DAYTON -- When T.J. Warren gets going, there might not be another player in college basketball – and that includes Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Andrew Wiggins from Kansas and Louisville's Russ Smith – who is more fun to watch. The only problem? We might not have much more time to see T.J. Warren playing college basketball.
Luckily we’ll get at least one more game, as Warren scored 25 points -- 16 in the second half -- to help NC State move into the round of 64 with a 74-59 win over Xavier in Dayton.
The sophomore is currently predicted to go 18th in the 2014 NBA Draft on DraftExpress and is 21st in Chad Ford’s Top 100 on ESPN.com. The dynamic wing has seen his draft stock soar in recent weeks as NC State has played better as a cohesive unit, and with a win in the NCAA tournament’s First Four, he’ll get the chance to take his game to an even bigger stage.
"He's a great player," Xavier coach Chris Mack said after the game. "He knows how to use his body and keep his body under control through contact. He had a couple of tough floaters that not many kids at this level can do. That's why he's going to be an excellent player at the next level."
With how the team has come together in recent weeks, the Wolfpack stand a good chance of catching a reeling Saint Louis team off guard. A win there and State would likely have Louisville. The Cardinals are playing as well as anybody in the country now, but then again this is March. It’s not inconceivable to think State could keep making a run. Things like this happen all the time.
The sophomore scores in a blur so often, it’s almost unfair. Seeing him in person only enhances the experience. You can’t rewind to ask yourself did he just do that? You don’t have the luxury of being able to Vine a deep three or a steal and a dunk from the stands. But that tenacity and his ability to go from cold-cold-cold to just plain on – that’s a rare gift.
So even if it’s a minor annoyance to not be able to see a replay on demand, you were there to experience it firsthand. You’ll talk about it on the drive home. And you’ll watch the highlights after. There are only a handful of players at this level who possess that, and even fewer who you can picture doing it in the NBA.
TJ Warren is one of them.
“Our players understand that T.J.’s a great scorer,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “And he is. They watch him every day in practice. Eventually in a 40-minute game […] he’s going to find a way.”
It's still too early to know whether or not Warren will decide to make the jump to the NBA after the season. NC State fans and college basketball fans in general will have plenty of time to worry about that when the season is over. For now, it's just worth tuning in. Because Warren's still playing, and the Wolfpack are learning how to dance.