Miami gives Pack chance for big ACC victory

jgiglio@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2012 

What N.C. State needs the most to revive its fading NCAA tournament hopes is to do what it hasn't since Feb. 9 - win a basketball game.

The Wolfpack (18-11, 7-7) has lost four straight games. The possibility of reaching its preseason goal of 11 ACC wins is gone, with only Wednesday's home game with Miami and a Sunday trip to Virginia Tech left. But the Wolfpack's flickering tournament hopes are still alive, as coach Mark Gottfried pointed out Monday.

"It's not smoke and mirrors," Gottfried said during the ACC coaches' weekly teleconference when asked about the NCAA tournament. "It's a real simple equation. ... You have to earn your way in by winning games."

N.C. State hasn't won since beating Georgia Tech on Feb. 9. Since it saw Miami on Jan. 22, it's just 3-6 in ACC play, with Saturday's 72-69 overtime loss at Clemson the latest, but not final dagger.

The Wolfpack will get a chance to improve its record against the top 50 teams of the RPI with Wednesday's home finale against the Hurricanes (17-10, 8-6). N.C. State's 78-73 win at Miami qualifies as its best of the season, according to the RPI, one of the measures the selection committee uses to determine which at-large teams make the field of 68.

Miami is No. 48 in the RPI after Sunday's win against then-No. 15 Florida State. The Hurricanes are the only team among the top 50 that the Wolfpack, at No. 72, has beaten. N.C. State is 1-8 vs. the top 50 and 4-8 against the top 100.

Miami, which has signature wins against Duke, No. 3 in the RPI and Florida State, No. 26, but is 2-7 against the top 50 and 3-9 against the top 100.

The teams have gone in opposite directions since they met at BankUnited Center in January. N.C. State was 4-1 in the ACC after the road win and Miami was 1-3.

The Wolfpack is 3-6 since then and the Hurricanes are 7-3, despite playing Sunday's rivalry game without forward Reggie Johnson, who has been suspended because one of his family members accepted improper benefits from a former assistant coach. Miami has asked the NCAA to reinstate Johnson, but coach Jim Larranaga said Monday there was no update on Johnson's status.

"He has been very upbeat," Larranaga said. "Hopefully we'll get Reggie back soon."

Senior night at UNC: North Carolina coach Roy Williams remembers fondly his final home game as a high school basketball player.

Those memories, in part, are why Williams believes senior nights are special. The sixth-ranked Tar Heels will host their senior night Wednesday, when Maryland visits the Smith Center for a 7 p.m. game. It will be the final home game for seniors Tyler Zeller, Justin Watts, Stewart Cooper, Patrick Crouch and David Dupont.

As is the tradition at UNC, all five - including walk-ons Cooper, Crouch and Dupont- will start.

"You know, I'm corny," Williams said. "And you've heard me say that many, many times. And I think that playing in the Smith Center, the last time in front of those fans that have supported you for four years, is extremely important."

Zeller is an ACC Player of the Year candidate, and he's likely to receive a loud ovation Wednesday. Williams said he hopes Watts embraces his own moment, too.

"I hope it means a heck of a lot to him, I really do," Williams said. "Because he's meant a heck of a lot to our basketball team - so much more than someone would interpret just by looking at numbers. So I'm hoping it'll be a special moment for J-Watts."

Tar Heels seek better execution: If UNC defeats Maryland on Wednesday and Duke on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Tar Heels would finish the regular season in first place in the ACC. The opportunity to do that, Williams said, is "all I ask for."

Williams, though, will ask his team to play better than it did during its sloppy 54-51 victory at then-No. 25 Virginia on Saturday.

"Virginia exposed us, I thought, defensively," Williams said. "We weren't tough enough, or patient enough to guard for the 35 seconds. And then we've got to do a better job with our motion and our screening and our execution of our set stuff on the offensive end."

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