RALEIGH — With an RPI in the 60s and less than a handful of wins against teams ranked in the RPI’s top 100, N.C. State is on wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble with five weeks left until Selection Sunday.
With nine more ACC games to go and then the conference tournament, that can change for the Wolfpack (14-8, 4-5 ACC). Junior guard Ralston Turner said he understands that but not with many more losses.
“We don’t really have much more room for error, so we have to capitalize on everything,” he said.
N.C. State travels to Miami on Saturday with only one thought in mind: beat the 2013 ACC champions. But on the back burner, there is the larger goal of a third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said it was too early to talk about the bubble and tournament positioning.
“I think that’s a ways away yet for us,” Gottfried said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to really turn it up.”
But Turner said the players have discussed the tournament and what the Wolfpack needs to do to work its way back into the field of 68.
“We do talk about it,” Turner said. “Right now, we feel like it’s still an attainable goal.”
N.C. State is one of about two dozen teams vying for the last 10 at-large spots in the NCAA field. CBS Sports has the Wolfpack ranked No. 61 in its RPI with a 4-7 record against the top 100 and 2-6 mark against the top 50.
The Wolfpack can hang its hat on wins against Tennessee, No. 46 and projected by CBS to make the field, and Florida State, No. 41, and also in the projected field. With five of the next nine games against top 100 teams, with the possibility of Miami (No. 105) moving into that group, the Wolfpack has a chance to make a move.
The three games against the top 50 – Syracuse (5), Pitt (24) and UNC (38) – are the best opportunity to jump up in the RPI but not the only way.
In 2012, N.C. State got one of the final at-large spots thanks in part to a strong nonconference strength of schedule (ranked 23rd). This season, the Pack’s SoS outside the ACC – the games it controls on the schedule, which is the measure the selection committee uses – ranks 108th.
That number can improve with help from other teams. Northwestern, which N.C. State beat 69-48 in Raleigh on Dec. 4, has moved up to No. 89 in the RPI after impressive wins against Wisconsin, Indiana and Minnesota.
Gottfried, who understands the selection process better than most coaches, scheduled Tennessee, Cincinnati and a handful of strong mid-major programs in hopes of being in position to make the tournament. But the schedule only helps so much, Gottfried said.
“You win your way into the tournament every year,” Gottfried said. “For us, whether that’s starts now, a week, two weeks or three weeks, it’s time to play.”