Wednesday was for the hopeless, but Thursday welcomed the hopeful to Greensboro Coliseum.
It welcomed in talk of quality wins, ratings percentage indexes and resumes – the kind that convinces a committee of men behind closed doors that its worthy of being one of the final 68. These things have become as much a part of March as buzzer beaters and cinderellas – the madness of dissecting season accomplishments and picking out the deserving. Numbers will get thrown around haphazardly over the next few days – some will be meaningful, plenty won’t.
"Here’s what I have found interesting," Mark Gottfried said. "I think as of yesterday, there were nine ACC teams in the top 80 in the RPI. I look around the country and I see some other leagues and I see teams that are 599 or even below 500. I’m not sure our league has gotten the respect it deserves."
For NC State, Gottfried has been straight-forward with his team about what it needed to do both Thursday and beyond. The Pack is still a long way from an at-large bid, but the bubble isn’t so far away to make this weekend a championship or bust scenario.
"He’s pretty straightforward," Staats Battle said. "But he just said we need to keep winning and that the future is in our hands."
Following the win Gottfried went into full pitch-man mode, selling the ACC as hard as he could to anyone who would listen in hopes of putting his squad in better position – everything from the league not getting respect this season to the challenges of winning at Clemson (the Pack does have issues down there, certainly). But a win over Miami did little to move the needle for the Pack, it needs a win over Syracuse tomorrow – you might remember their previous meeting - just to start the conversation.
"Right now it’s just one win – we probably need two or maybe even three for anyone to even take notice of us," Jordan Vandenberg said.
But the Pack was hardly the only team with the bubble on its mind Thursday. Pittsburgh, a team that seemed like a solid lock for the NCAAs for so long, has been slowly coming apart at the seams over the last few weeks. While they still managed to avoid a truly bad loss – losing to Florida State and NC State at home don’t really count – they’ve flirted with disaster against Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Miami. Four of their final five wins came in overtime, and they haven’t won a game by double digits since January.
So it’s safe to call the dismantling they put on Wake Forest, a team that folded the tent the second Pittsburgh went on a run, an important win. They’re mostly assured of avoiding a ‘bad loss’ now, and shouldn’t have to sweat to much come Selection Sunday. Dixon said as much when asked if he was concerned about his tournament resume.
"Not really. I mean, we’ve done what - obviously 24 wins and now a tournament win," Dixon said. "I guess the message I was giving to our players is how well we have played on the road, and now we’re going to be playing on the road the rest of the way in our minds."
Florida State has been hovering on the wrong side of the bubble for weeks and like seemingly every other bubble team, unable to pick up the kind of win that would solidify their case for an at-large bid. The Seminoles had to sneak past Maryland, using a Boris Bojanovsky (!!) dunk in the final second to set up one last shot at a resume-building win.
"We’ve talked about it a little bit – we are just trying to make the best of the situation you’re in," guard Devon Bookert said. "We’re just trying to win today."
By winning on Thursday, the Seminoles set up a match-up with top-seeded Virginia. Beating the Cavaliers, who haven’t won an ACC tournament game since Tony Bennett’s first year in 2010, would probably be enough to push the Noles into the tournament – depending always on what happens in other tournaments.
"We can be wrong, we can be right, and it makes for great conversation," Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton said. "But most of the people who are talking, they don’t have a vote. They’re not in the room, so it doesn’t really matter when it boils down to it."
"The only way we’re going to have some postseason opportunities is to take care of the task at hand," Hamilton said. "That’s been our approach all year long."