Here are three things we gleaned from No. 9 Temple’s 76-72 “upset” of No. 8 North Carolina State (East region), setting the stage for the Owls’ Sunday clash with top-seeded Indiana:
1. So much for NC State getting a karmic bump off the success of Survive And Advance
With the 30-year anniversary of North Carolina State’s national championship, 20-year anniversary of coach Jim Valvano’s death and overwhelmingly positive feedback from the “Survive and Advance” documentary (airing daily on cable), you’d think the Wolfpack would be more than a one-and-done team in March.
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As if some higher power should be guiding the program through this tournament.
And yet, for a large portion of its Friday meeting with Temple, NC State was clearly the inferior team — allowing the Owls to control the perimeter and paint, while aimlessly falling into a 16-point hole at the break.
Sure, in the final tally of stats, NC State posted more field goals (29-24), more rebounds (34-22), more assists (14-13) and a better shooting percentage (56-49). But Temple’s significant edges with three-pointers (7-4), free throws (33-16) and free throws made (21-10) were enough to clinch the win and advance to the Round of 32 (against Indiana).
About those free throws . . . Friday’s game marked the fourth time this season that Owls guard and Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Khalif Wyatt (31 points) buried 12 or more shots from the charity stripe. However, it was the first time he had accomplished the feat while playing with an injured (and noticeably wrapped) left thumb.
2. The Wolfpack’s second-half comeback, while valiant, probably wasn’t a building block for next year
Officially, NC State (50 points in the second half) will only be losing three seniors from this year’s squad, most notably Richard Howell (14 points, 15 rebounds) and Scott Wood (10 points). But that doesn’t include the possible defections of juniors C.J. Leslie (20 points, five boards) and Lorenzo Brown (22 points, nine assists, four rebounds).
Frankly, it’s hard to see the glistening pro potential of any Wolfpack regular, aside from a classic banger like Howell (18 double-doubles this season). But in this age of ill-prepared underclassmen turning pro en masse, could anyone fault Leslie or Brown for giving the pros an early look? Even if they’re given bad pre-draft advice?
Of course, reputable sites like NBADraft.net has neither Brown nor Leslie installed as first-round picks (guaranteed three-year contract); so, maybe the pair will return to Raleigh for one more collegiate campaign.
That aside, this defeat had the feel of a last stand for the Pack’s main core.
3. NC State missed out on a golden opportunity to lock horns with Indiana
From a scoring standpoint, it would have been fun to see the Wolfpack attempt to match the No. 1 Hoosiers on Sunday, shot for shot, fast break for fast break. Who knows, maybe NC State might have put the fear of you-know-who into Indiana for a good chunk of the game . . . before receding in defeat during the final moments.
Instead, that fate lies ahead for the Owls, who don’t match up well against the balanced, high-powered Hoosiers.
From my perspective, Indiana trumps Temple in talent, depth, post acumen, long-distances aces and star power.
To counter that, the Owls (1-3 against top-10 foes) will need one more 30-point, 12-free-throw performance from Khalif Wyatt.