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NC State is No. 56 in the preseason Pomeroy Ratings

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Ah yes, the range in the rankings that is like a comfortable old jacket.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason Pomeroy Ratings are here! And NC State is in its usual “who knows?” zone: is this a tournament team? Is it not? Who knows! To put a finer point on it, that’s good for No. 56 in the preseason ratings this year.

NC State finished at 71 last season, which was the first time in four years that Kevin Keatts had a team finish outside the top 50. So it’s not surprising that the computatin’ machine expects a little course correction in the positive direction. Here in the glow of the preseason, this feels like a conservative estimate on State’s prospects, but no doubt the team has a lot to prove after an NIT year.

Keatts has been subject to rotten luck pretty much throughout his tenure, from the NCAA mess hovering over him like a personal rain cloud, to the joke of a snub by the NCAA tournament committee in 2019, to losing the 2020 season prematurely to the pandemic. Last season should rightly be treated as an aberration until proven otherwise, and even then State still managed to finish better than .500 in league play. Keatts has yet to do worse than .500 in a full season.

What we’d all like to see, of course, is some defining positive progress—not just finishing at or slightly above .500 in the ACC, but definitively above it. That’s the difference from being on the bubble and being well clear of it. This year’s team can do that I think, if its group of young guards is up to the task. If this is the Year of Cam Hayes, then we’re in business.

KenPom is bullish on State’s defense, projecting it to be 43 spots better than where it finished last season. That’s the entire source of State’s projected improvement, because the offense is expected to be slightly worse. The offense is not going to be worse—I’ll safely promise you that—but we’ve been here before with the defense, which routinely ends up a disappointment. The last time NC State had a top-50 defense was 2010. That was two coaches ago. And that was a Sidney Lowe team, which only did good things accidentally.

The tools are all there, and the Pack should be better for the absences of Devon Daniels, Braxton Beverly, and DJ Funderburk. The challenge in the past has been basically working around those guys defensively because of their necessity to the offense. Now State has no choice in the matter, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing—for the defense, and in general.