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NC State falls to #23 in Week 13 AP poll -> No lead is safe, going either way

Alternating losses are adding up

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at N.C. State Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

“This NC State team fights”

“These guys never quit, never give up”

“They will be in every game they play, no lead is ever safe”

Braxton Beverly’s heroics saved NC State from falling out of the rankings. The Wolfpack fell two spots to #23 in the Week 13 poll. It is possible that Beverly’s shot reminded voters that State was a ranked team that is still out here winning games. It would be interesting to see if the Pack had quietly won the game, whether their ranking would have been affected differently, but I digress.

The Wolfpack have lost and then won alternating games for three weeks in a row. Their ranking has likewise suffered in each subsequent poll.

I still am not sure what to make of this Wolfpack team. In over two decades of watching Pack basketball, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team fight to the end the way Kevin Keatts teams do. This always makes no lead safe, ever. Wake Forest was up by 22 the second half with 17:30 home.. and NC State erased that lead in under 10 minutes. Unfortunately, they reverted back to the style of play that got them in that hole in the first place.

The team was challenged by Keatts to fight for the whole game in the following matchup with Notre Dame. They responded and won a hard fought road game. But then, couldn’t keep the momentum going against Louisville, and couldn’t keep their hands to themselves resulting in a huge free throw disparity. Louisville has now benefitted, jumping eight spots to #15. You’re welcome.

The problem with no lead being safe is that with this team it works both ways. Several times they have let leads get away as quickly as they have made comebacks. Against Clemson the Pack let a nine point second half lead slip away, culminated with going down by six with 26 seconds left. Some heroics mixed with some epic missed free throws later, State pulled out a very unlikely win. The return of Markell Johnson seemed to provide the needed boost of offensive flow. If Keatts can manage to reintegrate Markell and not tamper CJ Bryce’s rise as a scorer, while keeping Braxton Beverly involved, this could lead to success.

I will take the wins, don’t get me wrong. But I think the 3-3 record in the last six games fits with what we’ve seen on the floor. Keatts is still in teaching mode with this team. These guys have shown they will not quit, regardless of the situation. But they’ve also shown an inclination to take their foot off the gas, not putting away teams when given the chance. Wake Forest was begging to lose that game. When that large lead evaporated, they were demoralized. But NC State couldn’t fully capitalize, and let the Deacons off the hook.

The good news is they are 16-4 (4-3), well in striking distance of a top 4 conference finish. The not so good news is the “easy” part of the schedule is past, and there might not be a tougher opponent this season than Tuesday’s opponent #3 UVA. Spending the first 10 minutes of the game being flat and uninspired is not going to cut it if they want to have any shot at all. Keatts himself has chastised the team for reverting to hero ball. I’d think upcoming opponents are hoping they slip back to this again, as the margin for error is gone.

Remaining games: #3 UVA, #12 VT, @ #9 UNC, @ Pitt, Syracuse, @ #2 Duke, BC, Wake, @ #25 FSU, GT, @ BC

None of those seem like guaranteed losses, I can see areas in all of them where NC State can compete with, even with the top ranked teams. But there also aren’t any guaranteed wins, either. Every game left will be a fight, and I hope the team knows that too.