In case you reside under a rock and somehow missed the news: NC State fired basketball coach Mark Gottfried on Thursday. Gottfried, who will finish out the season with the Wolfpack, took NC State to four NCAA tournaments, including two Sweet 16 appearances, in six years on the job.
That is all great; however, whoever coaches the Pack will be viewed through the prism of how they fared against North Carolina, Duke and other Top 25 opponents.
Let’s take a deeper look into the numbers.
Over the course of Gottfried’s six seasons, the Pack has played 49 AP Top 25 opponents. This is the harsh reality called “playing in the ACC.” NC State went 11-38 in these 49 contests and was outscored 3,781 to 3,467 — a difference of minus-314. This translates to a win percentage of just 22.4 percent.
In total, Gottfried has won 60 percent of his games while at NC State. Thus far, he has lost 82 games — which means nearly half of his losses have come against teams ranked inside the Top 25. If you looked at only games that have come against unranked opponents, NC State has won 72 percent of the time under Gottfried.
Without adjusting for pace, NC State has scored 70.8 points per game against Top 25 foes since the 2011-12 season, while allowing 77.2 points per game. The Wolfpack has struggled mightily on the defense side of the floor under Gottfried; according to KenPom.com, NC State has never once finished inside the top 75 nationally in terms of defensive efficiency. In fact, including this season, State will have finished No. 120 or worse in points allowed per 100 possessions in four of Gottfried’s six seasons.
Per Sports-Reference, NC State allowed an average of 1.11 points per possession in games against Top 25 foes, which just is not getting the job done. The high-water mark came earlier this season when the Pack allowed nearly 1.4 points per possession against Creighton — a game that included one of the worst defensive performances in school history. State, in turn, has scored 1.02 points per possession in those games versus the Top 25.
Another issue in these showdowns has been NC State’s inability to defend the three-point line with enough vigor; the Wolfpack has allowed nearly 7.5 made three-pointers per game, while connecting on only 5.6 per game.
It is still incredible to think what could have been with this season’s team. Sports, like life, can be random and cruel. Flip a coin, and you may not always enjoy the result.
Of the 49 games against the Top 25, 18 were decided by six or fewer points — a two-possession game. Unfortunately for Gottfried, NC State went just 4-14 in two-possession games against ranked teams, including its most recent win — a thrilling two-point victory at Duke. That moment could very easily be the final happy memory of the last six seasons.
Stop me if you have heard this before — you certainly have! — but coaching at NC State means constantly being stacked up against your neighbors: Duke and North Carolina, which is almost certainly unfair. That is not to say it is wrong for Wolfpack fans to want to dethrone these two titans with some regularity; it is just easier said than done. Both programs are coached by Hall of Famers — Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski — and have rosters littered with high school All-Americans, many of which project as likely first-round NBA draft picks. Even Norman Dale would hesitate before diving head first into this pressure cooker.
Gottfried took that challenge head on; he never shied away from that paradigm. NC State had positive moments in recent years against UNC and Duke, including road victories at both Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Dean E. Smith Center. How many active coaches can claim that achievement?
The Wolfpack has played the Blue Devils 11 times since the 2011-12 season, winning three of those contests. NC State allowed 84 points per game in these 11 contests and scored an average of 76.4 points. Do the quick math — Duke’s average margin of victory hovered close to eight points per game.
The Blue Devils also averaged 8.9 made three-pointers per game against NC State and had six performances of 50-plus percent shooting. Duke, of course, annually puts together talented and perimeter-oriented offenses with a penchant for cashing in from deep; giving up a bunch of triples is not a problem specific to just NC State.
In four of those matchups, NC State shot a higher percentage from the field; the Wolfpack won three of these games. State scored well against Duke with Gottfried at the helm — 1.11 points per possession, per Sports-Reference — but allowed 1.22 points per possession. That is untenable. The Blue Devils never scored below 75 points in a game against Gottfried.
Ah, yes. Then there is North Carolina. In 13 games against the Tar Heels, Gottfried went 2-11. NC State allowed an average of 79.6 points per game and scored just 68.8 points. UNC connected on an average of just 6.4 three-pointers per game; NC State, on the other hand, made an average of 5.8. In six of those contests, NC State shot a higher percentage from the field but won just twice.
Under Gottfried, NC State was uncharacteristically bad at scoring the ball versus North Carolina. The Wolfpack has never once, with Gottfried as coach, finished outside the top 40 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric. However, against the Heels, the Pack frequently struggled — averaging less that 0.95 points per possession, according to Sports-Reference. NC State scored better than one point per possession only four times in 13 games against UNC.
This is why the NC State job is so tough: It is not easy to have a minimum of three games against Duke and North Carolina every year — let alone the remainder of the grueling ACC schedule. Gottfried had far greater success against the Devils and Heels than his predecessor, Sidney Lowe, but he still won just five of 24 meetings (a 20.8 win percentage).
Those performances weren’t what did Gottfried in; a lot of factors played into NC State’s decision to move on. However, who knows what becomes of Gottfried’s tenure in Raleigh with a few more favorable outcomes in key matchups.
The rest, well, is history.