A belated Three Points from the Miami win, thanks to a lost morning at the Miami airport.
1) Keeping your eye on the ball
After N.C. State's 78-73 win over Miami gave the Wolfpack a 4-1 ACC record, and share of first place, first-year Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried stayed true to his talking points.
N.C. State has a "long way to go" has been Gottfried's refrain since he took the job in April and a 4-1 ACC start hasn't changed his mindset.
"Our guys know, we've got a long way to go to be good," Gottfried said Sunday. "We're not very good as far as what we can become."
In one regard, Gottfried is right and has been right all along with his unofficial mantra. Until State finishes in the top third of the ACC and gets back to the NCAA tournament, it does have a long way to go from where it has been — a staple in the Thursday set of play-in games in the ACC tournament and a five- or six-win team in conference play.
And wins over Wake Forest, Boston College are no cause for a parade but State has to be good against its peer group in the ACC — Clemson, Maryland, Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia — and then make hay against what is the elite trio of the conference — UNC, Duke and Florida State (its 0-2 record against the Ivy League not withstanding).
So beating Miami, a talented but confused team (see Point 3), on Sunday does represent progress in the sense that State had to win to remain on track for its public goal of 11 ACC wins.
But as senior C.J. Williams pointed out, State needs to keep the 4-1 start in perspective.
"We're tied for first but we still have a lot of games to play," Williams said.
And the next one, at UNC on Thursday, is a big one on multiple fronts. It's the first for Gottfried against the Tar Heels, and all State coaches — to some extent — will be measured by how they do against Carolina, and it's one of four chances in the league for State to pick an NCAA resume win.
(It's also a game State is unlikely to win, but that's for another blog post.)
After being tripped up at home to Georgia Tech — an inept basketball team on offense that State somehow allowed to score 82 points — the Pack has already learned the value of taking it "one game at a time" a lesson Gottfried repeated after Sunday's win.
"With us, what's important is regardless of the standings, we have to keep our eye on the ball," Gottfried said. "We have to be careful right now. We have to stay focused. Each game is one game."
2) More Scott Wood?
Scott Wood led N.C. State with 21 points against Miami but he did so on only nine field goal attempts and in going long stretches without touching the ball.
State's offense isn't designed to cater to one player but there are sets for Wood, which usually result in a 3-pointer. Wood leads the ACC in 3-pointers (53) and 3-point percentage (45.3 percent), a difficult combo to pull off.
He's scoring more in transition this season, as is State in general, but Lorenzo Brown's first look on the break has been on the wing for Wood. That's how Wood got his game-clinching 3 with 2:21 left on Sunday.
After the game, Gottfried marveled at how efficient Wood is but also wants his junior shooter to be more aggressive.
"He lets the game come to him," Gottfried said. "There are times when I think he could be a little more aggressive. He's such a team player."
While Wood's strength continues to be from behind the arc, he has developed his mid-range game and has gotten to the foul line more this season. His 48 free-throw attempts are already a career-high with 11 games left in the regular season.
There's also the matter that he doesn't miss from the free-throw line.
"He has a great tempo about his game," Gottfried said. "He doesn't get flustered if he doesn't get the ball for awhile. He's always a threat and if he gets fouled, you can mark those down, he's going to make them."
3) The coaching transition
It has mostly been champagne and roses for N.C. State in Gottfried's first season. The re-energized Wolfpack players are getting better and genuinely having fun. And even against a subpar schedule, a 4-1 ACC start is a 4-1 ACC start.
"We have a bond on this team that we've never had before," junior forward DeShawn Painter said.
State AD Debbie Yow took some heat for pulling Gottfried off the ESPN scrap heap but it has been very close to a dream start for both Yow and Gottfried, an accomplished college coach who seems to have developed a deeper appreciation for coaching in his time away from it.
Miami is also going through a coaching transition and it hasn't gone as well. It's not a lost cause but the team has not performed up to expectations.
Jim Larranaga, a veteran assistant of the ACC and a respected, successful head coach has had a lot of roadblocks and wrong turns in first season at Miami. The Hurricanes have an NCAA tournament roster but, for a variety of reasons, they do not have an NCAA tournament resume.
Foremost among Larranaga's early problems, a preseason knee injury to the team's best forward, junior Reggie Johnson. The injury cost Big Reg nine game and he's still not 100 percent. He labored through 22 minutes on Sunday and was a liability in transition.
But there's also the big-picture issues at Miami, which haven't gotten as much attention, because quite frankly, not that many people care about Miami basketball. Veteran guards Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott should be carrying this team but they have regressed under Larranaga.
It can be difficult to be recruited by one coach (in this case Frank Haith, who left for Missouri) and play for another. Ask Brandon Costner. And I don't think this is a "we don't want to play for this coach" problem (see Wake Forest 2011) there is something lost in translation with Grant and Scott.
Grant, who does lead the team in scoring, has had to deal with the death of his brother, which caused him to miss two games in December.
Scott, who was a dynamic scorer two years ago as a freshman at the ACC tournament, seems to miss both the freedom of Haith's offense and a healthy Johnson, who sets the best high ball screen in the league.
Larranaga developed a successful program at George Mason and in 2006 took a veteran, experienced team to the Final Four (before Butler made it look easy for programs outside the BCS power structure).
Larranaga, an excellent coach, is stuck between coaching for now and coaching for the future. Freshman guard Shane Larkin is his future, and was the main reason the team made a comeback in the second half on Sunday, but Larkin's progress and development comes at the expense of Grant and/or Scott.
It's a difficult transition to make and even moreso when you factor in expectations and the problems beyond Larranaga's control but you can tell he's making moves for what's best for the program going forward, not necessarily for what's best right now.
At 1-3 in the ACC, Miami's not cooked but unless Grant and Scott have a dramatic turnaround, I see Larranaga coaching the rest of the season for 2013 more than 2012.