On the eve of NC State’s national championship date with top-ranked Houston in 1983, the great columnist Dave Kindred mockingly wrote that trees would tap dance and elephants would drive in the Indy 500 before the Wolfpack would find a way to beat the heavily-favored Cougars.

They’re words history tells us Kindred lived to regret.

Fast forward 41 years to today and another loveable State team.

This latest incarnation is an even more unlikely Final Four participant than its storied championship predecessor. With 14 losses already on its record, the most ever for a team that’s advanced this far, Kevin Keatts’ 11th-seeded Wolfpack isn’t being given as much as a puncher’s chance against Purdue, the top seed in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region.

ESPN BET sportsbook has set State as a 9.5-point underdog in Saturday’s first national semifinal in Glendale, Ariz.

So it looks as if it’s time for those tall timbers to begin putting on their tap shoes and the pachyderm to start following the pace car again, right?

As Kindred learned so painfully in 1983, it would be a mistake to underestimate the Wolfpack based solely on appearance.

Beating the Boilermakers will be a tall task. That’s tall, as in the size of their 7-4 star center Zach Edey. But in the spirit of Jimmy V and his Cardiac Pack, this red-and-white clad Cinderella is just as capable of shocking the world and pulling off an upset.

Here’s how they can do it:

Pay more attention to stopping Edey’s supporting cast than Edey himself

The National Player of the Year was dominant in torching Tennessee for 40 points and 16 rebounds Saturday in Purdue’s region championship victory. So it’s only logical that Keatts and his staff would draw up a game plan with Edey’s name at the very top.

But that would be a mistake.

The Boilermakers’ star is averaging “only” 24 points and 12 rebounds, numbers that while impressive, aren’t going to win a game singlehandedly. Even if he exceeds them slightly. Committing a 2nd big or even a guard to double-team him on the low post would take away from the task of defending the players who will actually make the biggest difference in the outcome.

It’s often lost in Edey’s considerable shadow that Purdue is also the 2nd-best 3-point shooting team in the country at 40.6%. So it’s more important to let him have his while concentrating on keeping his teammates Braden Smith, Lance Jones and Fletcher Loyer from beating you by limiting their open looks and cutting off their driving lanes.

Wisconsin did just that in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, limiting the Boilermakers’ shooters to a combined 2-of-8 from distance while holding all 3 to single digits. Edey scored 28 to go along with 11 rebounds. But his team lost in overtime.

Keep the bigs out of foul trouble

The 1 stat the Wolfpack should be most concerned about when it comes to Edey is that he averages drawing 9 fouls per game against his opponents. Even with a 3-man frontcourt rotation that has a combined 15 fouls to give, Edey’s propensity for generating whistles can be a problem, especially if they come early and in bunches.

Getting 1 inside presence in foul trouble would be manageable. Two would be a problem. Having DJ Burns, Mohamed Diarra and Ben Middlebrooks all saddled with 2 in the 1st half and 3 before the under-12 timeout in the 2nd would be catastrophic to the Wolfpack’s ability to defend and rebound.

Because of Burns’ physical style when he starts backing his defender in toward the basket, how closely the game is called is going to be pivotal. That makes it even more incumbent on the others to play smart and not commit silly, avoidable fouls by reaching in or getting out of control while trying to block shots on the perimeter.

Force turnovers that turn defense into easy baskets at the other end

One of the biggest differences between the way State finished the regular season (losing 10 of its final 14) and its current 9-game postseason winning streak is the intensity with which it has defended.

The Wolfpack have held their past 6 opponents, including all 4 in the NCAA Tournament, to a field goal percentage of less than .390. In 5 of their 9 postseason wins, they’ve held the other team under 30% from beyond the 3-point arc while allowing double-figure treys only once while allowing fewer than 70 points 6 times.

The most significant aspect of their recent defensive surge is their ability to not only force turnovers, but to turn them into points. It was a steal by Middlebrooks that led to a transition 3-pointer by Michael O’Connell on Sunday that helped regain the momentum following a technical foul on Keatts midway through the 2nd half against Duke.

Overall, State has scored 10 or more points off turnovers 6 times this postseason, with a high of 30 against Syracuse in the ACC Tournament 2nd round. Disrupting Purdue’s offensive flow and stealing points without having to deal with Edey around the rim will be big. But it’s even more important to speed up the tempo and create fastbreak opportunities to take advantage of the Boilermakers’ most glaring weakness.