By far baseball is my favorite sport. But I’m a sports fan and I’ve spent quite a few Sundays watching nine hours of football, too. Despite those two statements, the best day of the year for a sports fan is the first day of the NCAA basketball tournament. And it just so happens today is that day.
I imagine that many people reading this today have filled out a bracket. I actually have two this year, both free ones as I’ve never won a bracket pool in my life. In one, Michigan wins it all and the other one has Xavier. My goals for these are realistic ones. There’s no worry about me finishing first; my only hope is not to finish last.
But beyond my bracket, my hope is for the North Carolina State Wolfpack to make a good showing in the tourney. At the beginning of the year, you could have asked 1,000 fans of the Pack if they expected to make the tournament and all 1,000 of them would have said, “no.” They were picked to finish 12th in the preseason ACC media poll and no one argued with that assessment.
They had a new coach, who was coming in to take over a program that missed the tournament two straight seasons. The program graduated a lottery pick to the NBA, two other players left school early to pursue professional opportunities and two seniors used up their eligibility. The only recruit they had coming in left with the coaching change.
Kevin Keatts brought a new system and a new mindset. He brought in a couple of graduate transfers and two last-minute recruits and somehow molded this rag-tag collection of players into a team that had 11 conference wins and entered selection Sunday sure that they were going to make the tournament and not sweating things out.
A stumble down the stretch, where they lost two of their last three games, hurt their tournament seeding. The Pack ended up in the dreaded 8-9 game, meaning a tough matchup in Round 1 and if they were lucky enough to advance, they had to play #1 seed Kansas in its home state. So, State fans enter today with conflicting emotions. On one hand, we’re giddy about being back in the tournament when at the start of the year the NIT wasn’t even a realistic goal. But on the other hand, a decent finish could have put a sixth seed in play. Oh well.
And as far as what all this has to do with Mets360, well it turns out that State’s matchup today is against the Seton Hall Pirates. As you may or may not know, that’s the school where current Mets360 writer Dalton Allison attends and has done broadcast work for several different sports. Awhile back, we talked about the possibility of our two schools playing in the tournament and somewhat remarkably it has come to be.
So there’s a wager with Dalton on the outcome of today’s game. He suggested that we put up a baseball card as the prize. So, if Seton Hall wins, Dalton will be the proud owner of an EX-MT 1968 Topps # 27 Gil Hodges. As of last night, Dalton was unable to access his card collection to see what card he could put up for his half of the deal. Perhaps he’s thinking it won’t be necessary.
Seton Hall has a veteran team, is the higher seed and at last check were 2.5 point favorites.
In this crazy year for N.C. State basketball, the opponent makes almost no difference. State can beat any team in the country – evidenced by victories over Arizona, Duke, Carolina and Clemson – and they can lose to any team in the land, too. Among the low points this season were losses to Northern Iowa, UNC Greensboro and Georgia Tech.
The Pack plays a small lineup and gets abused when the other team successfully runs its half-court offense. For State to win, they have to hit 3-pointers, force turnovers and keep the other team from having a good day from beyond the arc. Because it’s a given that they are going to hit the majority of their 2-point shots, as many of them will be easy layups.
So, if you’re watching today’s game – which is at 4:30 p.m. – and the Pirates seem to be running a layup drill – that’s to be expected. The key for the Pack is to keep the game close early and rely on better conditioning and no fear of the big moment to pull out the game at the end.
Who’s going to win our wager? And who do you see winning the tournament?