April 19, 2024

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NC State has the magnetic DJ Burns in the Sweet 16

NC State has the magnetic DJ Burns in the Sweet 16

Coming off the ACC Tournament, the Wolfpack has veteran shot-making guards and the magnetic career of DJ Burns.

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DALLAS – There is only one double-digit seed remaining in the NCAA Men's Basketball TournamentBut it would be a mistake to call North Carolina a Cinderella.

Cinderella doesn't have two national championships, an arena that seats nearly 20,000 people, a coach who makes $3 million a year, and a fan base that expects to compete with blue-blood neighbors Duke and North Carolina.

instead of, North Carolina State It may be the best representation of what college basketball really looks like in an era where hundreds of players move around each season, where coaches build rosters on a yearly basis and where fan expectations rarely align with true expectations. The quality of the team they support.

The main difference between NC State and a few dozen teams sitting at home this weekend is that the Wolfpack figured it out in time.

“When you start basketball and you have a bunch of new players, it takes a long time,” N.C. State coach Kevin Kitts said Thursday. “It took us a while to get where we are.”

NC State is not favored to win Marquette Here in the Southern Conference on Friday, but few basketball fans would be surprised if they did. If you've watched the Wolfpack play their last seven games, you won't see a No. 11 seed but instead a team featuring solid guards, veteran shot-creators and an attractive center in DJ Burns with elite footwork and passing skills.

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Based on the eye test, it doesn't appear that NC State got this far by chance. But it also begs the question: Why did the 17-14 Wolfpack enter the ACC Tournament with a coach headed toward the hot seat before turning into one of the best teams in college basketball?

“I thought we could do it all the time,” Burns said. “It was just about doing the things necessary to get the job done. I think we gained and maintained that momentum.”

Wolfpack fans who have watched this team closely all season have a host of theories. They blew some winnable games that tarnished their record. The ACC was a better league than it was given credit for. Burns was not in good shape and tired easily. Even Kitts said he thought there were flashes throughout the year that showed potential.

But NC State didn't finish 10th in the ACC by accident. Over the course of a four-month season, he lost to every good team he played for (and a few bad ones too) apart from a close road win in Clemson And win the house Virginia.

Heading into the ACC Tournament, NC State had lost four in a row and seven of nine. He left with five wins in five days and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that also led to an automatic two-year contract extension for Keatts.

“We came to that tournament with a new life,” the goalkeeper said DJ Horn He said. “We knew it was a new season for us to go out there and accomplish something. Just looking at our entire season, we knew we were a good team.”

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Mediocre teams have had strings of late-season performances before in college basketball, but they don't usually last that long or include that many good wins. NC State didn't beat Duke, Virginia and North Carolina by luck or hot shooting — just really good basketball that continued until last weekend when it knocked off Texas Tech and Oakland to reach the Sweet 16.

They are often asked what has changed. The honest answer is everything and nothing.

A deep dive into NC State's roster reflects what college basketball really looks like in 2024: Burns and Horn, the leading scorers at their third college. Protect Casey Morsell He is a graduate student who played four years at Virginia. Jayden Taylor, who averages 11.5 points, has been at Butler the past two seasons. Mohamed Diarra, a 6-foot-10 forward who was a defensive revelation in the postseason, transferred from junior college to Missouri to Raleigh. In fact, none of NC State's seven-man NCAA Tournament players started their careers at NC State.

It's the ultimate Vagabond team.

And perhaps that's why it took the Wolfpack until the last possible moment to realize his potential.

“It's weird,” Cates said. “We brought in eight different players, and it took a little longer than I thought it would. We played well early and after that I thought we were okay. Then we kind of found our stride once we got into March a little bit. But 'if you look at our (ACC) schedule,' Every game we lost, except for one or two, we were in it. We had to clean up some things that we didn't do well and then we obviously improved.

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“What has changed? We have become smarter. We have the same players who play with more confidence. We have understood what we have to do in order not to beat ourselves.”

NC State may have the best argument for expanding the NCAA Tournament. In an era of so many transfers and building entire teams so quickly, 30 games may not be enough time to really get to know who they are or what they are capable of. How many teams are left out that can really make a run?

On the other hand, the unique nature of the NCAA Tournament and automatic bids give teams like NC State one last chance to do something special. Would it diminish the unique and magical nature of what the NC State team has accomplished if we let everyone in on it? That's part of what makes this system special: What North Carolina is doing makes sense now, but a few weeks ago it seemed improbable.

“Even in our meeting before we went to (the ACC Tournament), Kitts wrote on the board it was 0-0,” Morsell said. “It's like, every team is 0-0. Every game had its own championship, literally. We never looked ahead. We never looked at anyone.”

In the end, it doesn't really matter why NC State didn't have a better season. She's here now. She earned her spot in the Sweet 16 the hard way. This may not happen yet.