PHOTO: DJ Burns Jr. moves to the hoop at the 2023 ACC Tournament inn Greensboro. [Photo by Todd Turner]

Even if you don’t follow college basketball — which in North Carolina is considered to be kind of a crime — you must have heard about the incredible run in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament by the NC State Wolfpack.

But if you haven’t, here’s a quick recap.

The Wolfpack weren’t even supposed to appear on college basketball’s biggest stage. After a lackluster season, they were seeded 10th out of 15 teams in the ACC Tournament. They became just the second men’s team in NCAA history to win five games in five nights against higher-ranked opponents — including those darlings of NC hoops Duke and UNC — to take the ACC Tournament earlier this month. Without that decisive win in the finals against UNC, they would not have been invited to the big dance, relegated to the lesser NIT tournament, the one UNC declined to participate in just last year and another ACC team, Pitt, turned down this year.

To be sure, the ACC sent five teams, fully one-third of their members, to the Final Four Tournament this year. All of them, save for Virginia, which got knocked out on the very first day, did quite well. UNC, Clemson and Duke all made it to the Sweet 16, noteworthy in a year that saw so many sportswriters describe the conference as one in decline

That NC State bested Duke this weekend to become one of a small handful of 11-seeds in history to make it to the Final Four makes it all the more delicious. Or painful, depending on where your allegiances lie.

But at this point, even Tar Heel and Blue Devil fans need to get in on the Wolfpack bandwagon if they haven’t already.

For one, NC State exists outside that college-hoops dyad that dictates most fandom in the state, 

which can be boiled down to the question: Which shade of blue are you? 

NC State has been a perennial underdog since the last time they made the Final Four, which was in 1983, the year they won the whole thing. Anyone can root for NC State, just like anyone can say they spent “a couple semesters” there.

For another: The women’s team made the championship round as well, beginning their tourney as a 3-seed and plowing through the competition for just their second-ever appearance in the Final Four; the last time was in 1998. And when they next  take the cohort, it will be with freshman guard Jannah Eissa, the very first basketball player in ACC history to wear a hijab on court.

This is a huge deal.

And it all comes to a head this next weekend. The women play 1-seed South Carolina on Friday night, time to be determined; the men’s team takes on 1-seed Purdue on Saturday at 6 p.m. And we all need to be there — in spirit anyway — as the Wolfpack teams bring honor upon our state. Wear something red.

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