Led by Jim Valvao, North Carolina State is the most improbable NCAA Champion in history. The Wolfpack entered the ACC Tournament likely needing to win it to get into the NCAA Tournament. After a 71-70 first round win over Wake Forest, NC State faced the unenviable task of defeating ACC Co-Champions North Carolina and Virginia in the semis and finals to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
They held on to eliminate UNC and Michael Jordan 81-74 in overtime. After beating the best player ever, they next matched up with UVA and three-time player of the year, Ralph Sampson. An 81-78 victory gave NC State the Conference tournament champions and the league's automatic bid.
In the first round, NC State had to rally from a six point deficit with 24 seconds left before the three-point field-goal was introduced to the game. After the win over Pepperdine, the Wolfpack upset UNLV 71-70 in the second round, and won easily against tenth-seeded Utah to advance to the West regional finals for a fourth meeting of the season with Virginia and Sampson. They survived another tight game 63-62 to move on the the Final Four. Behind Whittenberg's 24 points, NC State overcame a five point halftime deficit to win.
The Wolfpack won their semifinal game with Georgia, dubbed the JV 67-60 to match-up with number one Houston, who had defeated number two Louisville for a championship bid.
Valvano did a brilliant coaching job in the final. Houston had a clear advantage in talent but were somehow matched by NC State.
It all came down to the final play.
In one of the most famous plays in tournament history, Whittenberg fired up a shot from 30 feet away, and Charles caught it and dunked for the 52-50 win. Valvano ran around looking for someone to hug and the players all seemed to take a while to realize what they had just accomplished.
The Cougars had Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon who would do on to be named to the NBA 50 greatest players in NBA history. NC State was more cerebral. Backcourt mates Sidney Lowe and Derrick Whittenberg would later become Head Coaches and reserve Terry Gannon became an accomplished sports broadcaster.
Drexler once said it was a higher power that meant for NC St. to win. The national championship gave Valvano instant national credibility. His death at age 47 from cancer was the inspiration for the V Foundation. They have raised $90 million for cancer research in the 17 years since. Drexler suggested without that victory, the V-Foundation would not have had as much success.