Busting Brackets

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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3. Win big on the boards

As a team, NC State is mediocre at rebounding the ball. The Wolfpack are still better than Marquette, however, a fact that Kevin Keatts needs to exploit on Friday. That starts with Mohamed Diarra, who has become a one-man, glass-crashing demon since the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. The junior averages 7.7 rebounds on the year, but he's nearly doubled that in the past two weeks, pulling down between 12 and 16 boards in each of his past six games.

It's no surprise that a Shaka Smart-coached team excels at taking the ball away. Of the teams still alive in the tournament, only Houston and Iowa State are better than Marquette at forcing steals. NC State has multiple ballhandlers to rely on, and in fact ranks above every team in the field at protecting the rock. This nullifies the one way the Golden Eagles typically overcome their rebounding deficiency, as without dominating the turnover battle, they have no way to get extra possessions.

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Vegas has the spread for this game at Marquette -6.5, meaning despite the seed disparity, the experts expect this to be close. If State can keep the turnover margin near even, Diarra can go to work. The second chance points the Wolfpack get off of his boards can make all the difference in a tight game, and might just mean the difference between going home and reaching the program's first Elite Eight in 38 years.