Just as NC State basketball is becoming the most fun thing on the planet (Note: Standards may have been lowered during fall), tragically we have a whole week between games. So I thought it was time to look ahead and engage in some baseless speculation.
Sunday was another good day for the hoops guys, as the Wolfpack move up five places to #64 in the KenPom rankings overnight, despite not playing. Don't know how to explain this - I would guess Ken is finally appropriately weighting shot bothering percentage, but that actually would move us up to the top five. Without doing anything numerical whatsoever, I'm assuming the KenPom rating would be 15-20 places higher if you consider only the games since Vandy returned. That would put us solidly in the NCAA-bubble range, so let's look at the schedule, and game out some best and worst case scenarios. (Dec. 23 KenPom ranks of opponents in parenthesis.)
NON-CONFERENCE: Missouri (49), UNCG (310). Pretty binary here, with a virtual toss-up at home against a Missouri team that just had its first loss against Illinois, followed by a road game against an abysmal UNCG team. 1-1 would be acceptable, but 2-0 would really give State some breathing room. The SEC East currently has Florida and Kentucky in the KenPom top 12, and Tennessee in the top 50, so Missouri could really be a quality win if they keep up a decent record in conference play. PREDICTION: Feeling good about the team and the home game, I'm giving State a 70% chance of going 2-0 here.
ACC HOME-AND-HOME: Pitt (9), UNC (18), Wake (85), Miami (91). A whole lot of uncertainty here, even beyond the question of whether State is a legitimate top 50 team. Are Wake and Miami semi-respectable as these top 100 rankings indicate? Or worse, in which case winning on the road is a legit goal? The computers love Pitt, which has 10 of its 11 wins by at least 15 points; their only loss was at home against Cincy in a 44-43 game that probably had Tony Bennett touching himself (slowly). No one has any idea what UNC is at this point. I think anyone would take 6-2 in this slate and walk away happy. Less than five wins and State will probably need to make something up somewhere to get on the right side of the bubble before the ACC tourney; less than four and things are going badly. PREDICTION: 5-3, with a home sweep and winning at Wake; possibly a win at Miami making up for slipping up against one of the two good teams at home.
ACC HOME: UVa (20), FSU (26), Maryland (62), GT (103), BC (136). Two teams that are ranked very high, two quite low, and as always in every sport, Maryland as a middling nuisance. A cursory look at UVa leaves me totally confused about their ranking - they lost at home to their only ranked opponents (VCU and Wisconsin) and on the road to Green Bay. Otherwise wins in which bad teams didn't score many points. FSU looks more impressive - OT loss to Michigan and road losses to Florida and Minnesota, and wins over VCU and UMass, and mostly big wins over everyone else. Maryland has "quality" losses to UConn and Ohio State and less quality home losses to GW and BU. No way can a decent ACC team lose at home to GT and BC. Less than four wins out of these five is trouble, but sweeping Virginia and FSU will be hard. PREDICTION: 4-1, with FSU as the only home loss in ACC play.
ACC ROAD: Syracuse (8), Duke (16), Clemson (40), Notre Dame (53), VT (114). It is hard to see the trips to Cameron and the Carrier Dome being happy times. Clemson has lost to UMass, Arkansas, and Auburn (the last two on the road), and otherwise slaughtered a schedule that ranges from mediocre (best wins: home against Temple and S.Carolina) to Clemson-like. The computers are more impressed with their victory margins than I am. Notre Dame just lost its best player for the year due to a "poor academic decision" and looked up-and-down prior to that. Virginia Tech is probably slightly better at four out of five spots than last year. PREDICTION: 2-3, with a win in Blacksburg and taking one from either Notre Dame or Clemson.
The sum: 22-9 overall, 11-7 in the ACC, a seed anywhere from 4-6 in the ACC tourney depending on who exactly we beat and how the tie-breakers fall. (Note: May still be slightly happy from last week's games.) The best-case scenario is not much better - even if all the pieces come together and State emerges as a legit top-30 team, they are probably going to be outclassed in three or so games, and the inconsistencies of such an inexperienced lineup will probably mean dropping three more against other mid-level teams. The potential downside is things break the wrong way several times in the next month, State heads into that February stretch of five road games in three weeks already fighting for its life, and ends up 5-13 in conference and wearing red jerseys on Wednesday at the ACC tournament. Let's not think about that any more.