Julius Hodge put on a passing clinic, Jordan Collins did his best Josh Powell impersonation, and freshmen Gavin Grant and Andrew Brackman played aggressive offense in the second half of last night’s pivotal win in Charlottesville. Whether your opinion of Coach Sendek is positive or negative (like me, in case you hadn’t noticed), you have to feel a great deal of pride in the players for getting their acts together, playing hard, and putting themselves in a position to redeem the season.
Still, it will all be for naught without a win on Sunday night. If the Wolfpack wins, it will lock up a spot in the 4/5 game on Friday, and a probable NCAA bid so long as Friday’s result is not a loss to Virginia Tech (go Terps). If the Wolfpack loses, it faces a probable #8 seed, a Thursday night game against resurgent Clemson, near-certain defeat against UNC on Friday afternoon, with NO CHANCE at an NCAA bid. It’s hard to imagine one single regular season game having more impact on a season.
Wake will have some incentive as well, even if UNC beats Duke (as expected), locking up Roy’s cherished regular season ACC title. I don’t buy it (the 3 best teams in the nation are clearly UNC, Illinois, and Wake, regardless of what happens between now and Selection Sunday), but you can make the argument that Wake needs to win Sunday night or cut down the nets the following weekend in order to secure a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney. You can bet Skip Prosser will make that argument in the pre-game. Also, the Deacons received a rude wake-up call on Senior Night against Georgia Tech, so they will not enter the game over-confident.
At the end of the day, this is all you can ask for – to have your destiny completely in your own hands. A statement win against Wake, and it doesn’t matter what else happens around the ACC or in mid-major conference tourneys. A loss to Wake, and it also doesn’t matter – NC State won’t even be part of the bubble conversation. There are no back doors available – so the Pack needs to charge into the Big Dance by taking down the mighty Deacons. I have every reason to believe that the focus and effort from last night will be there, but the execution will have to be even better on Sunday.