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Bracket Watch: NC State is floating in a bubble

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The win at UNC didn’t move the needle enough to inspire full confidence, but the Pack’s team sheet compares favorably with most other bubble clubs

North Carolina State v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

While we enjoy the extra time to savor Saturday’s most fulfilling display of basketball in the Dean E. Smith Center—the Wolfpack have no midweek game this week—we can also revel in what now officially seems like a realistic conversation about playing postseason basketball. This postseason of which I speak is known as “March Madness.” I’m not even talking about the NIT here.

Let us get right to the numbers:

Before we peel this onion back a few layers, let us get three things out of the way. First, obligatory: Kenneth Pomeroy, why do you hate us? Second, yes sir a team with wins at UNC, over Arizona on a neutral floor, and at home over Duke and Clemson really should be ranked higher. Kevin Keatts must do a better job of scheduling in the future, as those seven games against the dregs of NCAA basketball are what’s keeping this team from being on Easy Street (well, that and two unfortunate losses to the likes of UNCG and Northern Iowa). Third, Kevin Pauga (of KPI) is a gentleman and a scholar (despite his troubling association with Michigan State).

There will be 68 teams in the tournament, but unfortunately it’s not nearly as simple as be in the top 68 in RPI and you’re in. Conference champions will account for 32 spots in the tournament, leaving 36 at-large bids. Of those 32 automatics, many will come from weakling one-bid conferences, and those teams will typically be outside of the top 68 in RPI. I’ve studied this at-large thing pretty thoroughly over the years, and, after the automatics, an RPI ranking of 40 or better is the next best thing to being automatic, especially if you’re a power conference school.

So the bad news is that NC State has work to do, being about 19-22 spots south of Easy Street depending on which RPI capture you use. The good news is, when we look head-to-head at the schools above the Pack, it’s not hard to make the case that the surging Wolfpack are more worthy than most. State is 4-4 in quadrant one games. Between NC State and Easy Street, only two teams have a better mark in quadrant one games. Gonzaga is 4-2 and Texas is 4-3. State’s average RPI rank of the teams it’s beaten is low at 180, thanks again to too many cupcakes, but that’s still better than Boise State (186), New Mexico State (196), Maryland (186), Loyola Chicago (181), Vermont (226), Gonzaga (202), Louisiana (227), ETSU (211), and tied with Houston. All of the above were ranked higher in Sunday’s release than NC State, but only one has been better in terms of quadrant one performance and, frankly, none have a better résumé overall.

Omega keeps spitting out numbers: Georgia is 3-5 against quadrant one opponents and its best road win is Marquette (45th in RPI as of Sunday); SMU does not have a quadrant one road win and also lost to UNI (but did beat Arizona on that Bahamian neutral floor); ETSU’s best win is at Furman (how the hell are the Bucs so high in RPI?); Louisiana’s best win is over a bad Iowa team (153rd in RPI) on a neutral floor; Vermont’s best win is over Bradley (89th in RPI) on a neutral floor; the malignant tumor that is Maryland is 0-5 in quadrant one competition and 1-2 against quadrant two; St. Bonaventure is only 4-4 in the Atlantic 10 (State is 5-4 in the dadgum ACC); Utah is 1-6 in quadrant one games; Missouri is 3-6 in quadrant one games and just 3-5 in the SEC; kudos to your crazy strength of schedule, Temple, but you’re 10-10 overall and the computers hate you (KenPom of 97); New Mexico State also has seven quadrant four wins but just four games all season falling into quadrant one or two, and its 1-3 in those games (seriously, how are the Aggies 44th in RPI?); Boise State is 0-3 in quadrant one games.

A lot of the aforementioned clubs are in leagues that will drag their RPI down as the season progresses, while State’s rises due to playing ACC competition. So there’s that, but perusing the team sheets of those programs makes me wonder why State’s not already ahead of them.

Of course, numbers are bullshit. Wins are everything. If NC State keeps winning, the RPI will take care of itself. But, judging from how the Pack compare to the bubble teams in their RPI neighborhood, I think Keatts would go dancing in his first season—what was supposedly year one of a perhaps lengthy rebuild—if the selection show was today. There’s a lot of basketball left; here’s to hoping our next “bracketology” report is about projected seeding rather than bubbles.