Life on the bubble again a reality for NC State

Coach Kevin Keatts and the Wolfpack aren’t looking ahead after missing out on an NCAA Tournament bid last season

Redshirt junior guard Devon Daniels and the Wolfpack need a strong close to the regular season to help make their case for an NCAA Tournament bid. (Robert Clark / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — Bracketology is an inexact science. And it changes daily, especially this time of year as college basketball teams with holes in their postseason resumes jockey for position on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.

It’s an almost annual rite of spring for NC State, which is once again scraping to earn one of the final few spots in the 68-team field.

The Wolfpack helped its cause considerably last week by playing its best game of the season in a meaningful 88-66 rout of then-No. 6 Duke. Even with Saturday’s 67-61 loss to No. 8 Florida State in its second straight game against a top-10 opponent, coach Kevin Keatts’ team was in an advantageous situation going into Tuesday’s rivalry showdown with North Carolina.

But a lot can and will happen — including the Wolfpack’s 85-79 loss in Chapel Hill — in the 2½ weeks remaining until Selection Sunday.

So the best thing redshirt senior wing C.J. Bryce and his teammates can do is keep winning as many games as possible. And just as important, avoid any more bad losses that will be fresh on the selection committee’s mind when the time comes for it to make its decisions. 

“I feel like we’re going to continue to play hard every single game,” Bryce said. “You can’t worry about what’s happened in the past. You have to continue to move forward, and we’re going to do that with (the FSU) game also.” 

The Wolfpack saw its NET ranking drop only one spot — from 51 to 52 — as a result of that loss to the Seminoles, and just one more (53) after the UNC loss.

NET (an acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool) rankings are a new analytic adopted by the NCAA last season to replace the old, less accurate RPI (Ratings Percentage Index). Among the factors used to determine the NET are game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin and net efficiency at both ends of the court.

The value of wins and losses are weighted by quadrants.

Quadrant 1 includes teams ranked in the top 30 for games played at home, the top 50 for neutral site games and the top 75 on the road. Quadrant 2 includes teams ranked from 31-75 at home, 51-100 at neutral sites and 76-135 on the road. Quadrant 3 includes teams ranked from 76-160 at home, 101-200 at neutral sites and 135-240 on the road while Quadrant 4 includes all other games.

State’s 17-10 overall record (8-8 ACC) going into Tuesday’s action included five wins against Quad 1 opponents, the most of any ACC team. The Wolfpack was 9-7 against Quad 1 and 2 competition.

As solid as its credentials appear to be, Keatts isn’t taking anything for granted. That’s because last year, the Wolfpack was left out of the NCAA Tournament field despite having a NET ranking of 30 — higher than four teams that did get in, along with each of the “first four out” of the bracket.

“We can only control what we can control,” Keatts said after another of his team’s signature wins, a 53-51 victory against defending national champion Virginia in Charlottesville on Jan. 20. “I’ve decided this year not to look at the NET. The other thing I’ll say is about the ACC. Everybody that you talk to, all the talking heads, are saying that the ACC is down. I don’t agree with that. I think the ACC is just balanced. I think we’re still one of the top conferences in the country.”

If there’s one thing State has going for it coming down the home stretch, it’s that it finally appears to be healthy. With the return of graduate forward Pat Andree from a foot injury Tuesday, all nine of the Wolfpack’s eligible scholarship players are once again available.

That hasn’t happened much this season. Seven of those nine players have missed at least one game because of injury or suspension.

State is 12-3 this season when all of its top eight scorers have been in the lineup and contributing. It is 5-7 in games in which one or more of its key players has been missing.

“We’re a good basketball team when we’ve got everybody healthy, and we’ve talked about it all year long,” Keatts said.

One thing the coach and his players don’t talk about much is where they stand on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

“We just talk about the next game because I’m not sure they can handle that,” Keatts said. “If I put pressure on them and say we have to win this game for NCAA hopes, I’m not sure we would respond like we did (against Duke). So we just talk about the opportunities we have and taking advantage of them.”