Alabama comes to town on Wednesday night as the Wolfpack plays host in the RBC Center to the only Top-10-ranked out of conference team that I can remember visiting the building. As usual, Section Six has a great preview of the game that can be viewed by clicking here.
(Sidenote – can anyone remember a higher ranked non-conference opponent in the ESA/RBC? It really sucks that the biggest non-conference game in the history of the building gets a 6:30pm tip and is scheduled when the students are home for exams.)
Approximately 30% of the season has passed and – to this point – nobody in their right mind would claim that Sidney Lowe and NC State have not overachieved to this point of the season. In fact, the N&O ran a story today supporting this and highlighting the Wolfpack’s strong play and ‘rising expectations’. (Link to story)
^This comes just one day after the N&O’s blog chimed in on the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest match-up on Sunday.
Virginia Tech ended up beating Wake Forest, 63-60 after Jamie Skeen’s last-second heave missed wide right. If those two teams don’t end up fighting for 11th and 12th place with Miami, the ACC’s in serious trouble.
That’s a nice (and quick) improvement from the preseason prognostications that predicted that the Wolfpack would finish 12th in the ACC and State fans would “get what they deserve” (as a preseason Fox Sports article stated)
State currently sits a surprising 7-2 with an RPI around #115 heading into a thirteen day stretch where the Pack will play five consecutive out of conference televised contests. The Pack will begin conference play in earnest on January 6th vs Boston College. Don’t worry about the RPI right now – the Pack still has eleven games scheduled with teams currently in the Top 40 of the RPI.
Before the season began, most Wolfpackers would have GLADLY taken a 7-2 to start the season WITH Engin Atsurâ€™s presence. Can anyone really ask more than a 7-2 start considering that Atsur has missed two and half weeks of play?
I went “On the Record” with our thoughts regarding the season before we even knew how good Clemson was going to be this year. The entire entry can be seen here but can boiled down as follows:
* For this seasonâ€™s 29 game regular season schedule – I am looking for the Wolfpack to finish the season 12-17 overall with a 3-13 record in the ACC. I expect a first-game exit from the ACC Tournament. Anything above this is gravy to me this year.
* A â€œstretch goal/expectationâ€ would be a 15-14 regular season record; I donâ€™t care how the wins are distributed. Finishing the regular season 15-14 (and potentially 15-15 after an ACC Tournament loss) would qualify the Wolfpack for an NIT Tournament appearance that would be unbelievable this season. This is the goal.
As the N&O intimated today but did not express in the framework of records and numbers – at this point of the season the Pack has managed to elevate their performance where they are making a strong run for the NIT and continue to provide a glimmer of hope for an NCAA Tournament invitation.
There, I said it.
Don’t confuse that with a prediction or an expectation that the Wolfpack will earn an NCAA bid; just realize that the Pack’s schedule is laden with opportunities to make splashes like the one that was made in defeat of an 11-1 Michigan team that seems headed to the big dance this year. Additionally, the NCAA Tournament committee does not hide the fact that they adjust for key injuries during the season if a team is at full strength and playing well at the end of the season.
The ACC is tough this year. A team with a strong non-conference showing – like the Pack is building – can make the NCAA Tournament with a 7-9 record in the ACC . It won’t be easy, but an objective observer who has watched teams play this season could definitely contrive a scenario where the Pack can get to 7 or 8 wins in the conference. Of course, a single injury to one of the Pack’s five main players would cripple any of this thought. Another key will be for State’s key players to avoid foul trouble in the games that the Pack has legitimate opportunities to win.
With all of this on the table, this five-game stretch prior to the start of the conference season is pivotal to setting the stage for the rest of the year. It breaks down like this:
* 5-0 and fans can legitimately shift their conversations from aiming for the NIT (with a 15-14 record) to aiming for the NCAA. State would be 12-2 with two very big wins vs Michigan and Alabama.
* 4-1 (11-3 overall) would keep fans hope for an NCAA Tournament bubble appearance alive for another couple of weeks. State’s strong play against Michigan and Virginia generates excitement for the Alabama game and Cincinnati’s early struggles gives the Pack hope on the road this weekend. The Pack would definitely have to finish at least 7-9 in conference play (potentially 8-8) for NCAA dreams.
* Before the season, a 3-2 mark would have been the hope/expectation for this stretch. Because of the Michigan win, a 10-4 overall mark prior to January 6th would keep some NCAA hopes alive but would more prominently place the Pack in solid contention to qualify for the NIT with a 15-14 (or better) overall record at the end of the year.
* Anything worse than a 3-2 mark in the next 5 game run would relegate hopes for the season much closer to what was expected heading into the year.