After a largely stale performance in a losing effort versus Michigan, TeamRankings.com gives NC State a 5% chance of making the NCAA tournament, most likely as a 12 seed as one of the final teams picked. A 4-3 start to the season certainly doesn’t bode well for the Wolfpack, but that’s what Mark Gottfried’s teams have done at NC State … stumble through a chunk of the schedule that makes it seem impossible to earn an at-large bid, and then wind up in the field on Selection Sunday thanks to shrewd scheduling and a handful of timely wins.
NC State started the season 6-4, then went 12-3 over their next 15 with wins against beatable opponents who didn’t crush their strength of schedule and put them in a good position to make the tournament. The Pack found themselves up 16 at the half in Cameron Indoor Stadium before choking away the win and a sure NCAA bid, leading to a string of four straight losses that almost assuredly had Gottfried’s squad on the outside looking in. Four nice, but not overly impressive wins later, NC State had enough to make it into the tournament, where they eventually went on a run to the Sweet 16.
Entering the season ranked 6th in the country, State stumbled a bit to a disappointing 4-2 start in the context of being a top 10 team, but as an NCAA hopeful, two good losses did little to hurt their profile. Reeling off 10 straight wins didn’t hurt either, especially with most of those opponents being in that sweet spot of being close-to-automatic wins without hurting strength of schedule. After a huge win over top-ranked Duke, the Pack went on to lose 6 of their next 11, but never really reached any kind of danger zone in terms of not making the tournament. The mix of good wins and good losses was enough to put them comfortably in as an 8 seed.
A 2-2 start including an overtime home loss to NC Central put the Pack behind the 8 Ball early, but NC State towards Christmas with a 9-2 record before the annual tradition of hitting a mid-season wall. It started with a home loss against 25th ranked Missouri in a game that could have locked up an easy path to the tournament, leading to a 10-9 record over their last 19 games. A win over #11 Syracuse in the ACC Tournament likely locked up a stress-free selection for the tournament, however.
An 8-1 start made things look simple for the Wolfpack until a home loss to Wofford pulled State back into an all-too-familiar pattern. After a nice recovery win at Tennessee that served as a crucial feather in the cap for Selection Sunday, NC State dropped 9 of their next 14 games. Two critical factors led to an eventual 8 seed for the Pack: two wins against top 10 opponents and a 6-2 record during the toughest stretch of the year to close things out.
There’s something to be said for experience, and Wolfpack fans everywhere can feel confident that Mark Gottfried can keep his team from completely spiraling out of control based on the lessons learned over the previous four seasons. Here’s what needs to happen for NC State to make the NCAA Tournament:
- Be 11-3 heading into the Louisville game, which means no more head-scratching upsets and a win on the road against Missouri. That includes beating a Northeastern team who just beat a very good Miami squad.
- Don’t be worse than 9-6 over the next 15 games, which means NC State will have to avoid losing to a lower-tier ACC team, and will have to snag two wins from a combination of Duke, UNC, Miami, Syracuse, or Virginia.
- Beat Boston College at home, and win at Notre Dame to close out the season.
- If any of the above fails to happen for the Pack, they’ll need to at least make it to Saturday night in Washington, DC for the ACC Tournament finale.