N.C. State will get a very big question answered Thursday at the ACC Women’s basketball tournament.
Will the Wolfpack be invited to a postseason tournament?
The answer will almost certainly be, “yes,” if No. 8 seed N.C. State (15-15, 7-11 ACC) can defeat No. 9 seed Clemson (5-13, 9-20) in their first-round matchup at 2 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.
If the Wolfpack can beat the Tigers for a third time this season – N.C. State won 79-45 on Feb. 10 at Reynolds Coliseum and 63-47 at Clemson on Sunday – a non-losing season would probably earn a second straight WNIT bid. But if the Wolfpack loses, its season is likely over. Like six other ACC teams, the Wolfpack will go to the NCAA Tournament only if it cuts down the nets on Sunday.
The Triangle’s other two teams will be in the NCAA regardless of what happens this week, and they both have the opening day off.
Top-seeded Duke (27-2, 17-1) will await the winner of the N.C. State-Clemson game for a 2 p.m. matchup on Friday.
No. 3 seed North Carolina (26-5, 14-4) will play at 8 p.m. on Friday against the winner of the Thursday’s 8 p.m. first-round matchup between No. 6 seed Virginia (16-13, 8-10) and No. 11 seed Boston College (11-18, 5-13).
No. 10 seed Wake Forest (12-18, 5-13) will face No. 7 seed Georgia Tech (14-15, 7-11) Thursday at 6 p.m. for the chance to take on defending champion and No. 2 seed Maryland (23-6, 14-4) on Friday at 6 p.m.
And in the kid-friendly 11 a.m. opener No. 5 seed Miami (20-9, 11-7) will square off with No. 12 seed Virginia Tech (10-19, 4-14) for a shot at No. 4 seed Florida State (21-8, 11-7) Friday at 11 a.m.
N.C. State senior guard Marissa Kastanek, who was voted first-team All-ACC by the coaches and second-team by the Blue Ribbon Panel, leads the Wolfpack.
“There’s not a whole lot of changes that we’re going to make to our scouting report that we just had at Clemson,” said Wolfpack coach Kellie Harper, who is 5-3 in ACC Tournament play. “I don’t know about getting the team ready. I don’t know if that’s actually easier though. You want to make sure your players are going to be focused when you walk into that arena no matter who you’re playing.
“I think sometimes when you lose a game, you’re able to pick it apart a little easier and find ways to do things differently. When you win, you want to just keep doing what you do. So I think we’ve got to be very careful as a staff that we look at this game as to not only what we did right, but what can we do better.”
Clemson is looking for its first win in the tournament since 2009.
“We’re very familiar with them,” Tigers coach Itoro Coleman said of the Wolfpack. “They’ve won the last two outings. N.C. State is a very good team, very versatile.” Duke, led by first-team All-ACC center Elizabeth Williams, has won four straight regular-season championships and had won two straight ACC tournaments before losing 75-73 to the Wolfpack in the quarterfinals last year.
Duke, ranked sixth nationally, is playing without All-ACC guard Chelsea Gray, who was lost for the season with a knee injury against Wake Forest Feb. 17.
“Each year it’s been the same, we’ve prepared the same,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We’ve won it a couple years and then had lesser success other years. The reality is it’s a brand new season and seeds don’t matter. That’s just how you figure out who plays who.
UNC, led by first-team All-ACC senior guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, is looking for its first ACC title since 2007. The Tar Heels, currently ranked No. 15 nationally, were denied a postseason berth last season after finishing 20-11.
“We wanted this team to love being a blue-collar team, just working hard,” UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “They’ve really bought into that, and I think that’s been a really big key, the motivation of finishing as one of the top teams in the conference.
“This has just been one of my best years in coaching. It’s not all about wins and losses, but just the fact that the kids are so coachable. They listen, they do what you tell them to do, and they experience success because of that. We’ve had tremendous results.”