GREENSBORO — Kevin Keatts makes a convincing case why his NC State basketball team should be among the 68 teams selected to play in the NCAA Tournament this year:
- Four Quadrant 1 wins according to the NCAA’s NET rankings, two of which came on the road;
- A top-100 nonconference schedule;
- Five wins against teams that either won or finished second in their conference (Wisconsin, Duke, Virginia, UNC Greensboro and Arkansas-Little Rock);
- A 13-5 record when all eight of their top scorers are healthy and available.
“When you talk about the NCAA Tournament, we’re excited and hope we have the opportunity to hear our name called on Sunday,” Keatts said Tuesday as he prepared his Wolfpack for its ACC Tournament opener, which will be Wednesday at 2 p.m. against Pittsburgh. “I thought we answered all of the critics from last year.
“If you put our resume up against anybody else, I think it will show favorably. But I’m not on the committee. I can only control how hard our guys play in the game and that’s all we look at.”
At 19-12 overall (10-10 ACC), State is either one of the last four teams into the NCAA field or the first four out, depending on which so-called bracketologist you favor.
But the fact of the matter is that nobody, probably even those members of the committee that will make the selections come Sunday afternoon, has any idea at this point as to how those final few spots in the bracket will fall.
Some of it will depend on performance in this week’s conference tournaments. Some of it will depend on how other bubble teams take care of their business.
It’s such an inexact science that the only way the Wolfpack can guarantee its postseason fate is to just keep winning.
“We just want to win the whole ACC Tournament,” senior point guard Markell Johnson said. “That’s our goal, to win out. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, because that’s when we start reaching. We’re just concentrating on the winner of Wake Forest-Pittsburgh and taking it one step at a time.”
Conventional wisdom says that State’s opening game, whichever ACC bottom-feeder it faces, won’t do anything to help its NCAA chances. But a loss could turn into a ticket to the NIT for the second straight year.
A win would, however, present Johnson and his fifth-seeded team with a golden opportunity at playing their way into the NCAA field — a quarterfinal date with No. 4 Duke, a team it has already beaten once this season.
A loss to the Blue Devils wouldn’t necessarily bump the Wolfpack out of next week’s bracket. But after losing in the ACC quarterfinals against Virginia in a similar situation last year, then getting left out in the cold on Selection Sunday, redshirt senior wing C.J. Bryce said that State would rather not leave anything to chance this time around.
“We want to take last year as a learning situation,” Bryce said. “We have some veteran guys on this team who all went through that, and we learned from it. We’ll definitely do our best to get some wins in this tournament because we don’t want to leave things in the hands of the committee again.”
If nothing else, State should have some good karma going for it by playing in Greensboro Coliseum.
It’s already won once this season in the building, beating UNC Greensboro on Johnson’s half-court 3-pointer at the buzzer. Just last weekend, the Wolfpack’s women’s basketball team ended a 29-year ACC Tournament title drought by cutting down the nets on this very same court.
Keatts’ team is also coming into the postseason off one of its most complete efforts of the season, an 84-64 rout of Wake Forest at PNC Arena last Friday. But while the Wolfpack has reason to feel good about its chances in the tournament, it must first prove it can put together two good consecutive games — something it hasn’t often done this season.
“We’ve got to come out here and play with a sense of urgency,” junior forward D.J. Funderburk said. “We’ve got to be locked in from start to finish.
“There’s games where we look like the No. 1 in the country, and then there’s games when we look like the 350th team in the country. We just have to stay patient, stay locked in, trust everybody on the team and focus on consistency.”