Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 1/28/12
RALEIGH, N.C. --- For all of the progress N.C. State has made under first-year coach Mark Gottfried, the Wolfpack still hasn't arrived. And time is running out to compile a resume worthy of reaching its stated goal of playing in the NCAA Tournament. There isn't any doubt N.C. State is significantly better than a year ago, well, really in the last five years under the previous regime. That it has been competitive with some terrific teams and that it competes with a purpose every night is proof, including in Saturday night's 61-60 loss at home to No. 19 Virginia. The Wolfpack passes the eye test, but at some point it needs to register a victory that will reflect its overall progress. The NCAA selection committee doesn't use the eye test as criteria when judging teams against one another. It looks at paper, and what's on that paper determines whether or not a team gets into the big dance. Perhaps N.C. State's best chance at registering the kind of victory that would distinguish itself from other teams competing for the same NCAA spots came and left when the Cavaliers boarded their bus Saturday night. N.C. State (15-7, 4-3 ACC) did a nice job of moving on from Thursday's ugly loss at North Carolina and was ready to play. It did some really nice things, and despite trailing by nine points as late as 5:13 remaining in the contest, Gottfried's kids battled and had a chance to win. But they didn't. And it's not obvious if the players fully understand what it takes to get into the NCAAs. "Really, from the Carolina game, we were kind of pissed off about it," said senior C.J. Williams. "We know we didn't play our best and we wanted to prove we're a good team, and I think we made that statement today." Yes, N.C. State made progress, but it's time to win games, too, especially at home. This was a golden opportunity, trailing by a point with Lorenzo Brown racing toward the Pack's basket with the other nine players on the floor heading in the same direction. Then, just after Brown crossed half court, Gottfried called timeout with 7.8 seconds remaining. It was a questionable decision. "We thought we could get Lorenzo turning the corner at the top of the key with Scott (Wood) in that far corner," the coach explained. "And, it's my opinion, I thought he got bumped pretty hard on the dribble, but you roll with that, you move on. "But we thought with Lorenzo going to the basket, great foul shooter, with Scott in that far corner was a great option for our guys." But before calling the timeout, NCSU already had that option unfolding. After his explanation it was more than a questionable decision, it was a poor one. "That's a feel," Gottfried said. "There are times as a coach where I've let my teams play. I felt like in that situation that's what we got." But the Wolfpack didn't lose because of that final sequence, which ended with Brown air-balling a 3-pointer from the right wing. It also didn't lose because it failed to capitalize on grabbing 18 rebounds (just 17 second-chance points) or winning the battle of the boards by 17. And it didn't lose because Wood (3-for-11) was off from the floor. N.C. State lost because it isn't yet ready to take the next step. Its foot is reaching, striving for that rung and is getting close. But it's just not there. The Pack's best win thus far is over a Texas team that isn't a lock for the NCAA Tournament. It has also beaten Maryland and won at Miami. Otherwise, the committee isn't going to care that NCSU played, and lost to, the likes of Syracuse, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Indiana outside the ACC if it can't take out one of its own conferences top tier clubs. There aren't nearly as many resume-enhancing wins as usual a team can accumulate in the ACC this season, and the Wolfpack is running out of opportunities. NCSU still has one game each against the other upper-tier teams: at Duke and home against Florida State and North Carolina. Gottfried acknowledged this was a huge missed opportunity, and the players are right in saying improving with each game is the best approach. But they also have never fought for key wins to improve their NCAA stock before, and it's uncertain whether or not they will fully understand it in time to appropriately stock its resume.
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