Mark Gottfried got better
The book on Gottfried coming into the season was that he could recruit with anybody but that he wasn't great at translating talent to wins on the court. It didn't take long for him to win over fans with his personality and charisma - the guy clearly knew the right things to say to his fan base.
Gottfried pretty quickly displayed an acumen for game-planning, installing his UCLA High-Post offense and getting it operating efficiently by December. But the defense was lagging behind in a familiar fashion to Gottfried's Alabama teams - good at scoring but unable to stop the opposition.
I'm not sure how much credit goes to what Gottfried learned as an analyst, or how much credit goes to his coaching staff led by long-time head coach Bobby Lutz, but the Pack got better defensively as the season rolled along. That all culminated in a fairly impressive stretch of defensive play from the Virginia Tech game onward. It's clear that whatever the reasons behind the change, the Gottfried that left Alabama is not the same guy that arrived on campus at NC State - somewhere along the way he got better.
The ACC didn't have a bad year, its on a downward spiral
Pomeroy has ranked conferences based on strength every year since 2003. From 2003-2010, the ACC never ranked lower than 3rd. So when the league fell to 4th in 2011 it seemed like something of a fluke - a down year brought down more than anything by a spectacularly bad Wake Forest team.
But this season the league fell another spot to 5th, falling behind the SEC. And it wasn't just Wake's fault - GT, Wake and BC all had spectacularly bad years both in and out of conference. But the league was supposed to be top-heavy with UNC, Duke and FSU. None of those teams played up to expectations in the NCAA tournament, as NC State was the only team in the league to out-perform its seeding (FSU, Duke & UNC under-performed, UVA met expectations based on seed).
And things aren't really looking any better for the league next season. UNC, FSU & Duke all lose some of their best players and will probably take a step backward. Maryland, NC State & Miami should all be better but the bottom of the league could be as bad as this season. Until things get turned around at places like BC, Wake and GT its hard to envision the ACC regaining its top-3 place among the conferences anytime soon.
I will never fully understand how to value a pass-first point guard that doesn't play defense
Marshall is the most polarizing player in the ACC that I've ever encountered in my ~10 years of closely following the league. No one generating more debate. He was pretty clearly one of the best point guards in the country (and a deserving winner of the Cousy Award), but it was a very weak year of point guards across the nation and he was arguably not even one of the best five players in the ACC.
I still don't know what I think about his value to UNC, or his overall prospects as a professional. He was clearly important - but was he the key piece to the team or just the player with the worst back-up? I sincerely wished that he would have returned to school so we could watch him play in an environment where he had to carry a bigger offensive load for the Heels. I think going out was the right decision though, because he enters a draft very thing in point guards and avoids the possibility of being exposed next year at UNC with weaker players around him.
When the team you cover gets bounced, you lose interest
I probably just forgot this over the long, cold winter called the Sidney Lowe era. But having a rooting interest in the NCAA tournament changes everything. In that time I became accustomed to rooting for stories, ACC teams and my own bracket picks. You get engaged at a different level and it keeps you interested from the opening tip until One Shining Moment.
But when you cover (and root for, obviously) a team that's actually in the thing. You sort of get laser focused on that story, especially when that story spans two weekends and becomes as fun and engaging as NC State's psuedo-Cinderella run. And when the Howell's final shot came up well short (seriously why did you not pass that Rich), it killed not only the Pack's season but my personal interest in the rest of the tournament.
From that point forward I sort of half-heartedly watched. I think it was a combination, especially the last week, of NC State getting bounced and their being no interesting teams left (I more or less disliked every team that made the Final Four).
Not a lesson learned, but here's my way way too soon prediction for the ACC next year.
1. Florida State
2. North Carolina
4. NC State
8. Virginia Tech
10. Boston College
11. Georgia Tech
12. Fighting Bzdeliks.