There’s not much separation among the dozen teams vying for the last at-large spots in the NCAA baseball tournament.
N.C. State has a chance with this home series against Clemson, starting Thursday at 6 p.m. at Doak Field, to cement its case for the NCAA field.
The Wolfpack (31-21) has won 11 of its past 12 games to improve to 14-13 in ACC play and enters the last series of the regular season at No. 36 in the RPI (according to D1Baseball.com).
There are 31 automatic bids to the NCAA tournament (and the Wolfpack could win the ACC tournament next week in Louisville to make all of this moot) and 33 at-large spots.
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To get an idea of where N.C. State stands, with a minimum of five games left before the NCAA tournament, this is what the automatic bids would be if all of the first-place teams won their conference tournament:
Then, going by the RPI, these are the next 33 teams in the at-large pool. N.C. State would be No. 28 on that board or squarely in the field.
The NCAA selection committee will consider more than just the straight RPI. Strength of schedule (SoS), in the games you control (nonconference games) in particular is primary a factor as is a team’s record against the top 25, top 50 and top 100 RPI teams.
A handy-dandy chart of the 12 teams so you can compare:
As you can see in the chart, there’s nothing wrong with N.C. State’s profile. The overall SoS is good, the nonconference SoS is not a red flag (see Texas A&M) and the record vs. top 50/100 is pretty much in line with the rest of the group.
There’s also nothing really that stands out. N.C. State has good individual wins (UNC, Louisville, Wake Forest) and a good series win over Florida State. The three-game set against Clemson, ranked No. 8 in the RPI, offers another chance to boost its top 25/50/100 wins. The overall SoS will go up just by playing the three games.
What does this all mean? N.C. State should feel good about:
A) playing its best baseball at the right time
B) its NCAA positioning heading into the final five games
But it would be in the Wolfpack’s best interests to win at least two of its next five games. There will be different conference winners than the ones on the list above, which will shift the at-large board.
Most of the other teams on the bubble can also still improve their standing. So, yes, N.C. State, has played its way into a good spot, but it can’t just pull this into the barn and hope it all works out.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio