ATLANTA — N.C. State's quest for a spot in the NCAA tournament, and its position on the bubble, have taken on a life of their own.
After the Wolfpack's win against Virginia Tech on Sunday, coach Mark Gottfried declared his team tournament worthy. Multiple online projections of the 68-team field disagree with the first-year Wolfpack coach. ESPN has N.C. State, which opens ACC tournament play today against Boston College, as one of the "first four out."
After Sunday's win, Gottfried called out Dick Vitale, his former colleague at ESPN, for being critical of the ACC.
"I listened to my man Dick Vitale on TV last night, I guess he's all knowing and I love him, but he mentioned this league and he started talking about the bottom teams in this league," Gottfried said. "... It's almost like you're trying to find a way to pick at the ACC."
Vitale complimented Gottfried for his work this season, saying the coach did a phenomenal job and the program is back on track, but he stood by his comments about the bottom teams in the ACC standings.
"Everybody wants you to pump up their conference," Vitale said. "I understand loyalty but I also understand being factual and real. Beating Wake Forest or Georgia Tech is not going to win you any points with the (selection) committee.
"Bottom line, you've got to beat the elite teams in your league to get into the tournament."
That didn't happen
N.C. State (20-11, 9-7) went 6-1 against the three teams that finished 4-12 in the conference, including two wins against today's opening-round opponent, Boston College (9-21). To Vitale's point, the Wolfpack went 0-5 against the top four teams in the conference.
Wins against elite teams have been elusive for N.C. State. For the season, it's 0-8 against the top 50 teams in the RPI with a 5-9 record against the top 100. That's why Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI.com has the Wolfpack even deeper on the bubble.
With about 18 teams on the bubble, fighting over the last nine at-large spots, Palm doesn't like the Wolfpack's chances of landing an at-large bid.
"I think by the time N.C. State picks up the number of quality wins they need to get in as an at-large, they will have already won the ACC tournament," Palm said.
Gottfried leans on schedule
Since expansion, of the five ACC teams that finished with 9-7 conference record and made the NCAA tournament, four had at least three wins against teams in the top 50. Clemson got in last year without a top 50 win but it did have nine top 100 wins.
Gottfried, as he has all season, has pointed to his team's strength of schedule outside the conference - which are the games a team can control - as the primary reason why it should be in the tournament.
"When you look at what we did in the nonconference, who we played, our nonconference strength of schedule as high as it is, we've done what the committee asks you to do," he said. "No question."
N.C. State's nonconference strength of schedule, one of the tools used by the selection committee, ranks 23rd, according to CollegeRPI.com. The Wolfpack's SoS ranks first among the 18 teams considered to be on the bubble.
The Wolfpack played Syracuse (No. 1 in the RPI), Indiana (11), Vanderbilt (27), Texas (52), Princeton (87), Stanford (94) and St. Bonaventure (98) outside the ACC, with wins against Texas, Princeton and St. Bonaventure.
The Wolfpack is 2-5 against top 100 ACC teams (both wins were against Miami, No. 56 in the RPI), with a chance at Virginia (40) on Friday and possibly North Carolina (3) on Saturday in the ACC tournament. Vitale said the chance is there for N.C. State to improve its resume.
"They have some work to do but they have the opportunity," Vitale said.
For their part, N.C. State's players have tried not be consumed by the NCAA tournament talk and remain focused on Boston College. Several players pointed out that the Eagles beat Florida State on Feb. 8.
"We have our mind set on the ACC tournament," junior forward Richard Howell said. "If we take care of business here, everything else will take care of itself."
Still, some of the players can't help but get caught up in tournament talk.
"If I had my choice, we would be in," guard Scott Wood said. "I'm sure my family would put us in, too. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that."