NC State

NC State enters key stretch for RPI, NCAA resume

N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, here talking with Kyle Washington during a loss in December, concedes they’re in a tough stretch.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, here talking with Kyle Washington during a loss in December, concedes they’re in a tough stretch.

The three consecutive games against ranked opponents, including back-to-back games with Duke and North Carolina, stood out on N.C. State’s schedule.

But the other games, including Thursday’s game at Miami, have Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried’s attention, too.

“Yeah, those three are hard but the three after, or four, they ain’t easy,” Gottfried said after N.C. State’s 72-63 win at Florida State.

N.C. State (13-6, 4-2 ACC) figures to be jockeying for ACC and NCAA position with Miami (12-5, 2-2), No. 55 in the RPI (ratings percentage index), and Notre Dame, No. 39 in the RPI. Those are the next two teams on the Wolfpack’s schedule. The Fighting Irish (17-2, 5-1 ACC) come to Raleigh on Sunday.

The Wolfpack had to scramble last season to get into the NCAA tournament. Gottfried’s fourth team is ahead of schedule this season but it still has plenty of work to do.

N.C. State visits Miami ranked No. 37 in the RPI. The Wolfpack is 2-5 vs. the top 50 of the RPI and 6-5 against the top 100.

Those top 50 and top 100 wins are better at this point in the season than Gottfried’s first team in 2011-12, which was a No. 11 seed, and last year’s team, which was a No. 12 seed and had to play in the First Four.

Miami and Notre Dame don’t have the tradition of Duke or UNC, or same history with N.C. State, Gottfried has stressed their value to his players. Coming off the Virginia-Duke-UNC stretch, that won’t be easy.

“We’ve had a tough emotional couple of weeks but everybody does,” Gottfried said. “We don’t need to be whining about it or make excuses about it.”

Miami has seemingly recovered from a curious nonconference stretch in December. The Hurricanes dropped games to Wisconsin-Green Bay (68-55), Eastern Kentucky (72-44) and Providence (76-62). But in the ACC, they won at Duke (90-74) and pushed Virginia to double overtime before losing 89-80.

Like N.C. State, Miami relies on a pair of transfers. Point guard Angel Rodriguez (from Kansas State) and wing Sheldon McCellan (from Texas) are the Hurricanes’ top two scorers.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga has been impressed with N.C. State. He said earlier in the week that the Wolfpack was the most “athletic” team in the ACC.

“They have already established themselves as a terrific team, very well-balanced,” Larranaga said. “They have great guard play and outstanding 3-point shooters, and their big kids are playing better and better.”

N.C. State got 17 points from guard Trevor Lacey and 15 from guard Ralston Turner in the FSU win. Point guard Cat Barber is expected to play at Miami on Thursday after missing the FSU game. Barber made the trip to FSU but did not play because of the death of a family member.

The Wolfpack got eight points, four blocks and six rebounds from forward Kyle Washington in the win over the Seminoles. Forward Lennard Freeman added seven points and six rebounds off the bench.

Miami gets most of its scoring from McClellan (15.4 points per game) and Rodriguez (14.5), but Larranaga expects a lift from junior college transfer Ivan Cruz Uceda, who wasn’t eligible during the first semester. Also, Miami forward Tonye Jekiri leads the ACC in rebounding (10.1 per game).

“We’ve got 18 difficult conference tests,” Gottfried said. “You just have to figure out how to get it done.”