No. 8 seed NC State hopes experience helps against Temple in Dayton

csmith@newsobserver.comMarch 17, 2013 

It wasn’t the season N.C. State wanted, and they didn’t receive the seed they expected at the beginning of the season. But for the second straight year, the Wolfpack earned a spot in the NCAA tournament – earning an eight seed in the East region.

State will begin play in the tournament at 1:40 p.m. Friday against Temple in Dayton, Ohio.

“I think it’s hard to project exactly where you’re going to be when you’re in the boat that we’re in,” coach Mark Gottfried said. “Our guys need to feel – which I think they are – very excited about the opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament.”

After opening the season ranked as high as No. 6 in preseason polls and being picked as the favorite to win the ACC by the media and coaches, the Pack fell short of those predictions.

But despite the woes throughout the season, State finished with a 24-win season and returned to the NCAA tournament. With Gottfried reaching the tournament this season, he becomes just the third ACC coach to do so in their first two seasons, joining former North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge and current Tar Heels coach Roy Williams.

While Gottfried deserves most of the credit for turning the Pack around, he bestowed the praise unto his players.

“You always want to be a higher seed, I don’t care who you are,” Gottfried said of his team’s draw. “It is what it is, this is where we are. I’m proud of our guys and I’m proud of the fact that we’re sitting here with 24 wins prior to the NCAA tournament.

“That’s 48 wins in two years and back-to-back NCAA tournaments. These guys have done a phenomenal job of building our program.”

The Owls are a team that, much like N.C. State, has some noteworthy victories in the Atlantic-10 Conference and in play outside the conference. Triumphs over Syracuse and St. Louis at home paired with a win at Villanova were part of a resume that earned Temple a nine seed.

Coached by Fran Dunphy, who is in his seventh year with the program after 17 seasons with Penn, the Owls have only missed the NCAA tournament once since he took over. While Dunphy has never had an issue making it to the tournament – as he has done so in 16 of his 24 seasons – his teams have only advanced past the first round twice.

Despite Dunphy’s lack of success in the tournament and a possible showdown with No. 1 seed Indiana looming, Gottfried said there will be no overlooking his opponent.

“They’re very well coached; Fran Dunphy does a phenomenal job there,” Gottfried said. “They’ve played in a tremendous league this year … and they have an elite player in Khaliff Wyatt. They’re a team that’s very proven.”

The East region bracket is loaded with talented teams – none bigger than the Hoosiers – and could provide a tough route for the Pack.

State is once again lined up to potentially face a No. 2 seed from the ACC in Miami if they make it to the Elite Eight. But before they get to that point, the Pack could match up with another team they are familiar with in Syracuse, as they dropped contests against both Syracuse and Indiana last season.

When Marion, Ind., native Scott Wood was asked about how hard it will be to not look ahead to playing Indiana, he couldn’t help but laugh before responding.

“I’m going to have to win this game before I can get to them,” Wood said. “Hopefully we can take care of business and that opportunity will be there.”

As for the injury to fellow senior forward Richard Howell, the big man said he is feeling better and expects to be on the court Friday.

While the Pack didn’t live up to lofty preseason expectations, the team has thrived in this situation before and expects to do so again.

“The experience of us going to the Sweet 16, that gave us the chance to be in that type of environment,” Howell said. “The big arenas don’t affect us as much. So I think last year definitely gives us a lot of experience.”

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