Busting Brackets

Why NC State's Final Four run is the most improbable run in NCAA Tournament history

While NC State's run may be over, the Wolfpack's historic Final Four Run this year will not be soon forgotten.
NC State v Duke
NC State v Duke / Lance King/GettyImages

Three weeks ago, NC State was entering the ACC tournament on a four-game losing streak while sitting at 17-14 overall and was fully eliminated from any hope of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack's only path to the big dance required them to win five straight games in five days in order to earn the ACC's automatic tournament bid. However, despite the odds stacked against them time and time again, NC State managed to do exactly that, earning the ACC's auto bid and becoming just the second team ever to accomplish the feat of winning five straight games in a conference tournament. The only other team to accomplish that feat? UConn in 2011, a team that would go on to win the national championship.

The Wolfpack's run through the ACC tournament was improbable in itself, as NC State found themselves trailing last-place Louisville late in the second half of their first-round game. However, the Wolfpack took over in the final minutes to keep their hopes alive. Following a blowout win over Syracuse in the second round, NC State would have to beat the ACC's top three teams in three days. But after defeating two-seeded Duke to advance to the semi-finals, it appeared as though the Wolfpack's run was coming to an end, as they trailed three-seeded Virginia by 3 with five seconds to go while Virginia's best free throw shooter, Isaac McKneely was at the line looking to put the game away.

Instead, McKneely's free throw was short, and NC State guard Michael O'Donnell made a last-second prayer three to send the game to overtime, where the Wolfpack would eventually prevail. In the championship game versus their bitter rival and one-seed North Carolina, the 'Pack looked the best they had looked all year, being in complete control of the game wire to wire and ultimately stunningly winning an ACC Championship.

As it would turn out, however, NC State's story was just getting started. Despite being an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Wolfpack run continued full steam ahead, as they rolled through the south region in near dominant fashion against some strong opponents. In NC State's first four tournament games, their overtime win over 14-seeded Oakland was the only game that truly came down to the wire. The other three opponents have all been strong opponents that had the talent to make their own final four run. NC State began their tournament run with a dominant, wire-to-wire victory over Texas Tech, and following the aforementioned Oakland victory, the Wolfpack won comfortably over 2-seed Marquette and 4-seed Duke while being in control for almost the entirety of both games.

There's been plenty of instances of teams "flipping the switch" come tournament time, but none of those teams had circumstances quite like this year's NC State Team has had. Heck, it isn't entirely uncommon to see a power conference team that was well outside of the projected field unexpectedly win their conference tournament and steal a bid. Despite that, the run NC State had this year is seemingly a notch above all of those other recent bid stealers.

For a team that entered their conference tournament having lost seven of their last nine games to promptly go on a nine-game win streak while completely dominating several elite teams seemingly defies logic. In the past few years, a majority of the unexpected bid stealers like NC State did not advance out of opening weekend, with many losing in the first round. But NC State defied that trend this year, and seemingly didn't lose a step following their dominant run through the ACC Tournament.

It was run that made several Wolfpack players, most notably DJ Burns, household names and the talk of the college basketball world. There have been no shortage of similarities the infamous 1983 NC State team and the this year's NC State team, whose Final Four appearance marked the program's first since that 1983 championship run. On top of this, it will provide a huge boost for an NC State program that had largely been in the doldrums over the past few seasons. And for the Wolfpack faithful? It will be a magical stretch of basketball that they soon won't forget.

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While this year's Wolfpack team was unable to fully replicate the 1983 team's championship run, their recent stretch of games has won the hearts of many, and has rightfully earned a place in March Madness lore.