ATLANTA -- Draw near, dear children, and I will tell you a story that you'll find hard to believe.
Once upon a time, long before you were only a gleam in your mother's eye, North Carolina State was the dominant college basketball team, not only in the state of North Carolina, but the ACC as well.
Yes, I know. In your lifetime all you have ever known is the dominance of Duke and North Carolina. Mike Krzyzewski has been at Duke forever, or at least it seems that way, and has won more games than anybody else. Dean Smith retired at North Carolina in 1997 and Roy Williams eventually picks up the baby blue mantle and they just keep rolling. It's hard to believe there was ever a time when red was the dominant color -- or even a relevant color -- in the Tar Heel state.
But that time did exist.
Everett Case came to N.C. State in 1946 after winning four Indiana state high school championships and turned North Carolina into a basketball crazy part of the world.
|More on N.C. State-Virginia|
|More college hoops coverage|
N.C. State won the first three ACC tournament championships (1954-56). In an effort to keep up, Duke would eventually hire a Case disciple, Vic Bubas, as coach. North Carolina would go to New York and hire Frank McGuire in 1952 because its boosters were tired of losing to N.C. State.
And we were off and running.
N.C. State has won 10 ACC tournament championships, second only to Duke (19) and North Carolina (17). The Wolfpack won the national championship in 1974 with David Thompson, Tom Burleson, and Monte Towe and then won another one with Jim Valvano's miracle team of 1983.
But here is the present reality of N.C. State basketball. The Wolfpack hasn't won an ACC Tournament since 1987. It hasn't been to an NCAA Tournament since 2006. The glory years of the Wolfpack are now far, far, away.
On Friday, however, first-year coach Mark Gottfried took a big step toward making N.C. State basketball relevant again as the Wolfpack beat fourth-seeded Virginia 67-64 in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament at Philips Arena.
Why was this win so big for N.C. State? Jerry Palm, our resident bracketeer at CBSSports.com, had the Wolfpack (22-11) in his field Friday morning before the game. This win should make them a lock for Sunday's field of 68.
"I think we deserve to play in the NCAA tournament," Gottfried said after the game. "We did what the committee says you're supposed to do."
|An enthusiastic Gottfried says the intention is to win the ACC and get into the NCAA tournament. (US Presswire)|
He guided the Wolfpack through a four-game losing streak in late February when Duke, Florida State, and North Carolina came back-to-back-to-back.
"There were times this year when we just weren't good enough but to our guy's credit they got better," said Gottfried. "And now they know how to grind out wins."
Friday was the perfect example because nobody makes you grind more than Tony Bennett and Virginia.
Scott Wood only hit two shots all day, but one was a three-pointer with four-tenths of a second left before halftime. He was fouled and converted the four-point play. Instead of being down by one, N.C. State was up by three (36-33).
"That gave us some pep in our step going into the locker room, which we didn't have," said Gottfried. "I thought it was a big play for him [Wood]."
N.C. State was clinging to a two-point lead in the final 30 seconds but made the plays it needed down the stretch to win.
"This team is learning how to execute the offense in late game, tough situations," said Gottfried.
And for that, Gottfried should get a lot of credit. He coached at Alabama for 11 seasons, once getting the Crimson Tide to No. 1. He was out of coaching for two seasons doing television, which was a learning experience. Most of all he learned how he would do things differently if he got another chance. Now he looks like a man who has gotten a second wind.
C.J. Leslie, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds in Friday's win, is a Mike Gottfried believer.
"Coach has done an amazing job with me in keeping me in the game and telling me I can do it and sticking with me through all the tough times I had," he said. "He has done well to make sure my head is in the right place at game time. I can't say I've done it on my own."
Now N.C. State advances to Saturday's semifinals to play top-seeded North Carolina, which dispatched Maryland 85-69 in Friday's first game. The last time the Wolfpack met the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament was in the 2007 championship game. N.C. State, the No. 10 seed, had made an improbable run to the title game but was simply out of gas against the more talented Tar Heels, losing 89-80.
"This is going to be a tremendous challenge for us and we have a lot of respect for North Carolina's program," said Gottfried. "But when we got on the plane it was with the intention of winning the tournament. Because the one sure way to get into the NCAA tournament is to win the ACC tournament. So that's our goal.
"I assure you, we'll be very excited to play on Saturday," he said.
It's been a long time since N.C. State fans have heard such words of optimism from their coach. It's been even longer since the Wolfpack has actually backed up such words with action. Saturday should be fun.