NC State looks for another surprise, 40 years later
DENVER (AP) — If you let the video run long enough — past the Lorenzo Charles dunk and past Jim Valvano looking for someone to hug — you’ll see a teenage kid with, in his words, “a bad sweater and bad hair” running on the floor of The Pit, just happy to be part of the madness.
That kid was Boo Corrigan, who is now the athletic director at North Carolina State. Forty years ago, Corrigan was there to see the Wolfpack finish one of college basketball’s most electric and unexpected runs, win the national title and officially embed the word “Cinderella” into the NCAA Tournament playbook.
On Friday, the Wolfpack (23-10) will be underdogs again — 11 seeds facing No. 6 Creighton (21-12) in the first round in the South Region.
“You’ve got to dream,” said Corrigan, who made that trip to Albuquerque thanks to his father, Gene, who at the time was the athletic director at Notre Dame and the chair of the NCAA selection committee. “If you look at our backcourt and the other pieces we have, when we’re good, we’re pretty good.”
Back in 1983, NC State also was pretty good, but struggling as the season wound down.
Those were the days of the 52-team bracket and limited chances for an at-large bid. Valvano took the Wolfpack on a 10-game winning streak, which included a championship at the ACC Tournament that put them in the Big Dance. Six wins later, NC State was cutting down nets after beating heavily favored Houston and Valvano was looking for someone to hug.
Earlier this season, some members of the history-making ’83 team — including Sydney Lowe, Thurl Bailey, Valvano’s wife, Pam Valvano Strasser, and his grandson, Rocco — returned to campus to celebrate the anniversary.
“We told them, ‘You guys changed the tournament,’” Corrigan said. “They were the Cardiac Pack, the lower seed that keeps finding ways to win close games. They were a team that did it against all odds.”
In a fortuitous twist, one of the first things the Wolfpack saw when they entered the arena in Denver was the number of former N.C. State great David Thompson hanging from the rafters.
Thompson led the Wolfpack to their first title, in 1974, to break a string of seven straight titles for John Wooden and UCLA. The NBA’s Nuggets retired Thompson’s number to honor his high-flying, seven-year career in Denver.
“We’re one of those few schools that have two national championships,” coach Kevin Keats said. “And both those teams are very special to us. That ’83 team — they really came from nowhere.’”
SEALING THE DEAL
As the recruiting process heated up, one of the most sought-after high school players in the country, Keyonte George, pretty much knew where he would end up. All doubt was set aside when Baylor was cutting down nets at the end of the tournament two years ago.
George picked the Bears (22-10), who open this year’s tournament as a No. 3 seed with a game against UC Santa Barbara (27-7) set for Friday.
“I kind of knew where I wanted to be, and that put the icing on the cake,” George said of Baylor’s title, won in the bubble in Indianapolis in 2021.
George has averaged 15.8 points and was named the Big 12 Freshman of the Year. He has meshed well with Adam Flagler and L.J. Cryer, a pair of guards from the title team who also average double figures this year.
There’s a decent chance George will be gone from college after his single season at Baylor. There’s also a good chance the one-and-done rule could come to an end by next year’s draft, meaning many players will be able to bypass college completely on their way to the NBA.
“If some kids have the opportunity to do that, and they feel like they have what it takes, then you can’t hold them back,” George said. “But me personally, I love the college scene.”
The details remain fuzzy for Creighton assistant Steve Merfeld. After all, the moment occurred 22 years ago and he was in such a euphoric state.
To be transported back, though, all he has to do is flip on the tournament this time of year. Merfeld was the head coach at Hampton in 2001 when his 15th-seeded squad stunned No. 2 Iowa State, 58-57. It remains one of the biggest opening-round upsets in tournament history. Immediately after the buzzer, Merfeld was picked up by one of his players, David Johnson, and famously kicked his feet in celebration.
“The only recollection I have is (Johnson) saying, ‘I’ve got you, Coach. I’ve got you, Coach,’” recalled Merfeld, whose Bluejays take on North Carolina State on Friday. “It was fun while it lasted. It’s March Madness. That’s what’s great about this time of the year.”
Back then, Hampton was the fourth No. 15 seed to knock off a two seed. It’s now happened in each of the last two years, with Oral Roberts beating Ohio State in 2021 and Saint Peter’s knocking off Kentucky last season.
“It’s the same” magic, Merfeld said. “I mean, it’s the tournament. Nobody’s working today or tomorrow. They’re all at some bar or in Las Vegas, wherever, watching these games, enjoying the moments.”
He pointed to the television in the Creighton locker room, where No. 13 Furman had just finished beating fourth-seeded Virginia.
“Like that,” said Merfeld, who has been an assistant under coach Greg McDermott since 2010. “That’s what it’s all about.”
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.
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