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NC State Basketball: 3 keys to victory over Marquette in the Sweet 16

NC State is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015. What must the Wolfpack do to topple 2-seed Marquette?

Can DJ Burns help keep the Wolfpack's improbable run alive?
Can DJ Burns help keep the Wolfpack's improbable run alive? / Joe Sargent/GettyImages
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1. Contain Tyler Kolek

Despite earning a 2-seed in the South region, Marquette's tournament prospects hung in a precarious state when the bracket was unveiled on Selection Sunday. That's because the status of star point guard Tyler Kolek was unknown as he continued to deal with a grade 2 oblique strain that had already kept him out for multiple weeks.

Kolek returned to action in the first round against Western Kentucky, and he looked like his old self in racking up 18 points and 11 assists in 38 minutes. He posted another double-double against Colorado, scoring 21 and once again dishing out 11 assists to lead the Golden Eagles to their first Sweet 16 since 2013.

Kolek is a prototypical floor general. He leads the nation in assists per game, averages over 15 points, and shoots just under 40% from three. He's the best ballhandler on the team, and he's the guy that Shaka Smart wants with the ball in his hands when it's time to close out a game, as he shoots over 85% from the line. He's also a lefty, which may not sound like it matters, but it's one more small thing that defenses aren't accustomed to seeing.

When Kolek is playing well, which is most of the time, Marquette wins. If State can get him out of his comfort zone, though, they have a real chance. Kolek's rare off nights almost always result in Golden Eagle losses. Against UConn in mid-February, the Huskies held Kolek to seven points on 2-11 shooting and just three assists. They won going away, 81-53.

Butler held Kolek to only two points on January 10th. The George Mason transfer shot just 1-13 from the field and 0-7 from three, and though he did have eight assists, they weren't enough to avoid a rare home loss, as Marquette fell to the Bulldogs 69-62. Four days prior, Kolek also struggled, managing just five points on 1-6 shooting in a loss at Seton Hall.

Every team that plays Marquette understands that stopping Kolek is the key to victory. If only it were that simple. Marquette is 27-9 because Kolek is one of the best players in the country, and stopping him is a lot easier said than done. Casey Morsell is the Wolfpack's best defender, and though this assignment is much different than chasing Oakland's Jack Gohlke through a barrage of screens on the perimeter, he'll need to be up to the task to give the Pack a chance.