Pack A Sweet 16 Surprise

The Wolfpack has returned to prominence faster than most observers expected and now the possibilities seem limitless.

A week after wondering whether it would be included in the NCAA Tournament field, the Wolfpack is one of 16 remaining teams.

N.C. State is in the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005. N.C. State hadn't even been to the NCAA Tournament since 2006 until the past week.

This is a team with a seven-player rotation, often dodging foul trouble and continuing to defy naysayers under first-year coach Mark Gottfried.

N.C. State, which has a 24-12 record, has won 24 games in a season for the first time in 24 years.

Yet little comes easy for the Wolfpack, which has won six of seven games since a four-game February losing streak threatened derail all its good deeds from earlier in the season.

Even Gottfried has cautioned that the margin for error often seems slim with this group.

"For us, the issue is sustaining for longer periods of time," Gottfried said.

Now it has done that so well that the season extends into late March with a date with Kansas in the Midwest Regional semifinals March 23 in St. Louis.

To get there, the Wolfpack trailed by 10 points in the first half against Georgetown before a surge. Then it had to hold on after leading by seven with one minute to play.

The last time N.C. State reached the NCAA Sweet 16 also came with an upset of a Big East Conference opponent in the Wolfpack's second game of the tournament -- just like this season. In 2005, N.C. State upset Connecticut to reach the regionals. And just like that season, rival North Carolina could be headed to the same regional site. The teams didn't meet in 2005 in Syracuse, N.Y. This time, the destination is St. Louis.

-- Coach Mark Gottfried keeps adding to the accomplishments of a first-year coach with the Wolfpack. He's only the second coach in the N.C. State program's history to win in his first NCAA Tournament game, joining Les Robinson's 1991 achievement. Gottfried doubled that by winning in his first two NCAA Tournament games with the Wolfpack.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we know who we are. We know who we are. We just got to keep playing. We know we're on the stage. We're growing." -- F C.J. Leslie on the lack of attention the Wolfpack generally receives, though that might change with a Sweet 16 appearance.

The Wolfpack has a good blend of interior and perimeter scoring options and that balance has been reflected with five players averaging in double figures for most of the season. F C.J. Leslie has raised his performance for the past month as he's the team's leading scorer for the second year in a row. F Scott Wood is one of the ACC's active leaders in 3-point shooting as a junior and he's had an ACC record of consecutive made free throws earlier in the season. G Lorenzo Brown has made a relatively smooth transition to point guard as a sophomore and his athleticism adds another element at that position. F Richard Howell is the second-best rebounder in the ACC, though he's prone to foul trouble.

FUTURES WATCH: The Wolfpack made it to the postseason with a limited amount of depth, but it hasn't stopped it in the NCAA Tournament. N.C. State goes with a seven-player rotation for the most part. Even with senior G C.J. Williams' impending departure and the uncertain status of forward C.J. Leslie, who could be tempted to jump to the professional level, there should be a replenished roster as coach Mark Gottfried's first full recruiting class will arrive highly rated. Gottfried adapted well to the limited number of players in his rotation, though foul troubles, especially for junior F Richard Howell, tended to complicate matters at times. The influx of new players, though, should fill in the gaps.

REGULAR SEASON REVIEW: The Wolfpack took care of business in most games that it should have won and that tended to be an upgrade from some past teams. Playing at times a rigorous schedule, the rap on the Wolfpack is that it didn't win enough of the big-time games, but at least it was competitive in those and performances such as those might have created a good foundation. It was a breakthrough season for senior G C.J. Williams and it eventually became a season during which sophomore C.J. Leslie lived up to his reputation.

Sophomore F C.J. Leslie made two free throws late in the second half against Georgetown. He's shooting less than 60 percent on foul shots for the season, though he's the N.C. State player most often going to the line.

-- Junior G Scott Wood missed two free throws in the game against Georgetown, taking a little shine of his status as the ACC leader in that category. His offense, though, is crucial to the Wolfpack, which is 21-4 this season when he scores in double figures.

-- Sophomore G Lorenzo Brown has averaged 6.4 assists per game. That's the most for a Wolfpack player in 21 seasons, when Chris Corchiani posted 9.6 assists per game. Brown is the first N.C. State player to average more than 4.6 assists in a season since Corchiani.

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