Down the rabbit hole . . .

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

This was an idea that came to me last offseason when Omega was on his 47th football preview (I think it was about the back-up longsnapper), we had already hashed out bbq preferences, figured out how the football team was going to get to 10 wins, and we needed something else to talk about. What could be more fun (and possibly painful) than discussing what-if scenarios? There are a few classic ones in Wolfpack lore, but the one I come back to the most is what if Josh Powell sticks around for the 2003-2004 basketball season?

The 2002-2003 basketball season saw the Wolfpack reach their second consecutive NCAA tournament after a million year journey through the desert. NC State finished the year 18-12 (9-7) led by sophomores Julius Hodge and Josh Powell, juniors Marcus Melvin and Scooter Sherrill, and the senior Cliff Crawford. That season ended with the infamous ACC finals loss to Duke and their momentum-changing band of referees (and lots of uncalled illegal screens for JJ Redick), followed by a disappointing first round exit to Cal in the NCAA tournament.

The end of that season might have been disappointing, but Wolfpack Nation was riding high on the fumes of WTNY (wait til next year). State had a potential (and ultimate) POY coming back in Hodge, another emerging star in Josh Powell who had made a huge step forward in his sophomore year (averaging 12 and 5, shooting 57% from the field and 37.5% from 3 (on 24 attempts). State also had a potential All-ACC player in Marcus Melvin and a rock-solid Scooter Sherrill returning for their senior years. The two biggest questions going into the offseason were, 1) Who would replace Cliff Crawford at the point and 2) Could we get some more depth on the bench, which was woefully short that season.

The answer to #2 seemed well in hand with Ilian Evtimov returning from his year off with a torn ACL, and further development from the likes of Cam Bennerman, Jordan Collins, and Levi Watkins.

The answer to #1 ended up being Turkish freshman Engin Atsur and definitely not Mike O'Donnell (lulz).

We all know what happened though; Powell surprisingly announced that he was entering the NBA draft even though he was not projected to be drafted, and wasn't. The most pervasive rumor I have heard it is that he was unhappy with how he perceived the offense would be run (through Hodge) and a potential loss of PT with Herb favorite Evtimov returning. I have no idea if that was why he abruptly left or not.

State still managed to put together, IMO, their best team of the past 25 years or so with Hodge dominating, Melvin becoming a real mismatch for most fours, and Scooter, Evtimov, and Atsur all averaging 9-11 points/game. The bench had four guys averaging at least 10 minutes/game. It was a real complete team and a fun team to watch. The only non top-50 RPI loss was at the accursed Littlejohn Coliseum

The team ended the 2003-2004 season 21-10 (11-5) with real potential to win the ACC tournament and advance deep into the NCAAs. All that potential teamed up with NC State Shit to take two giant dumps on Wolfpack fans with the surreal loss to Maryland in the ACC semis and the heartbreaker in the Sweet 16 second round to Vanderbilt.

That was a really long intro, for me to ask, "What happens if Powell stays that season?"

The starting five for much of the season is most likely Atsur, Scooter, Hodge, Melvin, and Powell, with Evtimov basically serving as a 6th starter. I think that team challenges Duke (finishing 13-3) for the ACC regular season "title." It also might have helped alleviate the loss of Scooter, who injured his ankle in the final UNC game of the year and missed the remainder of the season.

I think Powell gives the Wolfpack a third all-ACC player and someone who could dominate in the low post, which was the one thing that team was missing.

I am interested in hearing others' thoughts on how the season goes if Powell stays for his junior year. Does the team soar to new heights, have similar results, or tank with in-fighting about playing time and offensive focus?

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