It was probably very surprising when the North Carolina State Wolfpack‘s name appeared on the screen when the 2014 NCAA tournament bracket was announced. The Wolfpack take on the Xavier Musketeers in a play-in game Tuesday for the opportunity to be the no. 12 seed that will face the Saint Louis Billikens in the Midwest region.
NC State did give people a glimpse of what it could do winning two games in the ACC tournament, including an upset over the Syracuse Orange. The major factor in those victories was the play of ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren. Warren is one of the most dynamic scorers (24.8 PPG) in the country and has now scored at least 20 points in 17 straight games and has two 40-plus point games in that mix.
Warren is the type of player made for the bright lights of the NCAA tournament because he is not afraid to take big shots in close games and has the size and skills to be a mismatch for any team the Wolfpack may face.
Xavier has lost three of its last four games and is not a strong defensive team. The Musketeers were 118th in points allowed per game (67.9) and do not turn teams over. This means Warren will have plenty of opportunities to get into the flow of the offense. Against the Orange, after struggling to find his shot early against the 2-3 zone, Warren changed where he started in offensive sets and his backdoor cuts led to easy baskets.
Xavier knows the way to beat State is to stop Warren, but that is obviously way easier to say to accomplish. Warren is tough to slow because he understands where he is best at on the floor. He is not a strong outside shooter, so he usually makes his way into the 15-foot area and works from there. He is strong enough to score against bigger players and is clever enough to take quick players to the basket.
If State beats Xavier, it will face Saint Louis. SLU does not have a strong resume and lost to St. Bonaventure in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Many believe the Billikens were over-seeded to begin with and having the momentum of picking up a victory earlier in the week could be all that is needed for the Wolfpack to pull off the upset.
It may be a shock that State is in the field, but with Warren, the Wolfpack could become bracket busters this week.