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Playing With House Money

March 18, 2010
You may have heard that expression before–“Playing with house money.” For those not familiar with the saying, it’s a gambling/poker expression that means you’re risking money you’ve already won from “the house.” Whether you win or lose, you don’t go home any worse off than how you started.

Sidney Lowe and the men’s basketball team, right now, are playing with “house money.” In a postseason tournament like the NIT, that’s playing from a position of tremendous strength.

By all accounts, State’s already exceeded its very modest expectations for the year. The team was predicted to finish last in the league and finished in a tie for 9th. They beat a very good Marquette team on the road, a good Auburn team to claim the Glenn Wilkes Classic “title,” and but for a miracle heave at the buzzer, nearly defeated a good Florida team at home. And in the ACC Tournament, they advanced to Semifinal Saturday and were within reach of getting into the title game against Duke.

There was a stretch during the middle of a conference season where things looked very bleak. After upsetting Duke in the RBC Center, State would lose seven straight conference games. The Pack looked destined to finish 12th where pundits believed they would.

But a home win against Wake Forest sparked a run of six wins over eight games that’s still running. And since that game against the Deacs, the Pack has looked like a team with promise in all but one of them (the Virginia Tech debacle was certainly forgettable).

So now you have a team playing its best basketball of the season at the right time. It’s due in large part to the fact that anything accomplished from here on out is gravy. State’s made it to the postseason–a goal of the team’s prior to the start of the year. The pressure is now off, and when you’ve got a team playing loose and hungry, that’s a deadly combo.

Can you blame them for not wanting to keep things going? Imagine playing an entire season struggling to find the right formula, with a month-long blight where nothing seemed to work, only to discover yourselves at the end. If you’re Dennis Horner or Farnold Degand, you can bet they’re playing every minute as if it’s their last because, well, it could be. It showed against South Florida, with Horner setting a new career high in points with 25, and Degand has played the most aggressive ball of his career in the last month.

There are no more expectations or achievements that need to be met before folks sign off on this season. State’s playing with a stack of chips they didn’t bring to the table, and if you’ve played poker before, you know players like with large stacks are the most dangerous folks to square off against. They’ve got nothing to lose, everything to gain and force you to play your best to beat them.

Just like N.C. State.

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