Mark Gottfried's North Carolina State team was the last at-large squad in the 2014 NCAA Tournament field. We know this because the NCAA releases its 1-68 official seed list, and the last at-large name identified is the Wolfpack.
But barely getting in the field doesn't matter -- once it's official. Just get in and see what happens. And what happened Tuesday night was a really good sign for N.C. State fans, because their team just took out Xavier with a certain amount of ease. It ended 74-59 in Dayton.
The 22-13 Wolfpack got 25 points from sophomore stud forward T..J. Warren, who had 16 in the second half. It was the ACC Player of the Year's 30th 20-point game of the season. Wild. He also broke a program record Tuesday night, totaling 843 points for this season, adjusting the Wolfpack bar. Passing names like David Thompson, Rodney Monroe and Kenny Carr.
Xavier gets to drive 45 minutes home tonight after enjoying the fleeting, second-rate experience of going to the NCAA Tournament.
For N.C. State, it's a whole new level that's coming. And it seems pretty likely this team will be a chic pick to beat slumping Saint Louis in the 5/12 matchup that tips at 7:20 p.m. Thursday in Orlando. The Billikens have dropped four of five and failed -- even more than usual -- to get their offense clicking.
The Wolfpack have now won five of six, including victories over NCAA Tournament teams Syracuse (a three seed) and Pittsburgh (a nine).
Even better for N.C. State? History is on its side. The First Four -- for all its flaws -- has been something of a catapult for teams. Ironically, it's boosted the final team into the field toward more success. The first year of the First Four was 2011. The final at-large taken that year? VCU. The Rams went on to make history by reaching the Final Four.
In 2012 South Florida went to the First Four and wound up taking out Cal in Dayton before upsetting Temple in a 5/12. Last year we saw La Salle chosen as the penultimate program picked for the First Four. The Explorers then went on a charmed run to the Sweet 16.
Being the last at-large selected has seen good fortune for teams even prior to the First Four. Though we weren't certain of it at the time, we now know that George Mason was picked as the final team in 2006. The Patriots went on to make history by becoming the first mid-major double-digit seed (an 11) to win four games in the NCAA Tournament.
So consider that as you get ready to finalize your bracket. The Wolfpack haven't proven to be terrific all year, but they've won impressively as of late, and the pattern has been set for as long as the First Four's been here. You get in, you win that first game, there's a 50 percent chance you're making the Round of 32 -- at least.
And having T.J. Warren is a hell of a wild card, too. That is a bad, bad dude.