Monday, March 17, 2003

East Region Outlook

Another chance for N.C. State 20 years later

By Hal Bock
The Associated Press

On the 20th anniversary of its stunning NCAA championship, North Carolina State gets another shot at the title.

The Wolfpack stepped off the bubble and into the bracket on Sunday, rewarded with a spot in the East Region after reaching the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Seeded No. 9, N.C. State opens against No. 8 California at Oklahoma City. Tucked in the same bracket is Oklahoma, the region's top seed, which will be playing about 20 minutes away from its campus in Norman.

That would seem to stack the deck against the Wolfpack, but coach Herb Sendek was not complaining.

"This team has defied a lot of odds and been resilient, crusty and gritty all season," he said. "This is a very joyous moment for all of us."

N.C. State had a 15-point second-half lead in the ACC title game against Duke before wilting. That may have helped the Wolfpack's case with the committee.

"The way we finished playing down the home stretch, and the way we played in the tournament, we felt we were moving in the right direction," Sendek said. "What the final game did for us no one will know except the committee. Our play this weekend probably helped us."

N.C. State finished its season 18-12, including one-sided losses against Temple and Boston College, both non-NCAA tournament teams. But there were also two wins over North Carolina, one over Duke and another over Wake Forest in the ACC tournament.

In 1983, Jim Valvano's longshot Wolfpack climbed off the NCAA bubble by winning the ACC tournament and then went on to win the national championship.

Oklahoma , a Final Four team last year, was rewarded for its Big 12 title with a No. 1 seed that most analysts thought would go to Kansas. Instead, the Jayhawks got a No. 2 in the West. Another Big 12 team, Texas, got the No. 1 seed in the South.

"It was not a surprise," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "Kansas won the regular season at 14-2. Texas was second. We came on strong and won the conference championship. Any one of us could have been a No. 1."

The Sooners open against No. 16 South Carolina State.

Other teams in the East also stayed near home, none more than third-seeded Syracuse. The Orangemen open as close as they could have to campus, playing No. 14 Manhattan in Boston. Also in that section are No. 6 Oklahoma State vs. No. 11 Penn. If Syracuse gets through those first two games, it travels for the regional finals to nearby Albany, N.Y.

"We're excited to be playing in this tournament again and to have a chance to stay close to home is tremendous," coach Jim Boeheim said. "I don't think we've been close to home - I can't remember the last time. It's been a long time.

"I've been a big critic of staying close to home, so I'm kind of surprised we weren't sent out to Spokane or someplace. We're happy."

The rest of the East region had No. 5 Mississippi State against No. 12 Butler and No. 4 Louisville against No. 13 Austin Peay in Birmingham, Ala.; No. 7 St. Joseph's vs. No. 10 Auburn and No. 2 Wake Forest playing No. 15 East Tennessee State in Tampa.

East Tennessee State coach Ed DeChellis and Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser are close friends, and spoke a couple hours before the selection show.

"It's very ironic how this thing works. I never thought out of 64 teams we'd be paired up with them," DeChellis said.

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