The good news for NC State is that it should be favored in two of its final three regular season games. The bad news: The third game is the one the Wolfpack really needs to win.
Make no mistake, the Pack also needs victories in the home finale against Georgia Tech and on the road at Boston College.
Assuming State takes care of business in those two games, against teams with a combined 8-21 conference record, the Wolfpack will have one final chance to make an impression on the NCAA selection committee, Saturday at Florida State.
NC State will be coming off a midweek bye before playing the Noles. Although, after getting 25 points from Markell Johnson, a double-double from Torin Dorn and 14 from Jericole Hellems, the last thing the red-hot Pack might want to do it take some time off.
“It is better to have a week off with a win opposed to a loss,” coach Kevin Keatts said. “We’ve got to take a couple of days off and then try to stay sharp for our next opponent in Florida State.”
The Pack already hit one milestone, winning its 20th game of the season last weekend, against Wake Forest. It’s the second straight 20-win season under Keatts, and the first time State has put together back-to-back 20-win campaigns since doing it four years in a row, from 2012 to 2015.
“I think anytime you can get 20 wins in an NCAA season, it’s definitely a feat,” Dorn said. “Hopefully that is enough to get us in, but we still have a few more games to play for our resume to put ourselves in the best position come March.”
One more win in the last three will match last season’s 21 wins. If the Pack wins two, it will have 10 conference wins for the second straight year, something that hasn’t happened in Raleigh since Jim Valvano’s teams in 1988 and 1989. The 21 ACC wins over two years would be the most since the two-year span ending with the 1974 national title.
State is near the bottom of the ACC’s clearly defined second tier. After Duke, UNC and Virginia, who are playing for No. 1 seeds in the tournament, there is a group of five teams with eight-to-10 conference wins.
Nine-win Syracuse and Louisville each have games against Virginia remaining. Syracuse also played UNC Tuesday night, after press time, so if State wins out, it could easily leapfrog both of those teams.
Virginia Tech and Florida State each have 10 wins, two ahead of State, and play each other once more. The Hokies played Duke on Tuesday, after press time, and also have a game against Miami. The Noles’ third game is against Wake Forest.
Should the Hokies beat FSU and lose the other two, a Wolfpack win over the Noles would move the Pack into a tie for fourth in the league.
More important than the position in the regular-season standings is the impression on the selection committee.
State’s December win over Auburn is the lone Quadrant I win for the Wolfpack. Those wins — over a top 30 team at home, top 50 at a neutral site or top 75 on the road, are the ones emphasized most by the selection committee.
NC State has dominated Quadrant II, III and IV teams, posting a combined 19-1 record, including 6-0 against Quadrant II. The top-shelf opponents have given the Pack fits, however.
State has lost its other seven shots at a Quadrant I foe this year: at Wisconsin, Louisville, Duke and UNC, and home against UNC, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
The first four of those losses were by eight points or fewer, including taking Virginia to overtime. Recently, however, the Pack has struggled against top foes, losing by 23 points to Virginia Tech in a game where the Wolfpack only scored 24, then dropping games at Carolina and Duke by 17 and 16.
The other four teams in the ACC’s second tier, all of whom are presumably jockeying for NCAA seeding position, have all done significantly better in Quad I games:
Virginia Tech: 3-6 (2 remaining)
Florida State: 5-4 (1 remaining)
Syracuse: 3-5 (3 remaining)
Louisville: 4-9 (1 remaining)
NC State: 1-7 (1 remaining)
Florida State will be the final Quadrant I game on the Pack’s schedule. A victory by NC State would be a late statement to the committee by the Wolfpack.
“Every win is important down the stretch,” Dorn said. “So winning as many games as possible is really of utmost importance to us.”