NC State showing they belong with those other two teams from North Carolina

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  • March 16, 2012 - 5:07 PM

C.J. Leslie was all over the rim on Friday

C.J. Leslie was all over the rim on Friday

Truthfully, I'm among the lot that's played a role in the constant-beating-down of N.C. State.

I grew up in North Carolina, on the Raleigh "point" of what we called "the triangle" (Raleigh -- NC State; Durham -- Duke; Chapel Hill -- UNC) and I even went to N.C. State for a year before I moved to Boston. 

But when people asked me if I was a Wolfpack fan based on my heritage and location, I just laughed. Why? Because NC State has always been the red-headed step child of the triangle's sports. As a child I DIDN'T WANT TO ROOT FOR THEM because they weren't the cool kids on the block. With everything so close down there, "choosing" is accepted, and the only decision was between the Heels and Duke ... so I claimed UNC as my own. I rooted against NC State in games; wore a Tarheels cap to classes.

Watching the game today, though, and watching the steps they've taken in the past few weeks, I couldn't be happier for the Pack, who made it to the tourney for the tourney for the first time since 2006 -- the year I left. They're still playing in the shadows of their North Carolina counterparts (UNC has a one-seed; Duke has a two), but it seems like they've taken on a new identity in the season's final leg, and one that is firmly their own.

And that showed on Friday, when the 11-seed Pack ousted San Diego State 79-65. This team is a big, physical and talented, and finally is acting like they know it. NC State beat up the Aztecs in the paint on Friday and forced them out of their style of play. The Pack might be one of the hottest teams in the tournament right now -- ending the season with four wins before taking UNC to the wire in the ACC tournament semi-final -- and the star power was on display in the NCAA opening round, with Richard Howell (who was previously averaging 11 points) banging out 22 points in the paint and three other players scoring double digits in the win. 

I think first-year coach Mark Gottfried really believes in this team, and they're finally start to believe in themselves. The Pack is on to the second round and in this tournament, anything can happen. 

Maybe even current-day little Raleigh sports fans will watch in wonder, and consider the Wolfpack as a rooting choice among the giants.


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