Is NC State A Great Program?

In newspapers, in sports bars, on the airwaves, in office hallways – you hear the argument waged. Is NC State a premier college basketball program? State fans argue with opponents until they are red in the face – we have two championships! We invented the ACC Tournament! Reynolds Coliseum hosted the Dixie Classic. Jim Valvano! David Thompson!
That was decades ago! Valvano cheated! Only two Final Fours since 1950! Les Robinson! Third-place in your own metro area!
So who is right? Do a program’s fans determine if their program is in the top tier? Certainly their opinion matters. If a team’s fans don’t think they are great, they aren’t. But much of what defines the nebulous criteria of eliteness is perception – what the national media and fans around the country think. Do your team’s games ever lead on SportsCenter? Can you find kids wearing your hats in New York City or Oklahoma City? Do top recruits always list your school among their suitors?


So, if perception is key, how is that perception built? Winning. You win and keep winning and eventually your program becomes like a blue chip stock. You need to win in your conference to build up local respect and fear and you also need to succeed on a national scale to get the attention of ESPN and little Johnny in Peoria.
To take a non-biased, fact-based look at NC State’s standing, I’m going to start with the ACC. I have those stats readily available, thanks to Charlie Board and the ACC Media Guide. Below you’ll find tables listing how each ACC program fared in the league, by decade. In future posts, I hope to do some similar looks at national success (NCAA tournament success, number one rankings, etc.) and individual success (numbers of McDonald’s All-Americans, All-Conference selections, All-American selections, NBA draft picks, etc) to see how the Wolfpack fares. My strong hunch is that I’ll find that the Pack faithful overstate their national standing. It’s commendable that they see themselves as an elite program, but they simply aren’t. Not any more.
So, let’s take a look at how the Wolfpack has fared in the ACC over the years.
Everett Case was stalking the sidelines at Reynolds Coliseum in the 50s, so I’d expect to find the Wolfpack on top of the charts for that decade (keep in mind that the ACC didn’t exist before 1954). But that’s not what happened. The Pack did well, but was second-best behind arch-rival North Carolina and just barely ahead of Duke. And as you’ll see, this is as good as it gets.

CUMULATIVE ACC STANDINGS, THE FIFTIES (1954-1959)
ACC Reg Seas     Overall
N. Carolina   60-21  .741  -   110-38  .743  12.5
N.C. State    57-21  .731  1.5 133-36  .787  -
Duke          56-24  .700  3.5 105-51  .673  21.5
Maryland      49-30  .620 10   102-54  .654  24.5
Wake Forest   41-41  .500 19.5  88-71  .553  40
Virginia      24-51  .320 33    67-89  .429  59.5
S. Carolina   17-63  .213 42.5  55-98  .359  70
Clemson       13-66  .165 46    39-105 .271  81.5

The sixties weren’t quite as kind to the Pack, as they were passed by both Duke and Wake Forest. Duke actually fared better than the Tar Heels for the decade.

CUMULATIVE ACC STANDINGS, THE SIXTIES (1960-1969)
ACC Reg Seas     Overall
Duke         105-33  .761  -   213-67  .761  -
N. Carolina  101-39  .721  5   189-72  .724  14.5
Wake Forest   81-59  .579 25   146-129 .531  64.5
N.C. State    70-70  .500 36   133-105 .559  59
S. Carolina   61-77  .442 44   122-125 .494  74.5
Maryland      55-85  .393 51   113-134 .457  83.5
S. Carolina   61-77  .442 44   122-125 .494  74.5
Clemson       52-88  .371 54   107-144 .426  91.5
Virginia      33-107 .236 73    69-176 .282 116.5

Now, the seventies were another decade where you’d expect to find NC State dominance. This is when they had their best teams led by the legendary David Thompson. But they still couldn’t catch the Heels. Carolina actually expanded their lead this decade. South Carolina bowed out after 1971, but their two years were sensational. Notice how Duke fell back in these years.

CUMULATIVE ACC STANDINGS: THE SEVENTIES (1970-1979)
ACC Reg Seas     Overall
W-L    Pct   GB  W-L     Pct   GB
*S. Carolina  24-4   .857  20   48-9   .842  67.5
N. Carolina   92-32  .742  -   239-65  .786  -
N.C. State    75-49  .605  17  208-80  .722  23
Maryland      67-57  .540  25  199-85  .701  30
Duke          53-71  .427  39  162-116 .583  64
Virginia      48-76  .387  44  151-121 .555  72
Wake Forest   46-78  .371  46  156-125 .555  71.5
Clemson       43-81  .347  49  143-127 .530  79

And now on to the 80s, maybe the best decade in ACC history. NC State was led by the incredibly popular Jim Valvano and won that memorable title in 1983, but slipped back to a tie for third with Duke, who was on a sharp rise by the end of the decade. Many people will be surprised to see that Virginia was the second best ACC program in the 80s, although the gap behind North Carolina is huge.

CUMULATIVE ACC STANDINGS: THE EIGHTIES (1980-1989)
ACC Reg Seas     Overall
W-L    Pct   GB  W-L     Pct   GB
N. Carolina  110-30  .786  -   281-63  .817  -
Virginia      82-58  .586  28  225-99  .694  46
Duke          74-66  .529  36  226-101 .691  46.5
N.C. State    74-66  .529  36  211-110 .657  58.5
Maryland      62-78  .443  48  185-124 .599  78.5
Georgia Tech  57-83  .407  53  165-133 .554  93
Clemson       52-88  .371  58  175-128 .568  85.5
Wake Forest   49-91  .350  61  159-134 .543  96.5

And now, the dark years for NC State. The Les Robinson and Herb Sendek decade. Dead last. This is also the decade that saw Duke overtake North Carolina (just barely).

CUMULATIVE ACC STANDINGS: THE NINETIES  (1990-1999)
ACC Reg Seas     Overall
W-L    Pct   GB  W-L     Pct   GB
Duke         109-47  .699  -   271-78  .777  -
N. Carolina  108-48  .692  1   270-78  .776    .5
Wake Forest   86-70  .551  23  199-107 .650  50.5
Maryland      78-78  .500  31  192-118 .619  59.5
Georgia Tech  73-83  .468  36  188-128 .595  66.5
*Florida St.  56-72  .438  39  136-106 .562  81.5
Virginia      69-87  .442  40  180-132 .577  72.5
Clemson       60-96  .385  49  180-132 .577  72.5
N.C. State    49-107 .314  60  149-154 .492  99  

Which brings us to the present. Sendek has made up ground, but we’re 70% of the way through the aughts, and the Pack is in fifth place.

CUMULATIVE ACC STANDINGS, 2000-2006
ACC Reg Seas      Overall
W-L    Pct   GB   W-L     Pct
Duke          90-22  .804   -   209-36  .853
Maryland      69-43  .616  21   159-73  .685
N. Carolina   66-46  .589  24   150-80  .652
Wake Forest   62-50  .554  28   152-77  .664
N.C. State    57-55  .509  33   138-88  .611
Miami         14-18  .438  41    34-29  .540
Virginia      48-64  .429  42   119-92  .564
Georgia Tech  48-64  .429  42   120-100 .545
Virginia Tech 12-20  .375  48    30-30  .500
Florida St.   37-75  .330  53    99-112 .469
Clemson       30-82  .268  60    94-116 .448  

In conclusion, I think it’s pretty clear that NC State falls far behind UNC and Duke in the ACC. That’s not surprising, but I think if you factor in that the recent decades count much more in public perception, you have to concede that it’s difficult to argue that State is a stronger program than Maryland or even Wake Forest.

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