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After my opening monologue, I’ll be talking about NC State’s assist numbers; just stick with me.

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One of the greatest aspects of being a sports fan is that every single one of us is allowed to create a threshold of what we find acceptable, disappointing, lukewarm, infuriating, thrilling, or whatever gerund you wanna throw in here. ‘I’m ok with the loss, because ______.’ ‘Can you believe Roy didn’t use a timeout?!?! He should be fired!’

‘Grayson tripped someone (again)? He should be suspended!’ ‘Grayson tripped someone (again)? Who cares?’

State fans are like moms on pregnancy four. We’re used to the discomfort, know what to expect, nothing surprises us, and we waddle around for half of a year in love with the moment and so very ready for it to be over at the same time.

For Wolfpack fans, this season was a bust from before the start. Trevor Lacey (16 ppg, 39% 3pt shooting, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists) declared himself eligible for the draft (man would it be nice had the rule allowing players to declare without losing eligibility been in play last season), leaving a heavy productivity void in the State roster. Lacey was a once-in-a-generation college player; he was devastating 1-1 and was a one-man closer. Every step-back jumper, potential dagger, or half-court shot he let go was a good shot.

Watch Cat Barber at the top of the screen, and his reaction before the shot goes in exemplifies the expectations of Lacey. He was already-made-money.

Between Lacey going pro (playing now in Italy), the transfer of Kyle Washington (7 ppg, 4 reb, and a good jump shooting forward) and the graduation of sharp-shooter Ralston Turner (13 ppg, 37% 3pt shooting), State was left with Cat, the Twins (athletic, passionate, probably don’t want them dating your daughter but not really able to put a finger on why, skilled but reckless), Beejay (all blocks all dunks no nothing else), Lenard Freeman (cool hair, rebounds, missed layups), and Abu (dunksdunksdunks and half a season of fadeaway hook shots before more dunks).

Incoming were 13 year old supposed-sharp-shooter Maverick Rowan and transfer Terry Henderson (who sounds like a character in a Tyler Perry movie).

Ready to be a State fan? Ok – so your best player semi-shockingly goes pro and then six minutes (six) into the season, Henderson, anticipated to play the Trevor Lacey roll, sprains his life away for the season.

Six. Minutes.

So, this has been a season where being a State fan was certainly frustrating, but also kinda easy, because it was a hot mess before things even got started. It’s impossible to be frustrated when a team is down to seven rotation players, one of whom is a crapshoot to be able to legally drive after 9PM.

Which is why I can say I think this is one of the best coaching job’s Gottfried has done so far at NC State. This is the individual fan in me saying ‘I’m ok with how this year is going.’

Why?

  1. Team does not quit. I’ve never not once seen a college team this not-good and this determined. Yeah, Duke plays non-stop fire, but they’re Duke. They’ll be dancing. The recklessness and near controlled-rage of the Twins, the unending 165 pound onslaught of Cat Barber, the interior passing of the bigs,
  2. WAIT JOEL HOLD ON THAT SOUNDS LIKE YOU’RE FINALLY CLOSING IN ON WHAT THIS PIECE IS ACTUALLY ABOUT
  3. There are no senior rotation players – everyone is coming back (in theory, though ain’t nobody faulting Cat if he decides to take his personal shredding business to the pros), and this team has shown growth in ways that . . . make me proud? Reassure me that Gottfried knows what he’s doing? Unsure how to finish that, but anyway:

Assists

Every ‘big’ on the roster (Abu, Anya, Freeman) has significantly improved assist numbers from last season. Freeman had six against Duke in Raleigh and four in Durham. He had another four against Syracuse (he played the heart of the zone-offense, at the free throw line, and he killed it). Check it: Abu/Anya/Freeman last season: 0.6, 0.2, 0.5 assists per game, respectively. This season: 1.2, 0.5, 1.0 per game.

Those numbers might not seem like a lot, but when all of the major post players have doubled their assist numbers, that’s coaching. That’s good coaching. Any team is more dangerous when more players can create offense for their teammates. It’s a necessity for a team with only one player truly capable for creating for himself as well as others.

Look at Cat. Last season: 12 ppg, 3 reb, 4 assists, 2 turnovers per game. This season: 24 ppg, 5 reb, 5 assists, 2.5 turnovers per game. Now, I rounded the numbers, so I need to explicitly express that Barber is playing 38.8 minutes per game (up from 31), is a one man show, and his assist to turnover ratio is better than last season, over 2-1, even though the team shooting percentage is down (read as: he now passes to dudes who miss more than they did last season). His free-throw percentage jumped 14 points to 87%. And he makes Dan Bonner say ‘uh oh’ before even releasing the shot.

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So, from a win-loss perspective, this season has absolutely been a disappointment when compared to four straight NCAA’s and a Sweet Sixteen run last season. From a basketball perspective, and from the perspective of someone watching young men play a game and grow as a team instead of quitting on each other,

I’ve had a blast.