The Wolfpack have already accomplished the unbelievable in knocking top-seeded Villanova from the NCAA tournament and shattering millions of brackets in the process.
Since 52.7 percent of brackets on ESPN have Duke as one of the Final Four teams—my own included—the Blue Devils' path to Indianapolis seems much clearer than that of their neighbor, but N.C. State might stand the chance of making it as well.
After besting the Wildcats, what could be left for the Cinderella squad but to double its NCAA win count and reach its first Final Four since 1983? For those of you who don’t know how long ago that is, 1983 was the same year Motorola released a new-fangled gadget called the mobile phone.
Thirty-two years—and six iPhones—later, N.C. State is two wins away from Indianapolis, and their chances have never looked better.
Eight Reasons N.C. State will reach the Final Four
8. No one saw it coming
In preseason polls, no one picked the Wolfpack to finish better than ninth out of 15 ACC teams, yet they finished seventh with an identical conference record to Miami, and the only teams who finished higher were the other five ACC teams earning bids to the Big Dance. Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia were slated to finish in the top four in the ACC, but come conference play N.C. State beat all of these teams at least once—except the Cavaliers, who can brag about that win from their couches while the Wolfpack move on to the Sweet 16.
7. They win in unexpected ways
Villanova was certainly unexpected, but the Wolfpack wouldn’t have even met the Wildcats if it wasn’t for bench player Beejay Anya’s last second bucket to lift his team to victory against LSU in the Round of 64. The basket was one of just two Anya made all night, despite playing 18 minutes and grabbing seven rebounds.
Anya might be something of a secret weapon for N.C. State as tournament play continues. The sophomore forward dropped 14 points in the win against Duke and also managed eight points and 10 rebounds against Louisville when the two teams met during the regular season. The fact that the Wolfpack can look beyond their starting five in the tightest moments of the game certainly poses a threat for opponents.
6. State fans deserve it
As a native of the triangle, I grew up surrounded by the Duke-UNC rivalry, and it’s uncommon to come across a third-party supporter. There are very few N.C. State fans—or people who admit to being N.C. State fans—outside of Raleigh. And yet, even though the team had only made it to the Sweet 16 twice since 1989 before this season's appearance, the few Wolfpack fans that remain are as passionate as any Cameron Crazie. Obviously, there are plenty of fans that are still waiting for their team’s day of greatness, but it’s hard not to feel sorry for an ’83 graduate whose children haven’t seen anything more than a subpar N.C. State basketball team.
5. They’ve already beaten Louisville once
After rallying to beat Duke in early January, the Wolfpack spiraled into a depressing 2-6 streak that finally snapped Feb. 14 with a 74-65 win against the then-No. 9 Cardinals. Guards Anthony "Cat" Barber and Trevor Lacey combined for 35 points and the entire squad scored 32 points in the paint compared to Louisville’s 16.
As the second meeting between the two teams rapidly approaches, Cardinal head coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly seeking revenge after his team allowed Barber to “put on a clinic of beating everybody off the dribble.” But what N.C. State did once it can certainly do again, as Barber is averaging 15.0 points per game in the tournament so far and shows no sign of slowing down.
4. The ACC is dominant
Assuming the Wolfpack pull past the Cardinals to the Elite Eight, head coach Mark Gottfried’s squad will face the winner of the Oklahoma-Michigan State matchup. The Sooners are one of just two teams to advance from the Big 12 along with West Virginia, and even if they manage a win against the Spartans, the ACC has shown itself far more skilled come tournament time.
Given Tom Izzo's statistically unbelievable success in NCAA tournament play, the Wolfpack will likely have to prepare for the Spartans en route to their Final Four appearance. Michigan State may have knocked out an ACC team in the Round of 32, but N.C. State's conference still managed a better record after the first weekend. A game against the Spartans will certainly be the toughest matchup in the Wolfpack’s path to the Final Four—both teams have impressive rebounding abilities and three players averaging double digits—but the Wolfpack have one thing Tom Izzo's star squad does not: a win against Duke.
3. Their guards are unguardable
Although Trevor Lacey’s 15.7 points per game lead the team, sophomore Barber has recently burst onto the stage as the team’s leading scorer in the tournament. Rounding out the backcourt trio is senior Ralston Turner, who transferred from LSU only to knock the Tigers out of the tournament his senior year and averages 12.8 points per game.
The guards aren't only sharpshooters—Turner once made eight treys in a single game, and Barber and Lacey both shoot 39 percent from beyond the arc—but effective passers as well. The three starters combine for 8.0 assists per game and make defenses pay when their teammates are left open.
2. They put the "post" in postseason
Although Lacey, Barber and Turner have performed well for the majority of the regular season, the Wolfpack have benefitted in tournament play from the improved performance of starting forward Abdul-Malik Abu, who averages 6.4 points on the season but has had 13 in each NCAA tournament game so far.
Post players going off in postseason play seems to be trend for N.C. State, as its other starting forward, Lennard Freeman, managed a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds against Villanova despite quietly averaging 3.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. All five starters seem to be finding their rhythm at exactly the right moment—just in time for the Final Four.
1. Coincidence? I think not.
At this point, N.C. State has notched regular-season wins against Duke and North Carolina and has eliminated a No. 1 seed in the tournament. The last time any ACC team accomplished that was in the 2001-02 season, and the team that did it—Maryland—went on to win the national championship. The last time the Wolfpack beat the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and a top seed was in 1982-83, the same year N.C. State won its last national championship. Call me superstitious, but it seems that the Final Four might not be the final stop for this Wolfpack squad.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.