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March 7, 2012
Putting Mark Gottfried's first year in perspective
When head coach Mark Gottfried was hired, The Wolfpacker wrote that he may be the basketball program's most accomplished hire ever. The former Alabama point guard has not disappointed in Raleigh and with the regular season coming to a close on Sunday, it's only natural to look at how the first-year coach's accomplishments compare to the most successful coaching debuts in school history.
Gottfried has impressed from the day that he was hired on April 5. He "won" the press conference then assembled a top-notch staff that included two former head coaches and a trio of assistants that had all previously worked with each other.
That trio of coaches, along with the head man, immediately hit the recruiting trail and assembled a class that boasts more McDonald's All-Americans than Duke and North Carolina combined with ball-handling wizard Tyler Lewis, five-star combo guard Rodney Purvis and five-star shooter T.J. Warren already in the fold. The Wolfpack is also in the running for four-star power forward Amile Jefferson, another McDonald's All-American, and reports have listed State as the favorite for another four-star, shooting guard Torian Graham.
In addition to refusing to back down from anybody on the recruiting trail, Gottfried and company completely transformed their current group of players and instilled a similar philosophy on the court.
The nucleus of last year's team that stumbled to a 15-16 (5-11 ACC) showing returned and each player has made great strides under the new staff. The Pack, who were picked to finished eighth in the preseason, finished in a tie for fourth in the conference at 20-11 (9-7 ACC), and recorded at least nine wins over league rivals for the first time since the 2005-06 campaign.
Last year, the Pack entered the conference tournament as the 11th seed; this year, they go in as the No. 5 team in the league - the program's biggest one-year seeding improvement in 44 years. Gottfried has notched the second-best record among first-year BCS coaches and all five starters rank among the ACC's top 25 scoring averages - a feat only the Pack can claim.
C.J. Leslie has matured into one of the most promising players in the league and the sophomore has averaged 14.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game - all numbers that stand among the top 10 in the ACC. Point guard Lorenzo Brown has thrived and averaged 6.3 assists per game in his first chance at running the show. Senior C.J. Williams is the second-most improved player in the ACC in terms of scoring average, which he has increased 6.5 points per game from last year. Big man Richard Howell isn't so big anymore and his game has taken off as his weight has dropped.
Press Maravich in 1964-65 was the last NC State coach to record at least nine conference wins (10) in his first try and he also stands as the last coach to record a better winning percentage (.810) than Gottfried's regular-season clip of .645.
Gottfried is just the second coach in school history to record 20 regular-season wins during his first year on campus, joining legendary coach Everett Case and his 1946-47 squad that went 26-5 overall and won the Southern Conference regular season crown and tournament title. It's even more impressive when you consider that, according to the NCAA, the Pack played the No. 21 toughest schedule in the nation.
Three other coaches have recorded at least 20 victories in their debut season in Raleigh, but Maravich (21-5 in 1964-65), Les Robinson (20-11 in 1990-91) and Sidney Lowe (20-16 in 2006-07) needed the postseason to reach that 20-win plateau. Maravich's squad won the ACC Tournament, Robinson's group went 1-1 at the NCAA Tournament and Lowe's team reached the ACC Tournament finals. Case and Maravich are the only two coaches in the program's annals to win the ACC Tournament in their first appearance.
It remains to be seen if Gottfried has some postseason magic up his sleeve in year one, and the team's performance at the ACC Tournament will likely determine if the Pack is dancing in the NCAA Tournament or competing in the National Invitational Tournament, but there is no denying that the coach's debut in Raleigh has already been a resounding success.
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