02/17/04 — OPINION - A little respect for the Pack

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OPINION - A little respect for the Pack

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on February 17, 2004 2:00 PM

RALEIGH - "Nice pass."

I said that to myself a lot Sunday as N.C. State methodically broke down then number-one ranked Duke.

Watching Wolfpack basketaball this year is like getting a lesson in the seemingly lost art of half-court distribution.

You don't see a lot of reverse dunks or alley-oops on the Pack's pre-game highlight reel. However, it's slam full of passes leading to layups -- with a few left-handed hook shots thrown in.

The most impressive aspect is that everyone on the court can pass accurately, and they did Sunday against what is considered the best all-around defensive team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The whole system is built around cutting and timing where the big men do just as much giving as receiving. Center Marcus Melvin and forward Ilian Evtimov create match-up problems by being able to strike from the outside and make their offense all the more tough to defend.

Call their style based more on precise timing and touch than sheer athleticism, unconventional in the modern game. Also call it good and gaining confidence.

I heard this last week - "I'm a Wolfpack fan, but not a Coach Sendek fan."

I'm not sure what it would take for those in this bunch to swallow their pride and come to grips that their cherished program may just be in good hands. Or at least pull for a team that plays solid team basketball and happens to be doing it as well as anyone in the best basketball conference in the country.

Certainly, there is a time and a place for caution and concern about a program. This isn't one of those times.

There is nothing wrong with wanting conference championships and national attention. But, getting to the Big Dance is equivalent to making a bowl. Finishing second in the conference tournament twice in a row is clearly better than never higher than fourth in a football league that many have considered down recently.

ACC hoops is a lot of things this year. One thing it isn't is down.

If anything, this is the kind of team fans should want to pull for with the aforementioned team, a humble, not to mention clean, approach. On top of that, they are playing hard and hungry.

I'm not ready to hand them the national championship or ACC title for that matter, but that 9-2 is flashy and impressive.

Not only that, State is off to its best start since 1973 and are a perfect 13-0 at the RBC Center.

After speaking up for Sendek and his team after the Virginia game, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reiterated those thoughts after Sunday's loss.

"They were able to dictate the way the game was being played and they did it well. These kids have played a lot of ball games and they played like a real veteran basketball team," Krzyzewski said. "They are very hungry. A lot of stuff isn't about X's and O's, it's how much you want it.