By Mychal Hunter
So, last night I put out the Selection Show Special podcast immediately after the entire bracket was introduced and my outlook for the conference pretty bleak. In a moment of clarity, so to speak, I realized that one team that I have been pretty big on for the last 6 weeks or so has a big opportunity in front of them.
The Wolfpack of North Carolina State could blow the top half of that Midwest bracket all to hell.
NC State was seeded as a #9 in the tournament and will face off against the Pirates of Seton Hall on Thursday at 4:30 in Wichita. The Pirates were a popular team in the preseason and chosen to contend with Villanova for the Big East title but those expectations were seemingly a bit too lofty. Kevin Willard’s group finished 10-8 in conference play which is still a good season, given the fact that the Big East has provided this tournament with two #1 seeds but again, the expectations for this group were much higher.
Angel Delgado is Seton Hall’s center, a double double machine and fantastic rim protector but I don’t know how much he is going to like chasing Omer Yurtseven around the perimeter on those pick and pop plays he likes to run with Markel Johnson. Another key note when looking at this match-up is the health of the Pirates leading scorer Desi Rodriguez, who sprained a knee in a recent game against Providence. The senior wing only played 16 minutes in the Big East tournament loss to Butler, he averages around 17 ppg.
I think the Pack makes it out of the first round here.
The more interesting match-up for Kevin Keatts’s crew will be in the second round when they will face the Jayhawks from Kansas. This is basically a home game for Kansas but State matches up with them really well and this isn’t typical Kansas team of years past. The Jayhawks are also dealing with huge injury as center Udoka Azubuike is dealing with an MCL sprain and did not play in the Big XII tournament. This left Coach Bill Self to rely on freshman Silvio De Sousa and sophomore Mitch Lightfoot to provide quality minutes at the five spot. De Sousa, a mid-season addition after graduating high school early, did play well in the Big XII conference tournament, logging a double double in the championship game but you again have to like Yurtseven’s match-up in this potential second round pairing as well.
If the Pack is able to get into the round of 16 they will most likely face fellow ACC squad Clemson or the weakest #4 seed in the tournament, Auburn. NC State split the regular season contests with Clemson and Auburn is certainly no world beater given their schedule and are also dealing with injuries.
Obviously the Pack need Markel Johnson to continue to play at a high level and it is difficult to trust a team that just came out extremely flat against Boston College in the ACC Tournament but these match-ups provide ample opportunity for State make some serious noise in this region.