No doubt, you’ve heard the concept of “house money” applied to the 2014-15 Wolfpack. Although the players aren’t just “happy to be here (in the Sweet Sixteen)” there is a consistent undercurrent in the media that State made its bones by knocking off Villanova and can now run along while the big boys finish their apéritifs.
I humbly suggest we yank away the tablecloth instead.
There’s a reason we give the Elite Eight a separate nickname, between the Sweet Sixteen and the Final Four, while no such treatment is given to the Round of 32. It means something. Making the Sweet Sixteen separates the teams that make true “Cinderella runs” from those that merely get hot for a game. And making the Elite Eight further separates wheat from chaff – you’re more than a Cinderella run, you have every right to be taken seriously as a true contender. That’s the level of respect you earn by making the Regional Final.
Think back to March of 1986, when V’s charges fell to a late Danny Manning-led Kansas comeback. State lost in the Regional Final for the second straight year (Chris Mullin and St. John’s in 1985), but this was fast becoming Wolfpack territory, with 3 appearances in 4 seasons.
Then the next 28 seasons happened. Those that track the tournament on newsprint brackets (like I still do) never had the chance to write “NC State” on that line again.
It’s time to right that historical wrong, and start a new golden age of Wolfpack basketball. It starts by making the Elite Eight, and having the nation’s full attention on Sunday. This is the right team, the right coach, and the right moment.