Marilyn Payne

For Pack to down Heels, they'll have to overcome adversity

Posted February 14
Updated February 15

Mark Gottfried says NC State's inability to continue to play its game in the face of difficult times has been the problem for the Wolfpack this season.

But he's talking about the kind of difficulty on the court, not the type of off the court distraction that has come his way in the last couple of days. The media storm and chaos-inducing type of mumbling like what Duke faced and seemed affected by earlier this season.

In fact, the Wolfpack seems to be refusing to face reality (unlike the Blue Devils who faced, struggled with, admitted the existence of and got past their difficulties as a unit).

Amidst arguably the most adverse, distracting time in Gottfried's six years in Raleigh, the head coach says that the last few days – in which reports that he has already been fired from his job come season's end after losing at Wake Forest by a record 30 points – haven't been hard.

"I think the biggest thing for our team has been at times handling adversity, that's been a tough thing for us at times," he said. "We allow adversity to steamroll us and it gets worse. That's happened too many times.

"I don't think this week has been a difficult thing, I think our players are going to be excited about playing, I really believe that."

The neither-confirm-nor-deny approach is an unsurprising response by Gottfried, especially after the NC State Athletic Department did exactly that Monday night when questioned about the coach's employment status.

But Gottfried's take on the boiling water he's supposedly cooked in and his players' "I don't know what you're talking about," response to unavoidable questions about the days leading up to round two versus Carolina match the coach's and team's public take on its season in a way that seems to reveal the inevitable answer.

Yes, there is reality to Gottfried's declaration that his "job is to keep spirits high," and that he has coached teams to post-seasons that surpass expectations (if they were set at the midway point of ACC play). But those aren't things that aught to be bragged about or which hold water as reminders when offered up as a final plea.

"I still believe in our team," Gottfried said Tuesday. "My hope is we can turn this around and figure out how to get in the NCAA Tournament for our fifth time in six years."

The insistence that "there is a lot of basketball left," is just barely true, no matter what perspective you look at the season from. With 26 games down, five regular season games left and just one in Brooklyn after that, the season is more than 80 percent of the way over.

"We are preparing for the game as if it would be any other game," he said. "(UNC is) really good, we know it, obviously the game we played in Chapel Hill, we were a disaster. We know it and we've got to turn that around. There was just a myriad of things we did wrong."

While I, in no way, expected Gottfried or NC State to handle the pre-North Carolina press availability any differently than they did in concept, it still feels sad.

I can't help but feel that the overwhelming "we won't address this, but we are still optimistic," response this week matches the response after so many games this season and last... and that's not a good thing.

The Wolfpack's inability to play through adversity has cost it games, now it seems the program's fate rides on its capacity to do the same. It's hard to believe the outcome of those games is anything but indicative of the unfortunate way this year ends... even with all. that. talent.

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