Sure it holds a win over then top-ranked Duke in its back pocket, but North Carolina State may feel like an underdog in tonight’s contest with North Carolina.
The Wolfpack were the darlings of the preseason as the coaches and the media all predicted they were going to be the team to beat in the ACC.
No one could blame them because Roy Williams was trying to figure out what kind of team he had returning in Chapel Hill following the loss of four starters to the NBA.
And over in Durham, Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devils were licking their wounds after getting manhandled by Lehigh in their first game in last season’s NCAA tournament.
N.C. State, on the other hand, had the majority of last year’s team coming back, including its star C.J. Leslie. Plus, coach Mark Gottfried went out and brought in one of the top recruiting classes to Raleigh.
After a bit of a shaky beginning this season, the Wolfpack appeared to have found their footing at the start of the ACC slate. For the first time in nearly 25 years, N.C. State opened 3-0 in conference play and appeared ready to fulfill their preseason expectations.
Then something happened to the Wolfpack after posting that huge 84-76 win over the Blue Devils — they forgot how to win. N.C. State dropped a heart-breaker to Maryland in its first outing after Duke, barely beat an average Clemson team and then was embarrassed by Wake Forest Tuesday night.
Now the Tar Heels come to town.
Earlier this month, Williams was in the same situation Gottfried finds himself in now, questioning his team’s desire and will to fight.
The Tar Heels seemed to have responded to Williams’ call to action.
After losing its first two ACC contests, North Carolina has ripped off three straight victories. While Florida State, Georgia Tech and Maryland may not be in the discussion for a trip to Atlanta for the Final Four, a win is still a win no matter the opponent.
Even though this game may not determine the ACC title, it is still an important because the winner can use the momentum to try and reel in Miami, while the loser will free fall into the middle of the conference standings and possibly onto the NCAA tournament bubble.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.