I am not sure exactly when NC State basketball quit during this season, but on the following note, I am supremely confident - State has quit repeatedly to the point in which giving up will be the dominant theme that defines this miserable 2016-17 campaign. When a talented roster has utterly surrendered and plays a brand of basketball that features zero heart, it's time to make a leadership change. This fractured season will be how most of us remember Mark Gottfried, and it's why all indications are that he will be fired when this schedule mercifully ends.
"They gotta guard us too, pal" was once something that I would randomly quote to family and friends whenever a basketball topic came up. The line stuck with me for whatever reason. Sure, Gottfried inherited the roster that helped him reach the Sweet 16 during his debut season, a run that featured his memorable line meant for inspiration before a critical game, but that didn't matter back then. A noteworthy line and March run helped me move on from the disaster that was Sidney Lowe. For the time being, Gottfried was fine, and I wondered if State basketball would be on the rise.
Flash forward to now, and a rise is not how any sane individual would describe the Wolfpack program. But it's not merely the disappointment that we are experiencing under Gottfried, it's the nature of it. This 2016-17 team does not play hard. They are behind numerous ACC teams in the standings who do not possess the same level of talent as the Wolfpack. As a fan, this is difficult to accept. Watching a team who does not play hard is about the worst characteristic from a viewing perspective. After all, what is the point of being invested yourself if the team doesn't even appear invested?
Back to the quote. "They gotta guard us too, pal." Oh, the irony. What I know now is something that I did not know then but probably should have predicted - NC State has never guarded anybody under Gottfried. Yes, coach, they do have to guard you, but maybe you should focus on, you know, GUARDING THEM.
It would be particularly pointless to kick the proverbial dog when it's down. Many of us have gotten what we wished for, or will be getting what we wished for, once Gottfried is ultimately fired. Few if any will come to his defense and act as if this is some sort of raw deal that lacks justice. But my cause is not celebrating the downfall of an individual. I do not watch as many Wolfpack games as I can for anything other than to hope the team has a successful season. In the words of former San Francisco 49ers head coach Mike Singletary, "I want winners!" I celebrate victories, not fired coaches.
There are no winners when judging the 2016-17 season. Dennis Smith Jr. has been a machine, but he has not been a savior. Perhaps that massive of an expectation was never fair. Omer Yurtseven does not come close to resembling the potential lottery pick talent that we thought was coming to Raleigh. Terry Henderson has to wonder why he chose State, and maybe the same can be said for Torin Dorn. Abdul-Malik Abu and BeeJay Anya, you returned to the team, but for what?
I wanted to remember this season for something special. A fun Selection Sunday anticipating reasonable seeding, the prospect of an enjoyable run, and maybe even a clever line when the camera cuts to Gottfried's pregame speech.
"They gotta guard us too, pal."
I once would have remembered this line for its relationship with a special season. These days, and as this pitiful year reaches its ending on the bottom of the mountain, I associate this line with something else entirely - if you are unable to make your own team guard and play with a sense of purpose, there is no point in thinking about what the opponent will do. Now, this line makes me realize how large the gap grew between what Gottfried wanted his team to accomplish and what they actually did.
A few tournaments and two great runs, Gottfried, you gave us those. That is substantially more than your predecessor. But your squad also quit on you during several occasions, and this reality is difficult to forgive. Some of that is on the players, sure, but at the college level, this dynamic has to largely be viewed as a reflection of leadership.
In the end, Gottfried could not motivate or lead this team. They quit on him, and thus, NC State has to quit on Gottfried.