What went wrong for Mark Gottfried at NC State – a perspective

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David Kehrli

RALEIGH, N.C. – Thursday afternoon, N.C. State Athletics announced head men’s basketball coach Mark Gottfried would not return next season.

Gottfried clearly elevated the reputation of N.C. State basketball during his six years, most notably by making the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons, and advancing to two Sweet 16s.

Yet, the past two seasons have been mired with various struggles, and this year specifically has been disastrous for a team that was touted with possessing much talent.

The issues that led to this recent disappointment, and ultimately Gottfried’s firing, began well before the last couple of seasons played out.

Inconsistent roster

Perhaps the most notable trouble spot Gottfried consistently had to deal with, which finally caught up to him, was roster turnover.

While all teams have transfers, and it isn’t Gottfried’s fault Cat Barber, Trevor Lacey and C.J. Leslie all left early for the NBA Draft, and have never played in an NBA game – an obvious pattern developed.

Putting aside early entries to the NBA Draft, the Pack has had at least one transfer every offseason under Gottfried.

Good players like Kyle Washington, now at Cincinnati (13.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Rodney Purvis, now at UConn (13.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.7 apg), plus a role player like Tyler Lewis, now at Butler (6.7 PPG, 4.0 apg) are missed by the Pack.

While the reasons vary and the coach may or may not have had anything to do with why a certain player left – at the end of the day, the head coach is responsible.

It seems this year that issue has finally hurt the team’s chemistry.

It’s not easy to win with a team that hasn’t played much together, and currently N.C. State lacks leadership, toughness and energy.

Toughness and energy that guys like Cody and Caleb Martin, who transferred after last season, brought to the court every game.

It’s hard to build a foundation for success when players are constantly leaving, forcing the coach to bring in transfers of his own to make up for it.

Lack of player development

Gottfried is without a doubt a great recruiter, but minus T.J. Warren and Cat Barber, some gifted players who didn’t necessarily develop the way experts and fans expected them to.

Senior BeeJay Anya came to N.C. State as a four-star recruit and hasn’t improved his game all that much under Gottfried, averaging just 3.0 points and 2.7 rebounds a game this season.

Part of that is on Anya with his well-documented conditioning issues, but even when he has been on the court this year, he hasn’t made an impact.

Defensively, Anya will block a few shots, but on offense, he has rarely shown to be a factor, despite having the size and wingspan that is coveted by NBA scouts when looking for post players.

Torin Dorn transferred to N.C. State from UNC-Charlotte, where he won Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors.

Expectations were high for Dorn with his considerable talent, but this year he has struggled after getting off to a good start.

His points and assists averages are lower at State (10.3 ppg, 0.9 apg) than they were at Charlotte as a freshman (12.0 ppg, 1.3 apg) despite being at N.C. State and developing under Gottfried for two years.

Abdul-Malik Abu flirted with entering the NBA Draft after last season, but decided to return to develop his game.

That hasn’t gone to plan as he is largely the same player he was a year ago when he averaged more points, rebounds, and assists in less playing time than he has this season.

Looking at the numbers

Gottfried has always been known as an offensive coach, and nobody expected him to be a defensive wizard when he was hired, but defense has been a consistent issue during his tenure.

In six seasons, only twice has the Wolfpack ranked in the top-100 nationally in adjusted defense.

For reference, during Gottfried’s tenure, the regular-season ACC Champion has finished an average of 11th nationally in adjusted defense.

This season the Wolfpack has hit rock bottom, currently ranking 231st in adjusted defense, allowing 107.4 points per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponent strength, according to KenPom.com.

Many others noticed too

State has looked completely lost on the defensive end for much of the year, with players not sure where to be or what to do, so much so that opposing players have mentioned it.

“Guys didn’t know where to be, guys were doing their own thing and didn’t care,” UNC  guard Joel Berry II was quoted after Carolina’s 97-73 blowout of N.C. State Wednesday night.

You don’t have to play great defense to have success, but at the very least, you have to be average.

Offensively, Gottfried prides himself on playing the UCLA high-post offense.

Yet, at many times these past few years, the offense has been a one-man show instead of running that style offense.

Dennis Smith Jr. is often given the ball and expected to do it all by himself while four teammates stand still and watch.

Last year it was much of the same with Cat Barber, who did the heavy lifting.

When the Wolfpack executes the high-post offense, it has had success, but far too often it gets away from it, and expects ‘the star’, whoever that is at the time, to do it all.

Moving forward

Gottfried undoubtedly revived the N.C. State basketball program and brought it success it hadn’t seen in a while.

That can’t be taken away from him.

But ultimately the trajectory of the program was heading downward, with the team likely to miss the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season and the players in disarray on the court.

It more or less left N.C. State, fueled by a vocally disenchanted fan base, with no choice but to let Gottfried go.