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Pack bracketology: road win at Syracuse really moved the needle

This is happening! This might not happen. Is this happening? February basketball is a roller coaster.

Duke v North Carolina State
It’s not a slam dunk...yet.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Kevin Keatts’ wins over Arizona, Duke, Clemson, and UNC moved the goalposts. Not a lot was expected of this NC State team after back-to-back underwhelming seasons led to Mark Gottfried’s ouster and a mass exodus of his players, but big wins raise expectations. Raised expectations for NC State? What could go wrong? Well, last week for example. After looking like a surprise NCAA tournament team in K2Y1, atrociously anemic defensive performances contributed to a loss at Virginia Tech and a failure to complete the sweep over that “not our rival” bunch of frauds from Chapel Hill. And, alas, the Pack dropped into the 70s in the all-important RPI rankings. Bubble burst. Heart broken. Etc.

Ah but what a difference a road win makes. The Pack jumped 12 spots to 60th in RPI with the win at Syracuse, and all of the computer metrics have them even higher. In fact, Kevin Pauga’s index and ESPN’s SOR have the Pack inside the top 50. We’re back on the bubble, and if the 10 selection committee members give more weight to quadrant one wins than RPI rank (please), the Pack could very well indulge in the gravy (uh, ice cream?) of tournament time in the new head man’s first season.

As noted ad nauseam in previous clown bloggings, major conference schools inside the RPI top 40 are pretty much a lock for an at-large bid, but, since State’s not likely to make it to the Easy Street of the top 40, I like to compare its résumé to the other schools in the 40-60 range. Where the Pack continues to come out smelling like a rose are in comparing quadrant one wins. Only Texas has as many quadrant one games; both teams have 12 and identical 5-7 records in those games. However, Texas is just 5-8 in its league and its best RPI win is over #11 Texas Tech at home. State has three wins over higher-ranked opponents, including a road win over UNC. Advantage NC State.

Florida (which seems like a lock despite a mid-50s RPI) and Washington are the only other teams in the 40-60 range with five quadrant one wins, and Washington’s road win over Kansas is kind of hard to argue against. The Huskies also have away wins over decent USC and Colorado squads. If there’s a chink in their armor, it’s an 0-4 mark in quadrant two games. And we’re not talking about some bad luck here either. Washington’s average margin of defeat in those four games is 22 points, including a 103-79 drubbing on a neutral court against Virginia Tech. It’s like the Huskies have our ugly Notre Dame loss times four, and they are 7-6 in a conference with just one team (Arizona) in the RPI top 20. Again, advantage NC State.

Other teams ahead of NC State in the RPI have glaring weaknesses. The Louisville game to end the regular season looms large as it would be nice to have a head-to-head win against what could be a fellow bubble team. The Cards are currently just 2-6 in quadrant one games, so they may very much need to pull out a win in Raleigh. USC is just 2-5 in quad one games. Syracuse is just 1-4 in quad one games and lost the all-important head-to-head with State on its home floor. Nebraska is an awful 0-7 in quad one games. If you’re the selection committee, can you really justify choosing a team because it had the better wins over bad teams when State has so many marquee W’s?

Ah, but what about bad leagues? Here’s where things get even more complicated. Cross your fingers and toes for the following teams to win their league’s automatic bid: Buffalo, Louisiana, Loyola-Chicago, Middle Tennessee, Nevada, New Mexico State, and Vermont. If all those teams bring home a conference crown, it could turn each of their respective conferences into one-bid leagues. What do those teams have in common? They’re all ahead of the Pack in RPI and could thus pilfer the Pack’s postseason hopes by using up a precious at-large bid if they don’t win their league. You have your rooting orders.

Of course there are two ways to make this conversation moot: win out in the regular season or win the conference tournament. Winning out would put State at 12-6 and boost the RPI a good bit in the process. Ain’t getting left out at 12-6 in ACC play. And, of course, winning the league tournament is an automatic bid. Anything short of those (fairly unlikely) scenarios, and there will be some drama on selection day. (I know what you’re thinking: 11-7 in the league should do it, but if enough of those bad league teams lose in their conference tournaments, and we took a bad loss in our first ACC tournament game, I think we could come up just short).

TL;DNR version: needs = more winning. But no matter what happens, there will be some sort of postseason basketball. The Pack have sewed up a winning record overall so the NIT is the floor. A lot of us would have taken seven ACC wins and the NIT back in November. But that sweet taste of ice cream has me wanting—even expecting—more.