N.C. State's Mark Gottfried understands the NCAA tournament selection process better than most coaches. As Gottfried pointed out after Sunday's win over Boston College, when he worked at ESPN, "I was an expert, I had all the answers."
This segued into Gottfried stumping for the ACC, which is on track to have only five teams in the NCAA tournament field. Keep in mind, there are 15 teams in the ACC. This is the same league that sent six teams (out of eight!) in 1986.
Gottfried was specifically lamenting the fact that a .500 ACC team (his just closed the 2014 books at 9-9) doesn't get the same national respect as a .500 Big Ten team or a .500 Pac-12 team.
"It's a pretty good league, the ACC," Gottfried said. "I'm trying to figure out why is a team that's 9-9 in the Big Ten just an automatically in team?"
The surprise here is not Gottfried standing up for his league but his antiquated thought process that conference record is a factor in the selection process. It's not. Gottfried knows this; perhaps he was just caught up in the moment on Sunday.
The third-year Wolfpack coach quickly got back on a path to reality when he started talking about his team's place outside the tournament bubble.
"We're the team, in my mind, we're the near-miss," Gottfried said. "We've had a couple, two or three, where we've missed closely, that would have changed this whole thing.
"The reality is we're not there."
The "two or three" would be a reference to one-point losses to Wake Forest, Syracuse and North Carolina. All three, it must be pointed out in Gottfried's defense, hinged on either missed calls (Codi Miller-McIntyre’s walk, James Michael McAdoo’s foul on T.J. Warren in overtime) or a dubious interpretation of a foul call (Trevor Cooney’s foul of Warren).
But "reality" is the word Gottfried used, and in reality N.C. State doesn’t have either of those useful wins over UNC or Syracuse and enters the ACC tournament in need of wins, probably three and, at minimum two, to bolster its NCAA case. The Pack goes to Greensboro with a 2-7 record against the top 50 teams in the RPI and a 3-2 mark against the top 100.
Eastern Kentucky, which won the Ohio Valley Conference title, has moved up to No. 100, temporarily bolstering the Pack's case. And both Tennessee (44) and Pittsburgh (46) have inched into the top 50.
The Pack's nonconference strength of schedule clocks in at No. 114. That won't be a deal-breaker with the selection committee, like Clemson's 265 will be, but it also won't stand up to another bubble team like BYU (8).
Getting back to Gottfried's question about the difference between a 9-9 ACC team and a 9-9 Big Ten team. Iowa is the only 9-9 team in the Big Ten and, like Gottfried said, is considered safely in the at-large field. Three of the Hawkeyes' four top 50 wins came within the conference (compared to one for State).
The selection committee places a premium on top 50/100 wins and strength of schedule. How N.C. State compares to the other teams on the bubble. There are eight spots for these 16 teams:
All RPI numbers from CBS Sports