With a sweep of Pittsburgh, and wins in 11 of its past 12 games, N.C. State’s baseball team has put itself in position to make the NCAA tournament.
Now comes the hard part.
The Wolfpack, 31-21 overall and 14-13 in the ACC, hosts Clemson (37-15, 16-11 ACC) in the final three-game set of the regular season and then is guaranteed two games in the ACC tournament next week in Louisville.
If the Wolfpack can win three of its next five games, it will almost certainly make the 64-team NCAA field. If N.C. State can’t continue its recent hot streak, its spot in the postseason could be in trouble.
The Wolfpack can ease its Selection Monday (May 29) tensions with a pair of wins over the Tigers this week. The series starts Thursday (6 p.m.) and continues Friday (6:30 p.m.) and Saturday (1 p.m.) at Doak Field.
The recent surge has already helped N.C. State’s ACC tournament position. The Wolfpack enters the final ACC series as the No. 6 seed and would be in Pool C with Wake Forest (No. 3 seed) and Notre Dame (No. 10 seed).
The Wolfpack can clinch the No. 4 seed with a series win over Clemson (it would then have the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Tigers). There’s still a chance N.C. State could drop down to the No. 9 seed.
The ACC expanded and tweaked the tournament format this year. Two more teams will make the field this year, putting 12 teams in four pools.
The tournament starts with a round-robin in pool play and then the pool winners advance to a single-elimination bracket. The winner of Pool A faces the winner of Pool D in one semifinal and the winner of Pool B and winner of Pool C face off in the other.
The semifinal winners meet on Sunday, May 28, for the conference title.
A championship in Louisville would be the most direct path to the NCAA tournament for N.C. State. There is some other history on its side, though.
Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 48 teams in 1987, the Wolfpack has finished ACC play with a winning record 18 times and made the NCAA field every time. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999, N.C. State has finished .500 or better in ACC play 10 times and made the NCAA field every time.
But, just like basketball, the NCAA selection committee does not use conference record as a specific criteria. Rather, it’s an indication of the team’s relative strength. In this case, the ACC is the No. 1-rated conference by the RPI, ergo performing well in the conference bodes well for the Wolfpack.
Still, a winning conference record has been a fairly consistent indicator for tournament inclusion, although not a guarantee. Since 1999, 98 of 101 ACC teams with a winning conference record have made the NCAA tournament: Wake Forest (16-13 in 2006), Georgia Tech (15-14 in 2007) and Duke (16-14 in 2014). All three of those teams performed poorly in the ACC tournament.
A .500 finish in conference play has been less of a guarantee. Eight of the 12 teams since 1999 who have finished with an even conference record have made the NCAA field.
N.C. State has made the NCAA tournament twice with a losing ACC record: 11-13 in 1999 and 11-12 in 2004.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
ACC baseball tournament
The ACC baseball tournament starts next Tuesday in Louisville. Twelve of the 14 ACC teams will make the field and will be split into four pools. How the teams stand with one conference series left:
1. Louisville 23-4
2. UNC 21-6
8. Florida State 12-14
7. Miami 13-13
12. Virginia Tech 9-18
11. Georgia Tech 10-17
3. Wake Forest 17-10
4. Clemson 16-11
6. N.C. State 14-13
5. Virginia 16-11
10. Notre Dame 10-17
9. Duke 11-16
OUT: Pitt (8-19), Boston College (8-19)
The matchups for the end of regular-season play (all games Thursday, Friday, Saturday):
Clemson at N.C. State
Notre Dame at Boston College
Virginia at Georgia Tech
Duke at North Carolina
Florida State at Louisville
Pittsburgh at Wake Forest
Virginia Tech at Miami