World

March Madness quite possibly offers the greatest postseason experience available to sports fans today. In fact, Crain & Companys Jake Crain goes so far as to say that it is, in fact, the greatest. Unlike other sports, the tournament layout allows for incredible underdog/longshot stories and this year is no exception.

This years Final Four consists of some expected teams, including two number one seeds in Purdue and returning champion UConn, a number four seed in Alabama, and is rounded out with the Cinderella 11 seed, North Carolina State the most unexpected teams to be in this position.

To understand how NC State elbowed its way into this years NCAA Final Four, we have to go back a few weeks in the season. NC State plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), a basketball division traditionally dominated by blue bloods like UNC and Duke. When the ACC Tournament rolled around at the end of the regular season, the Wolfpack were on a four-game losing streak and head coach Kevin Keatts was in the hot seat.

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Keatts tenure had been lackluster, with many fans and boosters calling for his head after this season. NC States program had a mediocre ceiling that few believed would ever be broken. They hadnt won an ACC Championship title in 37 years.

Keatts and NC State needed to win their conference tournament to even get into the NCAA tournament and no one believed it would happen. Not only would they have to win out, but theyd have to face Duke and UNC, two storied programs that have plagued the Tobacco Road rivalry.

The Wolfpack went on to win five straight, including a buzzer-beater three that pushed the UVA game into double overtime.

Coach Kevin Keatts not only secured his job, he earned some sizable bonuses : ACC Championship title: A $400,000 pay increase, a $100,000 bonus, and a 2-year contract extension through April 2030. An additional $25,000 bonus for the teams first victory in the tournament, and $50,000 for each of the next three for a total of $175,000.

NC States current run as an 11 seed feels a lot like history repeating itself.

Every Wolfpack fan, and likely every college basketball fan, knows the infamous story of the 1983 team and their epic tournament run to win the National Championship under head coach Jim Valvano. The 1983 season was an unbelievable tale of determination and more famously, never giv[ing] up.

For those unfamiliar, back in 1983, NC State needed to win an ACC Championship title to get into the NCAA tournament. Sound familiar? They started as a number 6 seed and made their way to the championship game where they faced off against the heavily favored Houston Cougars who had future Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Thanks to a buzzer-beating dunk by Lorenzo Charles after a missed desperation shot, NC State and coach Valvano defied the odds and pulled off a tremendous upset. That 1983 run gave birth to more than a winning standard, it became a way to see the world and the things around you.

It inspired the infamous Jimmy V Speech delivered on March 4, 1993, at the ESPYs and created a culture that continues to invigorate not only Wolfpack fans, but sports fans in general.

Once again, NC State has given the country something to believe in. Not only has this team re-ignited its fan base, but it has also given the country new heroes and underdogs who inspire them.

One of those heroes, DJ Burns Jr., has played a critical role in the Wolfpacks success. Burns has proven to be a force on the court, has a contagious personality, and hes an outright likable guy. Burns has brought a popularity to the team that it hasnt seen in years. Show this to anyone who says mens college basketball is dead and has no superstars.

This is the line outside of an APPLEBEES!

Final Four Fever has hit Raleigh. pic.twitter.com/cB37nNH0rf

Mid-Major Madness (@mid_madness) April 3, 2024

Burns started his career in the SEC at Tennessee, transferred to Winthrop back in his home state of South Carolina, and finally landed at NC State for the 2022/2023 season. Burns made an immediate impact, but his star really started to rise during the postseason.

He stands at 69, weighs 275 pounds, and after his performance this year he could arguably have a successful career in the NFL. In fact, several reporters have received communications from NFL teams with potential interest in adding Burns as an offensive tackle.

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Against all odds, and 14 regular season losses, this team has continued its incredible postseason run with nine consecutive wins. The Wolfpack will now face off against another Goliath opponent in No. 1 Purdue this Saturday, perhaps the most difficult opponent theyve faced yet. Purdues Zach Edey, standing at 74, has become a standout in his own right, dominating this years tournament. The Burns-Edey match up makes this game a must-watch battle of the bigs.

NC State faces Purdue on Saturday, April 6, at 6:09 pm ET at The Phoenix Convention Center.

Current head coach Kevin Keatts and this NC State team have done something that hasnt been done since 1983. Its a run for the ages and a story of a lifetime. The spirit of that team can be felt in this years tournament and has given fans something to celebrate a true Cinderella story that transcends wins and losses.

Go Pack.

Articles You May Like

Mercedes EV plant in Alabama narrowly declines to join UAW, bucking trend
Doctor in blood scandal says patients infected with HIV and Hepatitis C is ‘worst thing you can imagine’
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, 68, hints he’ll retire sooner than expected
OpenAI disbands safety team focused on risk of artificial intelligence causing ‘human extinction’
Infected blood victims to get £210,000 interim compensation payment