfpack fan. First, State announced a new men's soccer coach, Kelly Findley. Findley replaces George Tarantini, who announced his retirement at the end of the 2010 season.

Whether Tarantini retired on his own or not isn't all that important. The key point here is everyone knows new athletics director Debbie Yow isn't going to be satisfied with moribund sports, and the Wolfpack soccer program had settled into the bottom of the ACC standings. The Pack was 10-8-2 overall last season and 1-5-2 in ACC play, hardly the type of performance to excite a new AD.

Yow faces a more significant decision on basketball. Sidney Lowe is a great ambassador for the program and good guy who has now shown he can recruit. But he has yet to show he can build a winner, and the lingering injury to Tracy Smith has deflated the start to this season. Scrambling to beat Delaware State 72-70 on Wednesday night didn't exactly thrill the crowd of 11,435 at the RBC Center.

Joe Giglio, writing in The News & Observer, described the Wolfpack defense as "porous." That's an adjective you could attach to NCSU's defense for a while now - too many times, you watch the Wolfpack play and think, Wow, they just don't seem in sync on defense.

Another issue, and fans are picking up on this on the message boards, is State seems to be fishing when it comes to a rotation. Who's the point guard - Gonzalez or Harrow? What are the roles of all the different players? Obviously the injury to Smith damaged the coaching staff's plans, but injuries are part of the game. Heck, Duke may be without Kyrie Irving the rest of the season, and you can beat Mike Krzyzewski and his staff fill find a new formula. Some of Dean Smith's greatest coaching efforts came when he had critical players injured.

State has three easy non-conference games ahead, Alabama A&M on Dec. 28, San Diego on Jan. 1 and Elon on Jan. 5. after that, it opens ACC play at Wake Forest, and the steady drumbeat of conference games follows. The ACC is down this year - wow, some of these preseason scores have been downright scary - and State should be ripe to make a run up the standings.

With Smith back, there is still a chance of that. But an early season schedule that was expected to excite fans has now concerned them - and you can bet Yow is watching closely and evaluating.

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