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College Hoops Today: This Year’s Cinderella

April 4, 2024 | By RotoRob | comment on this post
DJ Burns Jr. has become a media darling for the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
DJ Burns Jr. has commanded the spotlight for the Wolfpack. (NC State Athletics)

UConn had some mechanical issues with the plane on its way to the Final Four in Arizona — the closest the Huskies have come in weeks from being stopped by anything; Utah State’s Great Osobor has entered the transfer portal and may also enter the NBA draft; and Fox Sports and AEG have teamed up to create a new postseason tourney — the College Basketball Crown.

It’s DJ Burns Jr.’s World

If you hadn’t figured out who this year’s Cinderella team was by the Sweet 16, it’s pretty damn clear now, isn’t it? The North Carolina State Wolfpack may have some defensive deficiencies but that has not stopped this team yet. They cruised through the ACC tourney with five wins in five days to earn a ticket to the NCAA tourney, and have kept the good vibes going right into their first Final Four in over 40 years.

The Wolfpack struggled to a 9-11 mark in ACC play before an amazing conference tourney run, then beat conference rival Duke in the Elite Eight handily, 76-64.

No member of the Wolfpack became a bigger media star this March than big man DJ Burns Jr. with his infectious personality and superb play. How about a career-best 29 points in the biggest game of his life.

Other than a quiet game against Marquette in the Sweet 16 when Burns only scored four points (but showed off his surprisingly good passing skills with seven assists), he’s been fantastic in the tourney, scoring at least 16 in every other contest.

The senior has enjoyed a better second season in NC State after transferring from Winthrop. Burns has seen more action this season, managed to sink his first career three-pointer and did much better work at the line, even if that’s still not exactly one of his strengths.

What’s surprised us the most is how nimble his footwork is for such a big dude; it drew comparisons to Shaquille O’Neal, except a much smaller version. Sure, Burns looks more like a football player — and reportedly NFL teams are interested in him — but his dream is to play in the NBA. It’s not going to be easy, and he will most likely have to make it as an undrafted free agent, yet regardless of how this plays out, he’s already left us with some great memories of this year’s March Madness.

Next up for the Wolfpack is Purdue, and Charles Barkley — who has been known to take a wager or two — believes Burns will have his hands full trying to bully Zach Edey, so it sure sounds like Sir Charles is taking the under for Burns’ line.

So what if NC State has caught your attention and you’re now all about the Wolfpack (perhaps even going out on dates like this)? Well, if the school’s men’s and women’s teams both win national championships, you’ll be in line for a very sweet payday (the odds of this happening are currently +27200 at FanDuel).

Bearkats Fail to Break Through

The Sam Houston State Bearkats’ first season in the Conference USA offered mixed results. The school only managed 21 wins after tallying 26 victories in its last season in the WAC. On the plus side, the Bearkats proved the class of the conference, winning the regular season title with a 13-3 record… however, they were upset in the conference semi-finals, extending its drought without a March Madness appearance to 14 years.

Junior guard Lamar Wilkerson led the team in scoring this season, and while he was inconsistent down the stretch and in the conference tourney, he did manage a solid 14 point showing in the loss to UTEP in the semis.

He was made a starter this season and parlayed his increased role into improvements almost across the board, with nearly 14 points, 3.6 boards, 1.4 assists and a steal per game. Wilkerson, heading into his final season of eligibility and hoping to take advantage of his All-CUSA Team selection, has entered the transfer portal as a grad transfer.

The 6’4″ two-guard is an extreme longshot for the NBA draft, but if he can show similar improvements as a senior, those odds could get better.

RotoRob Tune of the Day

Faith and morality were common themes throughout Leonard Cohen‘s work. Here’s “Take This Longing,” another track from The Best of Leonard Cohen, released as Greatest Hits in some European countries.

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