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Does NC State have a chance?

To answer the question posed by this headline, I would say absolute, North Carolina State can beat Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semifinal tocnight at the Edward R. Jones Dome.

KU, we know, is far from invincible. But the Jayhawks are tough and it’s going to take a tough team to knock them out of the tournament. Purdue was tough for 38 minutes. Can the Wolfpack be tough for 40?

I think this is a really dangerous game for Kansas, which is no surprise. We’re down to 12 teams – eight after tonight – and there are no cupcakes.

One thing really jumps off the page for me about North Carolina State, which has won six of its past seven games after losing six of nine previously. It’s five starters – CJ Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood, Richard Howell and CJ Williams – all average in double figures. Even more impressive is that those five have all taken between 300 and 355 shots.

That, folks, is balance.

NC State has two tough rebounders in Howell and CJ Leslie and some other guys who go to the boards well, too. The Wolfpack gets to the free-throw line a lot and has the kind of three-point sniper in Wood who, if he gets hot, can win a game by himself. He’s also a 90 percent free-throw shooter.

North Carolina State lacks depth, but so does Kansas. As far as that goes, it’s a wash.

And the Wolfpack doesn’t have a player as good as either Thomas Robinson or Tyshawn Taylor are for Kansas. But Robinson and Taylor have to play better than they have so far in the NCAA Tournament.

So, yes, I think this will be a really good and close game. I think Kansas is over-valued as an eight-point favorite; I believe the game will be closer than that.

Now KU could be primed for its first lights-out game of the tournament. That possibility is real because the Jayhawks have not shot the ball well in their previous two games. And this is a team that normally shoots well.

But I sense a close game. A KU win, but tight. My prediction: Kansas 75, North Carolina State 70.

* Speaking of North Carolina State, I’m reminded of the Wolfpack’s 1973-74 national championship team, one of my favorite teams ever.The 1973-74 North Carolina State basketball team.NC State was led, of course, by 6-foot-4 David Thompson, one of the greatest players in college basketball history. He averaged 26 points and 7.9 rebounds that season and had a lot of help, especially from 7-4 center Tom Burleson and mighty-mite 5-7 guard Monte Towe.

NC State was 30-1 in 1973-74. It’s only loss was a regular-season game against UCLA, played in St. Louis. The Bruins, winners of seven consecutive national championships under John Wooden, thumped NC State, 84-66.

But the Wolfpack, coached by Norm Sloan, got another chance against UCLA in the national semifinals and this time the game was different. Behind Thompson, NC State knocked off the Bruins, 80-77, exactly 38 years ago. Two nights later, the Wolfpack beat Marquette, 76-64, for their first national championship.

Thompson, from Boiling Springs, N.C., averaged 26.8 points during his three-season NC State career and was a three-time All-American.

Burleson averaged 19 points and 12.7 rebounds and was a three-time All-ACC selection. And Towe averaged 11.1 points.

That national championship team also included Tim Stoddard, a burly forward who went on to pitch in the major leagues, mostly with the Baltimore Orioles. It was ranked by “The Sporting News” recently as the seventh best college basketball team in history.

I just enjoyed about 30 minutes thinking back to that North Carolina State team. If you’re old enough, I hope you did, too.

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