During the first round of the 2013 ACC Tournament, the North Carolina State Wolfpack picked up a statement win against Virginia Tech. Led by Richard Howell's double-double, N.C. State won 80-63.
After advancing to the quarterfinals, the path for N.C. State to reach the ACC Championship game has become clear and manageable.
Going into the game against Virginia Tech, there was reason to believe that the Wolfpack could be in for a struggle. The Hokies were led by Erick Green, the nation's leading scorer, and Tech took N.C. State to overtime on Feb. 16.
Not this time.
Howell finished with game-highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season. C.J. Leslie, T.J. Warren and Scott Wood all complemented Howell by scoring in double-figures.
Point guard Lorenzo Brown added nine points and 12 assists. He also held Green—season slash line of .482/.392/.815—to 5-of-19 shooting.
Freshman Rodney Purvis sealed the victory with a highlight-reel dunk.
After starting 14-2, N.C. State went just 8-7 to close out the regular season. This win, however, righted all wrongs.
It was the statement that the Wolfpack needed to breed a run through March Madness.
This is not to say that the Wolfpack are now the favorites, as the seeding-system exists for a reason. N.C. State has fallen short of expectations since day one.
With that being said, there are no games that the Wolfpack cannot win en route to the ACC Tournament finals.
Top Five Talent
On paper, the N.C. State Wolfpack are one of the best teams in all of college basketball. Unfortunately, paper rosters are meaningless if the team can't perform on the floor.
The fact of the matter is, the Wolfpack are college basketball's Los Angeles Lakers—grossly underachieving but as talented and dangerous as any team in the nation.
Entering the 2012-13 college basketball season, the Wolfpack were ranked No. 6 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Poll. They backed that ranking up by starting the season at 14-2, earning a win over then-No. 1 Duke in the process.
Unfortunately, a 51-50 loss at Maryland on Jan. 16 changed everything. The Wolfpack lost five of six games, with four losses coming by three points or less.
Since then, however, they're 7-2 and coming off a 17-point obliteration of Virginia Tech. If they can get it all together, we're looking at an elite team.
Even if they can't, the talent suggests they can pull off an upset or two.
Quarterfinals against Virginia
According to the seeding, the N.C. State Wolfpack are the underdogs headed into their game against Virginia. N.C. State is a five-seed, while Virginia is the four-seed and figurative "home team."
With that being said, the Wolfpack are the better team—on paper.
The first time these two teams met, the Cavaliers won 58-55. Joe Harris had 22 points in that game and the Wolfpack had one of the most devastating second half collapses of the season.
N.C. State scored one point during the final 4:24.
Since that game, the Wolfpack are averaging 76.4 points per game. They're doing so while ranking fifth in the nation in team field goal percentage.
Matched up with a Virginia team which averages 64.3 points per game, N.C. State's paper advantage continues.
The fact of the matter is, numbers are meaningless in this instance. The Wolfpack are a supremely athletic team that is explosive on offense and capable of playing lockdown D.
As long as N.C. State pulls it together, they should take down the Cavaliers.
Semifinals against Miami (FL) or Boston College
The Miami Hurricanes earned and deserved the ACC Regular Season title. The Boston College Eagles are led by a red-hot freshman in Olivier Hanlan.
Neither of those teams holds an advantage over N.C. State if the Wolfpack are on their game.
The Wolfpack may be struggling during the past two months, but we cannot ignore the quality of their personnel. More importantly, we cannot fail to acknowledge their unparalleled balance of youth and experience.
Richard Howell and Scott Wood are both seniors with one final chance at winning an ACC Tournament title. Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie are juniors with NBA potential.
Paired with explosive playmaker Purvis, the Wolfpack have the perfect storm to be the best team in the nation. So why write them off when the upside is so high?
Quite simply, we wouldn't dare.
The reeling Wolfpack lost 79-78 during their first meeting with Miami. They won both battles against Boston College, including an 82-64 victory on Feb. 27.
It's not going to be easy and they certainly aren't the favorites—but the path is manageable for N.C. State to reach the ACC Championship.