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Mark Gottfried's recruiting vision has brought NC State back to national prominence

Without the superior recruiting of Mark Gottfried, the Wolfpack would have never sniffed a Sweet 16 appearance.

As time clicked and ticked and rolled its way off the clock Saturday night in Pittsburgh, the upset was nearing its rambunctious ending.

Anthony "Cat" Barber danced from the opening minutes. It was as if the ball was attached to his fingers. Each move was as dazzling as the one that preceded it, as the sophomore carved into the lane for tough buckets and simple dishes to teammates. When it wasn't Barber, it was junior Trevor Lacey scorching a net from 23 feet away, or terrorizing an offensive player on the perimeter.

The next minute it was their freshman stud Abdul-Malik Abu. He destroyed the glass on every leap and curved the shots of inferior inside opposition. Then it was BeeJay Anya smashing shots off the hands of Villanova big men. Next, it was Lennard Freeman's or Kyle Washington's length disrupting attempted buckets.

And when it was over, when the round of 32 cage fight was complete, the Wolfpack stood tall over their competition. It wasn't necessarily a superior gameplan or excellent coaching that Mark Gottfried put on display as NC State danced its way into the locker room, filled with ebullience at its first Sweet 16 bid since 2012, the school's third in the 21st century.

It was specifically a supercilious advantage in talent. This wasn't a 1-seed against an 8-seed on paper. It didn't matter that Villanova had shot the lights out against nearly every opponent all season. NC State didn't care about the Wildcats' 16-game win streak, their first Big East Tournament crown in 20 years or the record-breaking win total.

Saturday night in Pittsburgh, talent got a team to the second weekend. And the most talented club, that night, wasn't draped in white and blue.

"Honestly, we don't talk about the whole seed thing very much," Gottfried said post game. "We're all aware of it. Our players are aware of it. It's not something we try to make a big deal out of that we're the 8 and they're the 1. You listen on television and everybody is having fun picking teams and who's going to win. You've got to block all that out. With our team, we've played in a great league. A great league. In my opinion, it's an undervalued conference right now for how strong our league is. So when you went on the road like we have and beat North Carolina or on the road and beat Louisville or beat a Duke team, it's not that you don't respect.

"We respect Villanova," he continued. "But we've seen good teams. We've seen a lot of them in our conference. You see them about every night. So a league like that prepares you for games like tonight. But again, our guys don't -- it's not something we made a big deal out of, whether they're the 1 or whatever. We're going to play and that's our next opponent."

Gottfried's touch for recruiting is what gave the Wolfpack the upper hand in their previous bouts. According to RSCI, the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, which makes sense out of major recruiting services top-100 lists and combines the rankings into a single statistic, the Wolfpack have boasted some of the nation's best talent since 2012, when they had the fifth best recruiting class. In 2014, their class was 17th.

On Gottfried's current roster, there are eight players with an RSCI rank of top-110 -- three are starters, and two were in the top-35 best players in their respective classes. Compare that to Villanova's six top-110 players -- three are starters, no top-40 players in the last four seasons, and, more importantly, no consistency in top-100 post players in the last four seasons (JayVaughn Pinkston came out in 2010). There hasn't been a heralded recruiting class in recent memory.

Yet, it's that appreciation of the Wolfpack's talent that's made them a confident bunch, despite being down 16 against LSU and having a rough conference schedule. NC State is surging. And it couldn't have come at a more appropriate time.

"It's a mindset to go in there," Abu said, when asked about if his team was gaining confidence the last few nights. "Coach always inspires us to be the best we can be and be the best when your best is needed. I just try to go out there and play the best I can every night and every time I play ... My parents told me to go out there and work hard. I pride my game off of just working hard."

When the buzzer rang its final squelch, the madness had truly commenced. Abu was seen near the right baseline jumping around his teammates in glee. Desmond Lee hung in the air for what seemed like minutes as the Wolfpack paraded around the court. Lacey was sprinting downcourt with a player behind him yelling in delight. It was nothing new for this bunch. Gottfried has the second-most wins in NCAA history (8) for a coach leading an eight-seed or lower team since 1985.

In addition to cracking 'Nova, NC State beat top-seeded Duke and North Carolina this season. The last time they accomplished that feat, beating those two and a one-seed, they won a national championship, that season as the ultimate underdog in 1983 under Jim Valvano.

An article that Lacey said gave his team "extra motivation" was right about one thing in its definition of the Wolfpack. This isn't "your father's Jimmy Valvano-coached NC State Wolfpack." Correct. Its Gottfried's "inmates run the asylum type of philosophy." And on Saturday, those talented, defensive-minded, uber-athletic "inmates" ran their way right to the second weekend of the game's most important affair.

Who knows. They could keep running for four more games.

"We've been there before," Lacey said, when talking about closing out the game and pressuring Villanova's shooters after he threw the ball out of bounds late in the game. "Coach made sure nobody panicked and let the play go. When Hilliard came down next possession, we just made sure we didn't give him a clean look."