St. Louis — There was some discrepancy about whether 11th-seeded North Carolina State actually is the underdog in tonight's 9:17 p.m. matchup with No. 2 seed Kansas University in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. Some of it even came from the same place.
Talking with reporters in the N.C. State locker room, sophomore point guard Lorenzo Brown talked up his surging squad.
“I think we have a great team,” Brown said. “And it’s hard to call our team underdogs with the way we’re playing right now.”
A few minutes later, when seated at the podium in the interview room, Brown crossed over just a bit.
“People are going to talk,” he said. “I think we are a Cinderella team. Nobody expected us to be here, and we just keep believing in ourselves that we’re going to make it to at least the Final Four.”
While Brown seemed to have trouble making up his mind, Kansas University guard Tyshawn Taylor and N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried did not.
“I think if you put yourself in that frame of mind where you’re playing with house money, I just don’t know that you value it as much,” Gottfried said. “I think our team feels like we have earned the right to be here, just like anybody else. And we certainly feel like we belong.”
Added Taylor: “I’m excited to play. And I think N.C. State is gonna be a good challenge for us. Not because they’re an underdog, but because they’re a good team. I don’t see how they are an underdog.”
Asked if he felt that the Edward Jones Dome would resemble Allen Fieldhouse East during tonight’s Sweet 16 match-up, N.C. State junior Richard Howell said yes.
“It’s definitely a road game,” the 6-8 forward said. “I feel like we’re playing in their backyard. And that’s an advantage to them. But we’re not gonna use that as an excuse.”
Hello, Mr. Johnson
KU junior Elijah Johnson’s stellar performance in KU’s third-round victory against Purdue caught the attention of the N.C. State players. But that does not mean that the Wolfpack have obsessed over Johnson’s 18-point effort in KU’s three-point victory over the Boilermakers.
“I didn’t watch much of the Purdue game,” said N.C. State senior C.J. Williams, who will draw the assignment of guarding Johnson tonight. “But I’ve watched him pretty much the entire year. He’s good off the bounce. and he’s an extraordinary shooter so I just have to make sure I don’t leave off of him. I think (he’s) one of their most underrated players. When he really gets going, it’s tough for other teams to guard KU. So we kind of have to make sure he doesn’t get going.”
Respect for Kansas
Gottfried obviously has a ton of respect for the Kansas program, as much for this year’s specific group of Jayhawks as for KU coach Bill Self’s overall track record.
“What I like when I watch their team is they just keep finding ways to win,” Gottfried said. “I think that’s a trademark of Bill’s teams. They have always done that.”
As for the specifics aspects of tonight’s opponent that scared him, Gottfried pointed to KU big man Jeff Withey as one of the biggest.
“Take a guy like John Henson at North Carolina,” Gottfried said. “Withey has more blocks than Henson. That jumps out at our guys real quick because they have great respect for North Carolina’s front line.”
And KU’s national-player-of-the-year candidate, Thomas Robinson?
“He’s just a grown man,” Gottfried said.
Gottfried said Thursday he did not subscribe to the widely believed notion that success in the NCAA Tournament is all about match-ups.
“What happens in the tournament is so unpredictable,” he said. “You may think you have a great match-up, and some guy that you’re not counting on rises up and hits a three or four threes in a row. You just never know. The games are unique, and I think anything can happen in any game.”
For just a moment during Thursday’s 50-minute open practice session, Brown was slowed by some kind of leg injury. Asked in the locker room if he was OK, Brown cleared it up immediately.
“Caught a little cramp, that’s all,” he said. “I’m fine.”