The NC State women's basketball team was in the midst of a strong postseason run, winning the program’s first ACC championship in 29 years, before the coronavirus shut down this year's NCAA tournament. If there hadn't been an outbreak, the Wolfpack would be going into the tournament with the momentum to go on a deep run and the chance to make history. Here is what could have happened if the season wasn’t ended abruptly.
Based on Charlie Creme’s projected bracket and ESPN’s Basketball power index, NC State would have been given a No. 2 seed and would've faced No. 15-seed Campbell in the first round of the tournament. Anything can happen when it's March, but State would have beat Campbell with relative ease. Momentum tilts the court in favor of the Wolfpack.
NC State ended its season on a five-game winning streak and an ACC championship, while Campbell lost its last two games. There's potential in any first-round matchup for higher-seeded teams to come out overconfident or to crack under the pressure of expected success. Wolfpack sports have been in a slump recently, to put it lightly, and women's basketball was the biggest program set to make a realistic run at a national championship.
With the hopes of a Wolfpack fan base desperate for a title on their shoulders, NC State could crack under the pressure, but its success in the ACC Tournament has shown that it can step up when it needs to. Its contest against Florida State in the ACC Championships was a competitive game, with 12 lead changes and nine ties throughout the game. The Wolfpack was able to pull away with consistent free throws from sophomore center Elissa Cunane and stellar defense. The Pack forced two turnovers and held FSU without a field goal in the final 3:45 of the game. It is NC State sports; anything can happen. But realistically, the Wolfpack wins this matchup.
Next up would have been No. 7 Arkansas. On paper, the Razorbacks have a slight offensive edge over the Wolfpack. They have higher field goal and free throw percentages and average more points per game. The key to this matchup is matching that offensive production, not just with buckets from Cunane in the paint, but with 3-pointers as well. Senior guard Ace Konig was lethal from the perimeter and earned the program record for threes made in a season, along with ACC Tournament MVP status. Scoring production from Konig is essential to a Wolfpack win in the second round. The Wolfpack has a stronger record, winning four more games overall, and against conference opponents. The game will also be played relatively close to home in Greenville, and a loyal Wolfpack fan base unrestricted by shelter-in-place orders would have come to give the team a morale boost. The Wolfpack would’ve won this game, and playing in front of a big “home” crowd in such a high-scoring match up could have set the tone for the rest of the tournament.
In the Sweet 16, NC State would have likely faced off against UCLA. The Bruins are ranked two spots lower than the Wolfpack on the AP poll, but both teams are evenly matched. UCLA has three players with 40 or more steals this season, and Michaela Onyenwere put up an average of 18.8 points per game herself. To counter, Cunnane has snagged 308 rebounds for state this season and has averaged 16.4 ppg. Cunane’s individual performance is vital to a Wolfpack win. If she gets into foul trouble or has a mediocre night, UCLA would likely take over, controlling the boards and running up the score.
Three games into the tournament, it's hard to predict how teams would be playing based on the stunted postseason matches played weeks ago. Still, it's safe to say this game will be decided by individual performance. Performance from top scorers and big games from a depth player could push either team over the edge. I think State wins this matchup, provided they keep a lid on UCLA’s explosive offense and get good production off the bench.
Four imaginary games later, the Wolfpack finds itself still alive deep into March. Its Elite Eight opponent? No.1 seed South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been on a tear, boasting a near flawless 32-1 record, 13 victories against ranked opponents and a 26-game win streak that stretches back to late November. Where NC State grabbed its first ACC title in 29 years, The Gamecocks just won their fifth SEC championship in six years, dominating defending champs Mississippi State 76-62. Realistically, South Carolina beats the Wolfpack, and coach Dawn Staley leads her squad to the Final Four and beyond.
A trip to the Elite Eight is by no means unimpressive, especially when it takes the No.1 team in the nation to knock you out. Still, losing sucks, and no member of the Wolfpack wants to see our team do anything but end its season with a championship. Crazier upsets happen all the time in March — and this is all just speculation anyway.
If you ask me, screw the odds. The Wolfpack would have clutched a win against the Gamecocks in their home state, beat Maryland for the second time this season, and ended the Baylor Lady Bears’ hopes for back-to-back national titles. We’d all be watching the Bell Tower light up and enjoying campus in the springtime instead of sitting through hour-long zoom conferences. That is what could have been.