The Improbable Final Four Run by North Carolina State

by Team Del Genio

Sunday, Mar 31, 2024
North Carolina State was trailing at halftime to a bad Louisville team in their opening game of the ACC tournament less than three weeks ago. The Wolfpack were trailing a Cardinals squad that went 3-17 in the regular season in conference play was not very surprising. NC State limped into the ACC tournament on a four-game losing streak. All four of their losses to Florida State, North Carolina, Duke, and Pittsburgh were by seven or more points. They had a 9-11 record in the conference when their tournament began in earnest two Tuesdays when the oddsmakers installed them as the favorite against Louisville. 

After that nine-point victory against the team in the basement in the ACC, head coach Kevin Keatts’ team flipped the switch by pulling off four straight upset victories against Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina to win the tournament and vulture the automatic bid. The Wolfpack may not have qualified for the NIT before those four upset victories last week. The only two NCAA tournament teams they had beaten in the regular season were Virginia and Clemson. 

How did they do it? At the time, it seemed merely a product of some fortunate luck and good shooting. They had their best shooting effort in their previous fifteen games by making 52.9% of their shots against Louisville to win that game despite the Cardinals making 55.2% of their shots. Syracuse turned the ball over 19 times in 26.8% of their possessions in their second game in the tournament the next day. Duke only made 43.1% of their shots against them in their upset win in the quarterfinals. They needed overtime against Virginia despite the Cavaliers making only 37.9% of their shots. Then as a 10-point underdog to North Carolina in the championship game, they shot 54.9% from the field with a 6-of-14 mark from 3-point land to upset the Tar Heels, 84-76, two Sundays ago. North Carolina was uncharacteristically cold from the field by shooting just 37.3%. 

In their five games in the ACC tournament, NC State shot 37.6% from 3-point range. Sometimes teams find themselves in the conference tournament. Sometimes teams simply find temporary lightning in the bottle. For the Wolfpack, we thought it was the former when we took Texas Tech in the opening round of the NCAA tournament against them. At that time, they ranked 142nd in the country with a 34.2% shooting percentage from 3-point land. They ranked tenth in the ACC and 91st in the nation in defensive efficiency. They were only forcing 12 turnovers per game at just a 16.2% clip of their opponent’s possessions in conference play and below the 17.1% national average. Yet NC State made 5 of their 13 shots from 3-point range against the Red Raiders and 50.9% of their shots overall in an 80-67 victory. Texas Tech only shot 38.7% from the field and missed 24 of their 31 shots from 3-point land. 

The oddsmakers then installed them as a favorite when they drew a 14-seeded Oakland team coming off their upset victory against Kentucky as a 13-point underdog. Yet the Wolfpack needed overtime for the second time in eight days to outlast the Grizzlies, 79-73. Oakland shot only 36.8% from the field. 

With the two-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles on deck in the Sweet Sixteen, the oddsmakers installed NC State as a 7.5-point underdog. Yet the Wolfpack pulled off their sixth upset victory in their last eight games since rallying against Louisville in the ACC tournament in a 67-58 victory. NC State held the Golden Eagles to 33.3% shooting which was a season-low for them defensively. Marquette missed 27 of their 31 shots from 3-point land. The Wolfpack deserve credit for holding their last eight opponents to 28.8% shooting from 3-point range. Yet anyone watching that game observed that Marquette missed open 3 after open 3. 

To reach the Final Four, the Wolfpack have to play one of their victims again during this torrid three-week march. In their victory against Duke in the ACC tournament, the Blue Devils missed 15 of their 20 shots from 3-point land. NC State head coach Kevin Keatts deserves credit for turning his team’s season around. He might have been fired if his team had not rallied in the second half to beat Louisville. The Wolfpack are playing better on defense, and the offense has been energized by playing through D.J. Burns. But they were allowing their opponents to make 35.2% of their 3-pointers before the ACC tournament. Shooting variance has played a role in their success. 

Ask this Blue Devils team that led the ACC in the regular season by making 38.5% of their 3-pointers. Duke came into the Elite Eight game as confident as ever after they knocked off Houston, 54-51, as a four-point underdog. Mental and physical toughness had been a question mark for this team. The Blue Devils took an early lead and went into halftime with a 27-21 score. Yet the Wolfpack fought back to take the lead early in the second half before taking control of the game and winning by a 76-64 score. Duke missed 15 of their 20 shots from the 3-point line. NC State only made 3 of their 13 shots from 3-point range yet dominated inside where they converted 25 of their 47 shots inside the arc. Burns scored 29 points with 26 of those points coming from his 13 of 19 shooting from 2-point range. 

North Carolina State improbably advances to the Final Four to play Purdue with the oddsmakers initially installing them as 9.5-point underdogs. Perhaps their bubble bursts in Indianapolis where the Final Four will be played. Yet with seven upset victories during their nine-game winning streak, bettors simply fading the Wolfpack’s improbable victories would have dug themselves a deep hole. Buyer beware if you continue to bet against this NC State team. 

Good luck - TDG.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2024 Al McMordie's All Rights Reserved.