Coming up to Saturday's big matchup between UNC and NC State, much has been made of the Wolfpack's recent struggles (and, frankly, not-so-recent struggles) against Carolina, with many a game preview noting that the Heels have won their last 13 against State. I decided to take a look back at those last 13 games (and beyond) to see if I could make any observations about the rivalry and what we can expect this weekend.
The recaps, in reverse chronological order:
March 10, 2012: #4 UNC 69, NCSU 67 (ACC Tournament Semifinal) - With 10 seconds left in the game, Kendall Marshall drove into the lane and pushed off hard on Alex Johnson in a play that probably should have been called an offensive foul. It wasn't, Marshall made the ensuing bank shot, and that proved to be the difference in a foul-ridden game that saw both CJ Leslie and Tyler Zeller foul out. With John Henson not playing, State really should have won this one and doubtless are using the memories of this game to motivate them this year, despite Carolina putting a largely different team on the floor.
Feb 21, 2012: #7 UNC 86, NCSU 74 - At home, State made the conscious decision to sag off Marshall, who had just 3 double-figure scoring games all year, and clog the middle against Zeller and Henson. The result? Marshall goes for a career-best 22 points. (Note: We're 2-2 on #ncstateshit in the retrospective so far.)
Jan 26, 2012: #8 UNC 74, NCSU 55 - The Pack came into Chapel Hill confident on this one as they were tied for first place in the ACC and hadn't lost a game in about a month. Carolina systematically demolished them to the point that Scott Wood compared it to being cheated on by his wife.
Feb 23, 2011: #19 UNC 75, NCSU 63 - In Raleigh, the game was tied 50-50 with 10 minutes remaining before Harrison Barnes hit a couple of crucial jumpers, had a nice putback dunk, and helped the Heels outscore State 25-13 the rest of the way. The highlight in this one was Sidney Lowe getting a technical with 1:30 left in the game to ice it. This would his last appearance against UNC wearing the famous red blazer that had proved so magical a mere... (looking ahead in article)... 4 years earlier. Yeah, ok, it's safe to say the magic had already worn off by then.
Jan 29, 2011: UNC 84, NCSU 64 - Carolina was actually unranked in this one, with an ugly 20-point loss to GT on their resume having knocked them out of the top 25 the week before. But the pack were in even worse shape at 2-4 in the ACC and the wheels came off early as UNC led by 13 at the half. Barnes scored 25 and Henson had 16 and 16 to go with 7 blocks. The Heels would climb back into the top 25 the next week.
Feb 13, 2010: UNC 74, NCSU 61 & Jan 26, 2010: UNC 77, NCSU 63 - I group these two together because you have to take them in context. Apart from these two wins, Carolina was in the midst of a 10-game losing streak in the ACC. The only teams who didn't beat UNC at least once in league play that year were Miami (who only faced them once) and NC State, who Carolina somehow managed to beat by double digits both times. The second game was particularly humiliating for the Pack as Tyler Zeller, Ed Davis and Travis Wear were all injured for the Heels but Larry Drew II (!!!) managed to tally 15 points and 7 assists on them. Sidney Lowe tried to couch the loss by saying "I'm not sure [UNC] is ever really down." Carolina fans scarred by this year beg to disagree.
Feb 18, 2009: #3 UNC 89, NCSU 80 - State shot 54% for the game, 55% from 3, 64% after halftime... and still lost by 9. Carolina shot 55% themselves (63% in the second half), had four starters score at least 16, and treated the Pack like a cat playing with a mouse - mounting a 19-point lead, then letting State chip away to within 6 in the second half, then scoring 9 straight to basically put things out of reach with 5 minutes remaining. Tyler Hansbrough led the way with 27.
Jan 31, 2009: #6 UNC 93, NCSU 76 - Hansbrough scored 31, the Heels led by a dozen at the half, and the State crowd was pretty much demoralized from the opening tip. Not sure what it was about playing in the RBC Center but Psycho T absolutely loved it there, averaging about 26 and 8 in his four appearances in Raleigh. There was a lot of grumbling on both sides as Mike Copeland tried to score in the lane with 2 seconds in the game, got fouled hard by Ben McCauley, and the two had a little shoving match.
Feb 20, 2008: #3 UNC 84, NCSU 70 - Here we are in Raleigh again! Saying the memory of State fans storming the court from the previous year (almost there, Wolfpack readers - keep reading!) was fresh in his mind, Hansbrough went off for 32 and 12 with 5 steals, at one point having scored 24 of Carolina's 50 points. The Heels struggled a bit early with an injured Ty Lawson sitting on the bench, but put a 9-0 run together at the end of the half to go into the break up 3 and then punched State in the mouth in the second half with a 31-7 run. And the red blazer was there on the sidelines taking it all in.
Jan 12, 2008: #1 UNC 93, NCSU 62 - Carolina was 17-0 at this point so the win wasn't a huge surprise, but the manner in which they obliterated a State team that had been picked to finish third in the conference was indicative of where both teams were headed. NC State had a nightmarish first half, scoring just 13 points on 6-of-34 shooting, going scoreless over a 10-minute stretch where they missed 18 straight. UNC had scored 25 unanswered points and when the Pack finally did score, they earned a standing ovation from the mocking Dean Dome crowd. The red blazer made an appearance for this game also. State would finish 4-12 in the ACC.
March 11, 2007: #8 UNC 89, NCSU 80 (ACC Tournament Final) - Tenth-seeded NC State managed a miracle run at the final as they beat second-seeded Virginia, third-seeded Virginia Tech and defending champion Duke before finally running out of gas from playing four games in as many days as Roy ran them into the ground, several times subbing all five players at a time. The red jacket was on for this one, as it had been for the entire tournament run. Fans thought this tournament run was a harbinger of things to come under first-year coach Sidney Lowe. They were wrong.
Feb 21, 2007: #5 UNC 83, NCSU 64 - In Chapel Hill, State was within a point at halftime but Sidney Lowe had to be taken to the hospital with flu-like symptoms and his team responded by falling apart in the second half. Fatigue was probably a big factor, with Carolina playing 12 guys in this game and the Pack getting just 14 minutes from their entire bench as every State starter played at least 30 minutes. State finished 5-11 in the ACC.
Feb 3, 2007: NCSU 83, #3 UNC 79 - FINALLY we are here, State's most recent victory against Carolina. The first appearance of the Valvano-inspired red jacket in front of a rabid crowd in Raleigh had a lot of people saying after this game that Sidney Lowe "just knew how to beat Carolina" since he won 2 games against them as a player his senior year and his first one as a coach. The Pack came out motivated after being humbled by Duke earlier in the week 79-56 and played with more energy and intensity, pushing their lead to double digits several times in the second half. Fans were hoping this was a sign of things to come after Herb Sendek had been derided for going 8-38 against Duke and UNC. Turned out to just be a sign of things to come. And perhaps even more shockingly, if they hadn't managed to pull this upset we would be talking about a much longer Carolina streak against State because this was the Pack's FIRST VICTORY AGAINST CAROLINA SINCE 2003 at this point. The scores in the games of previous years: 95-71 & 82-69 (2006); 81-71 & 95-71 (2005); 71-64 & 68-66 (2004). So we are talking about State being 1-19 in their last 20 games against the Heels.
Alright, so now that we're here, a few observations:
- Carolina's dominance is, for the most part, because they have had much better teams than State - Thank you, thank you, I'll go ahead and accept my Pulitzer now. But seriously, you'll notice that in the last 14 games NC State is not ranked in any of them and UNC is ranked in the top ten for 11 of them. The last time State was ranked in a game against the Heels was 2005, and the last time they were ranked and played a Carolina team that was unranked was 2003, when they beat them twice. State has not been the prohibitive favorite in this matchup in a long time, so how do they handle it?
- UNC gets up for this game as much as State does - Fans, players and the media talk about the Pack circling the Carolina game with a red marker every year, but somehow UNC's beastly effort in this series doesn't get much pub. You'll notice in the string of 13 straight that there are not just narrow victories - there are BEAT DOWNS intended to embarrass a historic rival. Even in 2010, the Heels managed to pull it together for a sweep of the Wolfpack when they folded like a cheap suit against the rest of the ACC. Make no mistake, matchups against State are not just another league game for the Heels - they go all out, to the tune of a 15.5-point average margin of victory. Don't be surprised if it seems like Carolina is as amped for this one as State plans to be.
- State losses against UNC have often sent their season into a tailspin - Looking back at all these game stories, one commonality I couldn't help but notice is how many times the AP mentions NC State with phrases like "what once looked like a promising season now has players shaking their heads in disbelief." State had a couple of seasons with good out-of-conference records where they came into the ACC looking to make some noise, only to come out of the UNC game permanently crouched in the fetal position. Carolina looks to be a little bit on the rise right now and State has lost 2 of their last 3 to inferior competition, so to go down at home against the Heels could take them into another downward spiral. I'd venture to guess that while State is going to have plenty of motivation for this game, the team and fan base alike are going to come in with some serious nervousness. Here's hoping UNC came come out hot, punch them in the mouth and take advantage.