In the weeks following St. Patrick’s Day, most of us have already forgotten about shamrocks, green attire, and leprechauns. However, with the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in full swing, one thing we haven’t forgotten about is luck. With Cinderella hopefuls such as Wichita State, UCLA, and NC State working their way into the Sweet Sixteen, let’s take a look back at one of the most iconic Cinderella runs in tournament history – the 1982-1983 NC State men’s basketball squad.
Heading into the 1983 ACC tournament, the Wolfpack hosted a very average 17-10 record (8-6 in ACC play). Even with a team of talented players, their only shot at making the NCAA tournament was to bring home the gold in the ACC. With impressive wins over Wake Forest, archrival UNC, and Virginia, NC State shocked the world by winning the conference title and accepting their bid to the big dance.
Although their run in the ACC tournament caught the attention of fans and experts alike, NC State was still not considered to be a legitimate contender for the national title. However, despite low expectations, Jim Valvano led his team to one of the most memorable runs in all of college sports – winning the title over all-time great Hakeem Olajuwon and his No. 1 ranked Houston team.
Seeded 6th in the West division, the Wolfpack faced #11 seed Pepperdine in the first round. Despite being down by six points with 24 seconds left in the game, they managed to pull out a victory and move on the next round to face #3 seed Nevada-Las Vegas. Defeating UNLV by just 1 point, Valvano and his team moved on to the Regional Semifinal to face #10 Utah. Sending Utah home packing, NC State delivered their most convincing win in weeks, moving on to the regional final. With a rematch set for #1 Virginia, many questioned whether the Wolfpack would be able to repeat their victory they pulled off in the ACC tournament. Once again securing a 1 point victory, NC State was off to the Final Four to face 4th seeded UGA. After a chaotic showing against the Bulldogs, NC State managed to pull out another unlikely victory and was headed to the title game.
Heading into the NCAA Tournament Finals against an electrifying and heavily favored Houston team, the whole country was tuned in. The stage was set – but no one could have predicted the thrilling end to one of the most prolific national titles games of all time.
With an up and down performance all game, NC State managed to hold on for a final chance to win it all. Tied with 6 seconds remaining, the Wolfpack had possession on the offensive side of the ball. Dereck Whittenburg received a pass from the left wing. Fumbling to gather possession, Whittenburg launched a 3 pointer from 30 feet out. With 2 seconds left, his shot fell short. Luckily for them, teammate Lorenzo Charles was there to catch the air ball and slam home a dunk with 2 seconds left for an NC State victory and national championship.
To put this epic run into perspective, NC State trailed in the last minute in seven of the team’s last nine victories (ACC and NCAA tournament games). Two of these victories came in overtime (one of which coming in a double overtime win over Pepperdine). Also, this was the first 10-loss team to ever win a basketball national championship. Additionally, Valvano and his team managed to take down Virginia twice – a team who had previously only lost two games all season long.
While many believe this was a team of destiny, you can’t deny the roll that luck played in their march the championship. So, when watching Cinderella hopefuls this tournament, never underestimate the power of the underdog. After all, this is March Madness.
*Section Photo credit to Rush the Court; Featured Photo (above) credit to Shadow League Sports