For years now, N.C. State fans have chafed under the view that they are the little brother of Tobacco Road hoops. As much as everyone loves the Jim Valvano story, the methodical, frequently successful pursuit of Final Fours and national titles has been largely the province of Duke and UNC.
Herb Sendek was a fairly successful leader for the team, taking the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament five times between 2002 and 2006. That wasn’t really good enough for the brass in Raleigh, who opted for the Sidney Lowe experience (officially termed the Sidney Lowe Mediocre Era by some wag on Wikipedia) and an annual backseat in the ACC for the next five seasons.
The Mark Gottfried hire may not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but the former head man at Murray State and Alabama made it look like a cinch, taking talent largely recruited by Lowe and making the Sweet Sixteen in his first season.
One year later, N.C. State is back in the limelight. The ESPN College Gameday crew will set up in PNC Arena for the first time ever when the Tar Heels make the short drive to Raleigh on January 26, 2013. Barring a complete regression to the mean, the Wolfpack appear to be on track to become a major player in the hoped-for tripartite rivalry the Research Triangle has yielded in the past.
That could be a good thing for the ACC, the state of North Carolina, and for college hoops fans in general.