Busting Brackets

Stop calling N.C. State a Cinderella, the glass slipper doesn't fit

N.C. State has become America's team this postseason, but we don't need a Cinderella story for the NCAA Tournament to be great. Let's face it, calling a program with two national championships in its fourth Final Four a Cinderella is just disrespectful.
North Carolina State Wolfpack forward D.J. Burns Jr.
North Carolina State Wolfpack forward D.J. Burns Jr. / Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

After No. 13 seed Oakland, the Horizon League champions, beat Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Jack Golke, the star of the night, wanted to let America know that “we’re not a Cinderella,” as he told CBS postgame. It was just the second NCAA Tournament win in program history for Oakland, a school that only began playing Division I basketball in 1999. 

If the Golden Grizzlies went on a run in the tournament, it was inevitable that they would have been crowned this year’s Cinderella, a double-digit seed from a small one-bid conference with no previous tournament success and an unlikely fan favorite. Well, the team that beat Oakland in the second round fits a few of those requirements, double-digit seed with an unlikely fan favorite, but don’t be like FanSided staff writer Ericka Brockish, stop calling N.C. State a Cinderella. 

The Wolfpack went into the ACC Tournament as the No. 10 seed with a 17-14 overall record, coming off four straight losses. Well, since then the team, led by D.J. Burns, has ripped off nine straight wins, securing an NCAA Tournament bid with an ACC Tournament title, saving head coach Kevin Keatts’ job in the process, and now they’re in the Final Four, opposite Purdue and two-time National Player of the Year Zach Edey. The first back-to-back National Player of the Year since Ralph Sampson. 

NC State has the most losses ever of a team to make it to the Final Four, they’re massive underdogs, a near-impossible success story this season, but they’re still not a Cinderella. Cinderella doesn’t have rings on her fingers or banners hanging, Cinderella hasn’t won two national championships, Cinderella doesn’t have history. Cinderella was told she didn’t belong at the ball, she’d never worn the pretty dress, danced with a prince, or even been to the Palace. NC State has left the big dance with the crown on its head. 

The glass slipper fit Loyola Marymount in 1990, George Mason in 2006, and even Steph Curry and Davidson in 2008. It fit VCU and Butler in 2011, Loyola Chicago in 2018, and St. Peter’s in 2022, but for a team from arguably the epicenter of college basketball that has produced 54 NBA players, that slipper is a few sizes too small. NC State might be the forgotten stepchild compared to Duke and UNC, but compared to the true Cinderellas, the Wolfpack are practically royalty. 

There are plenty of parallels to draw between Jim Valvano’s 1983 survive-and-advance “Cardiac Pack” that entered the postseason at 17-10 and won nine straight games through the ACC Tournament to the National Championship, taking down Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon in the process. 

A great story and an unexpected champion, but that team didn’t fit into the glass slipper either. They were ranked in the AP Top 25 to start the season, were a No. 6 seed (a few years before the tournament expanded to 64 teams), and most importantly, were at a school that had won it all within the last decade. 

In 1973-74, Norm Sloan coached David Thompson and the Wolfpack to a 30-1 season which culminated in NC State’s first men’s basketball national championship. It’s one of the most dominant seasons in college basketball history and interrupted John Wooden’s dynasty at UCLA, with the Wolfpack beating the Bruins in double-overtime in the national semifinal. 

Sure, it plays third fiddle to Duke and North Carolina in its own home state and it’s been a while since national prominence, but NC State is a program with 13 conference titles between the Southern Conference and the ACC, 29 NCAA Tournament appearances, two national titles, and now its fourth Final Four. That doesn’t sound like a Cinderella to me. 

It’s a term of endearment, yes, but one tinged with disbelief and tainted by disrespect, not one befitting a program with banners hanging in its gym, something Purdue and Alabama, half of this year’s Final Four, don’t have. Just because Oakland didn’t make a run like St. Peter’s and Golke didn’t turn into a true Doug Edert, doesn’t mean the collective college basketball consciousness must conjure up a Cinderella story where there isn’t one. 

NC State is America’s team in 2024. I’m not sure there is another outside the state of Indiana who doesn’t want to see D.J. Burns get the best of Zach Edey and Purdue. This team has been the biggest story of a fantastic tournament and we don’t need a Cinderella for that to be the case. When it comes to the Wolfpack, the role of the underdog is good enough.