NC State's Sweet Sixteen loss to Louisville is still fresh. The hurt remains strong. But looking back on this recent season, and taking the four years of Mark Gottfried's stint into account, it's clear that Wolfpack basketball has returned to the national stage. The program is in a positive place.
Let's take a moment to acknowledge what was accomplished this season. NC State beat Duke, won at North Carolina, won at Louisville and eliminated a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They also overcame a 16-point deficit against LSU in the round of 64, capped off by a heroic BeeJay Anya buzzer-beating hook shot that none of us will forget anytime soon.
We saw a star emerge in hyped transfer Trevor Lacey. We witnessed Ralston Turner develop into our post-Scott Wood sharpshooter over the past two years. Cat Barber became nationally known for his quickness. Abdul-Malik Abu's energy sparked the entire team. We also can't forget going from 14-11, 5-7 in ACC play to being on the verge of an Elite Eight appearance.
Most importantly, barring any unexpected transfers or early exits for the NBA, NC State's core will return. Barber will still run the show. Lacey should stick around. Terry Henderson might be able to seamlessly step in for Turner. Caleb Martin and Cody Martin could see a rise in minutes, Caleb being more likely to do so. Anya, Abu, Kyle Washington and Lennard Freeman will hopefully all return, giving the Wolfpack incredible size and depth.
I'm devastated by losing to Louisville. The thought of not playing tomorrow for a Final Four shot is unsettling. But its been a fun journey to go from off the bubble to established deep in the chaos of March Madness. That five-year tourney absence is gone. Two Sweet Sixteen runs in four years is a reality. To the benefit of Wolfpack fans, NC State's program is undeniably relevant.