N.C. State at Georgia Tech 6 p.m., ESPNU

N.C. State needs strong finish – and some help

jgiglio@newsobserver.comMarch 2, 2013 

NC State, Georgia Tech, NCAA, basketball

N.C. State's C.J. Leslie, left, laughs with Rodney Purvis before the Wolfpack's game against Georgia Tech at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta on Sunday, March 3, 2013.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

N.C. State needs help.

It’s not the position the Wolfpack thought it would be when the season began, but it’s where N.C. State (20-8) is with three games left in the ACC regular season.

At 9-6 in the ACC, the fifth-place Wolfpack needs to win out, starting with Sunday’s road trip to Georgia Tech, and it needs help from the teams in front of them in the conference standings to avoid the play-in round of the ACC tournament.

A top-four finish would mean the Wolfpack, the preseason pick to win the ACC, wouldn’t have to play on Thursday in the ACC tournament in Greensboro and it wouldn’t have to win four games in four days for its first ACC title since 1987.

“We’re definitely not satisfied with where we’re at,” senior forward Richard Howell said. “At the same time, we know we have plenty of chances to prove we are one of the top teams in the nation, which we definitely believe we are.”

The Wolfpack didn’t get any help from Clemson or Duke on Thursday, which has essentially left N.C. State with only one viable path to an opening-round bye.

Miami, Duke and Virginia have all but locked up three of the top four spots. N.C. State’s most likely scenario would be to finish in a fourth-place tie with North Carolina, and only North Carolina (it would lose all tiebreakers that involved Virginia or Duke).

If both N.C. State and UNC finish 12-6, and UNC loses on March 9 to Duke, the Wolfpack would have the tiebreaker over UNC based on the Wolfpack’s Jan. 12 win over Duke.

There are still a lot of moving parts that have to fall into place for the Wolfpack to get to that point, including N.C. State closing out the season with wins over Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State.

Coach Mark Gottfried has been encouraged by his team’s play lately, winning four of the past five games, including each of the past two home games by 18 points.

“I think we’re playing better basketball right now,” Gottfried said. “I like the way in the last couple of weeks we’ve played. Now, we need to make sure we keep improving every day.”

The biggest room of improvement for N.C. State is on the road. The Wolfpack has lost five of seven ACC road games this season, compared to a 7-1 home record.

Of the Wolfpack’s four wins in the past five games, only one came on the road, at Clemson on Feb. 10. N.C. State’s last road trip was a 76-65 loss at UNC a week ago.

Stumbles at Maryland and Wake Forest are part of the reason N.C. State finds itself on the outside looking in for a Thursday bye. Howell said the team has gotten better on the road as the season has progressed.

“I feel like we’ve come a long way, from just a couple of games ago, but we still have a long way to go,” Howell said.

Giglio: 919-829-8938

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