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NC State begins new year with a lot of work ahead of it

NCAA Basketball: Saint Louis at N.C. State Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

If NC State is going to get back to the NCAA tournament in 2024, it’s going to need to pile up a lot of wins in ACC play. The Wolfpack ended non-conference play without a noteworthy win—it acquitted itself well against both BYU and Tennessee, but coming up short in both doesn’t qualify as extra credit. And the ACC once again has the look of the worst power conference in hoops, which is to say that headlining win opportunities will be sparce.

KenPom currently projects State to finish 10-10 in league play, which would be a decent year but highly unlikely to be one good enough to merit an at-large NCAA bid. State needed 12 wins plus an ACC tournament win just to sneak into the field last year, and I would think that’ll be the bare minimum this year as well. Beating BYU or Tennessee would have bought a bit of wiggle room, but alas.

The ACC has just four teams in the NET top 50, and NC State has just two home games that would qualify as Q1 contests (UNC, Duke) at this point. That puts a lot of pressure on the Pack to win both while also avoiding a number of landmines elsewhere.

The first of those landmines is Notre Dame tomorrow, one of three road games against bottom-level ACC opponents. Those teams are each capable of serving as rude hosts, as the Irish recently demonstrated in blowing out Virginia.

Piling up 12+ league wins is at least conceivable because State’s road slate is favorable—with the exception of trips to UNC and Clemson, State won’t be a substantial underdog in any road game. And State does already have a solid road win under its belt—BC actually qualifies as a Q1 win, though only barely. At No. 75 in the NET, the Eagles are right on the cutoff, though they should be good enough to at least hold that win as a Q2.

The schedule works out well in that the bulk of State’s tough games will be in Raleigh, but again it’s the lack of opportunity for high-quality wins that is troublesome. We’ll see what happens, but already the pressure is on. Another harrowing journey begins in earnest tomorrow.