Plenty To Play For

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It would be difficult to find a team that has seen greater heights and deeper depths than NC State has this season.

With the ebbs and flows that the Wolfpack has been through for the last four months, the regular season finale today is oddly appropriate.

Syracuse visits PNC Arena in what will be its final game of the season. The Orange determined long ago that sitting out the postseason--and the ACC will not be trifled with ineligible teams in its own postseason tournament--but the hammer that fell on Friday just in time for the game against NC State was brutal. For once, the Wolfpack and its idiosyncrasies will not be the center of attention.

With Syracuse's exclusion from postseason play, today's matchup will not be the de facto playoff game it could have been.

Lest anyone forget, while Syracuse is bringing the type of circus that typically only shows up at PNC Arena after basketball season, NC State once again enters a matchup with much at stake.

The Wolfpack, picked to finish ninth in the conference during the preseason, will end up sixth or seventh depending on its result Saturday and the outcome of the contest between Miami and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

NC State, 18-12 overall and 9-8 in the ACC, despite appearing to safely be among the schools that will be selected for at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament still could use another win. Last season's experience in the First Four, something that led to the Wolfpack's collapse against St. Louis two days later, will not want to repeated.

For all of its problems, the Orange enter the game Saturday with the exact same record as the Pack, both in during the season and in conference play. Rakeem Christmas, playing his final collegiate game, will lead Syracuse and the NC State frontcourt by committee will have a hard time dealing with the probable First Team All-ACC performer.

"[Christmas] is a fantastic player," Abdul-Malik Abu said on Friday. "We are expecting his best shot. Our job is to stop him and that is what we are going out to do hopefully."

It is hard to discern what type of team the Wolfpack will face in Syracuse from a motivational standpoint. It is the final game of the season for the Orange, and the forlorn program could give a spirited effort or simply mail it in.

NC State head coach Mark Gottfried feels what is at stake for his team negates the off-the-court drama that surrounds the matchup.

"It is an important game for our team," Gottfried said. "I have told our players that I don't think anyone has any more to play for than we do. There is a lot at stake for us.

"Regardless of any other factors, we control our on energy, we control how we prepare, and I think that is important for our guys today."


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