There’s a difference in how N.C. State and Villanova made NCAA tournament history three decades ago.
N.C. State’s run to the 1983 national title was improbable and Villanova’s “perfect game” two years later was incredible. Both put the madness in March. Both helped make the NCAA tournament what it is today.
“Two of the greatest championship games ever,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said Friday.
The two programs with little common ground, other than helping launch the NCAA tournament into a $10.8 billion television property, meet on the court Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Villanova (32-2), the No. 1 seed in the East Region, faces No. 8 N.C. State (21-13). Each program has provided a defining moment of the tournament. Each would like to add a new chapter to its postseason lore.
It was impossible to have the two programs in the same building Friday and not think of what once was.
For N.C. State, it was one wild, improbable comeback “survive and advance,” as coach Jim Valvano famously put it. The Wolfpack defied the odds with a 54-52 win over heavily favored Houston in the national title game.
For Villanova and coach Rollie Massimino, it was what is now known as the “perfect game.” The Wildcats made 22 of 28 shots, an incredible 78.6 percent, to upset a powerful Georgetown team 66-64 in the national championship game.
“They’re both the underdog story, but they’re different,” Wright said. “Jimmy V’s was shocking good and coach Massimino’s was methodical. Just like the two of them.”
To Dereck Whittenburg, one of the stars of N.C. State’s ’83 team and now the director of player development for the Wolfpack, there’s a reason the stories still resonant so many years later.
“The underdog, the unknown, the one nobody expects to get there, that’s the beauty of the tournament,” Whittenburg said. “That’s what it is all about.”
Thirty years later, the championships have been boiled down to two iconic moments from the end of those respective games – Lorenzo Charles’ dunk at the buzzer for N.C. State and Villanova’s Dwayne McClain clutching the ball on the ground as the clock runs out. CBS opens each telecast of a tournament game with those clips.
Villanova junior Ryan Arcidiacono described Charles’ dunk, off Whittenburg’s famous missed shot as: “where the N.C. State guy air-balled it and then the other guy put it in.”
Villanova senior JayVaughn Pinkston admitted Friday he didn’t know much about either bit of history.
“To be honest, I never saw it,” Pinkston said.
Wright jokingly asked if his players knew which team won in 1985. The Wildcats opened the season with a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the championship, so they know the people who made history, Wright said, just not all the details.
Massimino returned to the school in November with his NAIA team Northwood and played an exhibition against the Wildcats as a part of the celebration.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried has made it a point for the current players to understand the school’s history.
“We’ve stood on the top box, we’ve been No. 1,” Gottfried said. “It’s important for your players to know it’s possible and it can be done here.”
N.C. State experienced its own piece of tournament magic on Thursday night. Down 14 points with 9 minutes left, the Wolfpack came back to beat LSU 66-65 on a hook shot by forward BeeJay Anya with 0.1 seconds left.
The way N.C. State won, with LSU missing its last six free throws, and the Wolfpack capitalizing on the extra chances, reminded more than a few Wolfpack fans of N.C. State’s opening-round 69-67 double-overtime win over Pepperdine.
Shortly after N.C. State’s win on Thursday, Whittenburg even put Valvano’s old motto on Twitter: “#SurviveandAdvance.”
No. 8 N.C. State vs. No. 1 Villanova
When: 7:10 p.m.
Where: Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
TV/Radio: TBS, 101.5-WRAL
Projected starting lineups
N.C. State (21-13)
G Cat Barber 12.2 ppg, 3.8 apg
G Trevor Lacey 15.6 ppg, 3.5 apg
G Ralston Turner 13.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg
F Lennard Freeman 3.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg
F Abdul-Malik Abu 6.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg
G Dylan Ennis 9.8 ppg, 3.7 apg
G Darrun Hilliard 14.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg
G Ryan Arcidiacono 10.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg
F Daniel Ochefu 9.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg
F JayVaughn Pinkston 9.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg
1. Loosen up
N.C. State seemed a little tight and out of sorts in the first half on Thursday. Going back to the ACC tournament loss to Duke, it was three straight bad halves for the Wolfpack.
N.C. State needs to come out ready to play and to play the same way it did in the final 10 minutes of Thursday’s win.
The Wolfpack needs to defend and rebound and play with a sense of urgency.
2. More from outside, same from inside
N.C. State got 13 points from forward Abdul-Malik Abu, nine from forward Kyle Washington — to really kickstart the second-half comeback — and the last four points of the game from forward BeeJay Anya.
Even Villanova coach Jay Wright said, “I haven’t seen them win a game like that.”
That’s because N.C. State’s guards have done most of the heavy lifting this season. Point guard Cat Barber led the Wolfpack with 17 points on Thursday but Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner were a combined 8 of 29 from the floor.
N.C. State will need more from the outside from Lacey and Turner against a strong Villanova team. Wright compared N.C. State’s group of guards to his trio of Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Allan Ray in 2006.
“They have three guys that can just go get a shot any time, any way and they can make tough shots,” Wright said.
3. Be confident, don’t worry about history
The No. 1 seed has failed to advance to the Sweet 16 only 16 times since the bracket expanded in 1985 That’s a 104-16 record for No. 1 seeds.
Mark Gottfried’s 2004 Alabama team, a No. 8 seed, has one of those 16 wins.
“You have to believe that you have a chance to win,” Gottfried said. “Our team, this year, believes that, as did that team in 2004.”