Before the season started, there was this feeling of irrational confidence that only comes from offseason basketball. I told myself to stop following NC State Basketball on Instagram (but didn’t). They were showing tons of offseason training videos that (at the time) felt like they were irrationally inflating my confidence in this team.
Turns out I may not have been wrong to feel like something was brewing in the Dail Center in the summer.
NC State has risen to its highest ranking in half a decade, now sitting at #15 in the Week 10 AP Poll, up three spots from #18.
This seems like great timing, considering the team plays #12 UNC tomorrow, which is up three spots from #15 after devastating wins against Harvard and Pitt. Leading up to this game, there was the usual chatter online (not on BTP, of course, heavens no) from Wolfpack fans being reticent about having a high ranking, or any ranking at all, when playing the Heels. Comments about not wanting the pressure, always losing when becoming ranked, etc. etc., I won’t bore you with repeating them.
I say bring it on. If you want to be an elite program, and KK does, you have to live with the expectation of winning. My dream is to one day have a program that’s ranked in the preseason poll, and every subsequent week through the final poll. You have to win games at a high rate to make that happen.
To that end, it also means bringing your A++ game in the games that matter most to Pack fans. Playing with that expectation to win, rather than feeling like you need to sneak up on people is how you build a respected program. NC State needs to learn that feeling of winning while ranked, so that it becomes the new normal.
Beating UNC tomorrow would be a step in that direction. Here is the list of times NC State has played UNC while being ranked in the last 20 years, I’ll take a coffee break while you read it:
Oh, you’re done, well that wasn’t a long list at all. I’m setting a line of defining the current modern era as the last 20 years moving forward. If no current student was even alive the last time something happened, that means it’s time for things to change.
It has been more than two decades since NC State beat UNC when both teams were ranked. This is the type of thing Kevin Keatts is on the precipice of changing for the better. The mere fact that I’m mentioning this is making those fans I mentioned above very nervous, “stop talking”, “don’t jinx it”. Whatever, I’m ready to embrace the mentality of a winner. If we lose, that will sting for sure, but that’s okay. The team is clearly learning and improving everyday. Would I be depressed and maybe call out sick on Wednesday? Maybe. But then I’d remember that they are unlikely to go undefeated the rest of the way. I have more confidence than I ever have in a Wolfpack team to learn from their mistakes and missteps.
As boring as UVA is to watch, props have to be given to the way Tony Bennett has built his program. Come into the ACC, built momentum for a few years, and then came in first in the regular season three times in the last five years. It’s the type of model I expect Kevin Keatts to follow, except with WAYYY more panache. And tempo, and points. Will he reach the same heights of top 5 rankings and #1 NCAA seeds? Maybe. Hopefully. God I hope so. But it’s more of the mindset of playing as a team where you know you’re taking other teams’ best shot. On second thought, maybe they were not the best example to use. I bet even people in Baltimore didn’t know what UMBC was a year ago.
That being said, this Wolfpack team is gaining momentum at just the right time to meet UNC. It will be a real test of where the program is to date, and if they’re ready to compete with the teams atop the ACC. Getting a win while being ranked in the top 15 would begin the process to level set expectations to winning at this level being business as usual.
Is it game time, yet?