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Is the Pack on the NCAA bubble? Depends on who you ask

NC State gets ready for ACC Tournament

The NC State Wolfpack men's basketball team practiced at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC Monday, March 11, 2019, before the start of the 2019 New York Life ACC Tournament.
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The NC State Wolfpack men's basketball team practiced at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC Monday, March 11, 2019, before the start of the 2019 New York Life ACC Tournament.

N.C. State’s Torin Dorn played in the NCAA Tournament last season and made it clear Monday he wants to end his college career by being a part of it again.

“It’s super special,” Dorn said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There’s a lot of people who played basketball for a long time who can never say they played in the greatest show. Any time you get a chance to get to the NCAA Tournament and have a chance to cut those nets down, it’s beautiful.”

While saying that, Dorn, a redshirt senior, and the other Wolfpack players are refusing to add another level of pressure to Wednesday’s game against Clemson in the ACC Tournament.

Yes, a Wolfpack win would help its NCAA resume.

No, a Wolfpack loss might not keep N.C. State out of the “greatest show.”

“We don’t really talk about it or worry about that,” sophomore guard Braxton Beverly said. “Right now our focus is the Clemson game. Of course we’ve heard about the bubble and seen it on TV. It’s hard not to see it. Then again, if we don’t take care of things ourselves ...”

It was Beverly whose 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Pack a 69-67 victory over the Tigers on Jan. 26 at PNC Arena. As the season wore on, that remained the Pack’s most memorable moment -- certainly the most heart-thumping finish -- and Beverly said he recently spotted replays of the shot again on social media.

“People still talk about it,” Beverly said. “It’s still hard to believe. But that was a couple of (months) ago. It’s in the past now.”

The Pack (21-10, 9-9 ACC) was ranked in the top 25 in the national polls after the Clemson victory. It ended up 9-9 in the ACC after the road victory Saturday at Boston College and is unranked, but is No. 32 in the NET rankings said to be the prime criteria for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Is that the bubble?

“I haven’t thought about it much,” NCSU coach Kevin Keatts said Monday. “I can’t say we’re living on the bubble. If the new standard is the NET, all I can tell you is we’re 32 in the NET. I don’t know if that’s the bubble or not. That has to mean something.

“I feel good just where we are now. Of course, if we win, I think any win helps you. But I like where our team is now. ... I like the way our guys have competed all year long and we’ve got some good wins. When you talk about the ACC and you talk about winning nine games in this conference, it’s hard to not think you’re an NCAA team.”

Keatts said NCAA possibilities weren’t discussed before the final two regular-season games, against Georgia Tech or BC. There was no talk about having to win to get in, only, he said, about playing well. And then, as Dorn put it, “Letting the chips fall where they may.”

N.C. State’s Braxton Beverly smiles during the Wolfpack’s practice before the 2019 New York Life ACC Tournament at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, March 11, 2019. N.C. State’s C.J. Bryce and Torin Dorn are to the left. Ethan Hyman

Looking ahead to the ACC Tournament opener, Keatts said he wanted the Pack to again be “solid on the defensive end.” A demanding coach, he had few complaints about the Pack’s hustling defensive play against BC that resulted in a 73-47 victory.

“I thought it was the best defensive effort we’ve had since I’ve been here, in two years,” Keatts said. “We’ve got to continue to stay mentally tough.”

The Pack took advantage of its 55-minute practice time slot Monday afternoon at the Spectrum Center, mostly taking shots and getting a feel for the arena layout, for the sight lines from the floor level. N.C. State will use the Charlotte Hornets’ practice facility Tuesday for a workout.

A year ago, the Pack lost its ACC Tournament opener to Boston College 91-87 in Brooklyn, then the NCAA Tournament opener to Seton Hall 94-83. But the players said Monday they’ve packed their bags as if they’ll be around for a while in Charlotte.

Should the Pack win Wednesday, they’ll be getting ice cream as a treat. Win again, and it would mean more.

”That would be a lot of ice cream,” the Pack’s Devon Daniels said, smiling.

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.