Technically, no single game is more important than another over the course of a regular season. They all count as only win or one loss. Try telling that to a college basketball coach whose team is on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble. For them, including N.C. State’s Mark Gottfried, these last few remaining games represent a final opportunity to enhance their respective postseason resumes before turning them over to the tournament selection committee three weeks from now. That would make Wednesday’s home date at PNC Arena an important one for the Wolfpack even if it wasn’t against rival North Carolina. The fact that it’s the Tar Heels and their nine-game winning streak coming to town only adds to the already heightened sense of urgency. “We have got 17 wins,” Gottfried said after Saturday’s victory at Virginia Tech. “We are hungry.” Some of that hunger is the result of State’s first meeting with UNC, an 84-70 loss in Chapel Hill on Feb. 1 that was over almost as soon as it started because of a disastrous first half. Of even greater concern for the Wolfpack is the fact that the Tar Heels, who climbed back into the national polls this week at No. 19, represent a chance at its first win this season against a team currently ranked among the nation’s top 50. That’s a void that must be filled to have any prayer on Selection Sunday. Though Wednesday’s game is hardly a must-win proposition – not with Pittsburgh still left on the schedule and the ACC tournament to come after that – a victory would go a long way toward determining whether State earns its third straight NCAA appearance or hosts an NIT game come the second week of March. “I think everybody on our team knows that we’ve got to win these games for us to get in the tournament,” sophomore point guard Tyler Lewis said. “We’re on the bubble, so every game matters for us right now.” Even with the homecourt advantage, the Wolfpack (17-10, 7-7 ACC) would figure to have its work cut out for it against its suddenly hot rival. But despite the earlier result and Gottfried’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek characterization of this as a “classic David and Goliath” matchup, there are just as many factors breaking in State’s favor as against it. Not the least of which is emotion. For as much UNC fans insist that the Wolfpack is “not our rival,” the feeling is anything but mutual among those wearing red and white. The Tar Heels aren’t just their rival, they’re a hated enemy sent down from Chapel Hill to threaten everything they hold dear. The atmosphere inside PNC Arena will reflect that attitude and the energy the crowd gives off can’t help but carry over to the players on the court. It did last season. Conversely, UNC will have to guard against taking the inevitable deep breath coming off the emotional high of winning four games in six days last week –with one coming against its other mortal rival, Duke.
Wolfpack knows UNC game holds key to postseason
Gaston Gazette | Feb 26