RALEIGH — Mike Krzyzewski thinks N.C. State is an NCAA tournament team and so does ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried is not as sure.
"Without question, we have a long way to go," Gottfried said Monday on the weekly ACC coaches teleconference.
Gottfried's first N.C. State team, at 18-7 overall with a 7-3 mark in the ACC, has impressed Krzyzewski, whose Duke team will host the Wolfpack on Thursday (9 p.m., WRAL).
"I think they've earned everything that they've gotten," Krzyzewski said Monday. "I think they're an NCAA team, and I think they will be tough down the stretch for a lot of people."
Lunardi, who handles ESPN's weekly tournament projections, has the Wolfpack as one of the final four teams in the 68-team field, which would put N.C. State in Dayton, Ohio, on March 13 for the NCAA tournament's "First Four."
Gottfried, who worked at ESPN the previous two seasons before taking the N.C. State job last April, said he noticed Lunardi's projection but didn't think much of it.
"As a former member of the media, one thing I do know, 'Joey Brackets' - who I love - will change his list at least 100 times between now and Selection Sunday," Gottfried said.
"There's a lot of chatter about who's in and who's out, but the only way you get into the tournament is to win games."
The Wolfpack has not been in the NCAA tournament since 2006, the longest current drought among ACC teams. N.C. State has endured an even longer drought in Durham, where it hasn't beat Duke since 1995 and hasn't beaten Krzyzewski at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1988.
N.C. State is on a three-game winning streak in the ACC, but its next three games - at No. 5 Duke on Thursday, home Saturday against No. 20 Florida State and home on Feb. 21 against No. 8 North Carolina - will go a long way toward determining its postseason fate.
Duke, FSU and North Carolina are tied for first in the ACC, each at 8-2, and are the highest-rated ACC teams in the official RPI released by the NCAA: Duke at No. 2, North Carolina at No. 8 and FSU at No. 28.
Gottfried, whose team is No. 51 in this week's RPI, bristled at the suggested importance of the next three games.
"I'm not talking about three games, I'm talking about one game," he said. "That's all we're worried about."
Duke has been enough of a problem for the Wolfpack. Since N.C. State's last win in Durham in '95, the Blue Devils hold a 30-5 series edge. Duke throttled the Wolfpack in Durham last year, 76-52, and the first half of that game was arguably the low point of the season for coach Sidney Lowe's final team.
But a win over the Blue Devils will not guarantee N.C. State a tournament bid. Virginia Tech learned that the hard way last season. The Hokies upset then-No. 1 Duke, en route to a 9-7 ACC finish, but they were passed over by the tournament selection committee.
Conversely, Clemson went 0-4 against North Carolina and Duke last season - the top teams in the ACC - but beat Virginia Tech while going 9-7 in conference play. The Tigers played in the "First Four" in Dayton last year, while the Hokies were banished to the NIT.
One factor the selection committee will use is how a team fares against the top 50 teams in the RPI and vs. the top 100 teams in the RPI.
N.C. State currently is 2-5 against the top 50, 4-5 against top-100 teams. Save for a Feb. 25 trip to Clemson (No. 173 in the RPI), each of State's next six games are against top 100 opponents, with four against the top 50.
"We have six very, very difficult conference games left, not three," Gottfried said. "We have a lot of work to do."