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Why NC State’s game at Syracuse has serious NCAA tournament bubble implications

NC State's Abu slams in two

VIDEO: Watch a time-lapse as NC State's Abdul-Malik Abu slams in two as UNC's Luke Maye defends during the Wolfpack's game with the Tar Heels at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.
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VIDEO: Watch a time-lapse as NC State's Abdul-Malik Abu slams in two as UNC's Luke Maye defends during the Wolfpack's game with the Tar Heels at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.

With less than a month to go until the NCAA tournament field is released on March 11 and only three weekends left in the regular season, N.C. State and Syracuse meet in an important ACC game Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome.

The teams currently find themselves on the opposite side of the NCAA tournament cut line, according to both Jerry Palm of CBS Sports and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. N.C. State is in. Syracuse is out.

That’s despite the fact that Syracuse (17-8, 6-6 ACC) has a better record than the Wolfpack (16-9, 6-6). Syracuse also has a better RPI (37) than N.C. State (70) and is rated above the Wolfpack in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings (Syracuse 46, NC State 59).

Lunardi has N.C. State among his last four in the tournament. Syracuse is among the first four out. Palm has N.C. State among his last four in but doesn’t even have Syracuse among his first four out.

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Tonight’s game won’t determine who is in and who is out. But the winner would get a boost come selection Sunday when the two teams are being examined for inclusion the field of 68.

While N.C. State has worked to do in its final six regular-season games to shore up its tournament resume, here are the reasons why the Wolfpack are ahead of the Orange on Feb. 14:

Big-time wins

N.C. State, is looked upon favorably by the bracket analysts because of its wins over Clemson (RPI: 4) North Carolina (RPI: 7), Duke (RPI: 10) and Arizona (RPI: 18). Those wins are money in the bank for the Wolfpack, 4-7 in games against Quadrant 1 on the NCAA selection committee’s team sheets.

Syracuse Louisville Basketball
Louisville forward Anas Mahmoud (14) attempts to fight his way around the defense of Syracuse center Paschal Chukwu (13) during the first half on Feb. 5, 2018, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley) Timothy D. Easley AP

Syracuse is in dire need of wins like that. The Orange are just 1-4 against the top quadrant.

The Orange will get chances to improve that between now and the end of the regular season. After playing the Wolfpack, Syracuse plays at Miami (RPI: 30) on Saturday, home against North Carolina on Feb. 21, at Duke on Feb. 24 and closes the regular season March 3 at home with Clemson.

VIDEO: NC State coach Kevin Keatts says his opinion of his team hasn't changed: they are learning how to compete and play hard and starting to believe in one another.

Unsightly losses

N.C. State’s lone loss a team with a triple-digit RPI was the 64-60 neutral site loss to No. 158 Northern Iowa in the Bahamas on Nov. 23.

Syracuse has two such losses – 73-67 at No. 124 Wake Forest on Jan. 3 and 55-51 at No. 143 Georgia Tech on Jan. 31.

(Bonus point: N.C. State’s home loss to UNC Greensboro isn’t as bad as it looked on Dec. 16. The Spartans are No. 77 in the RPI. That loss is currently in quadrant 3 but if the Spartans climb to 75 or better, it will become a quadrant 2 loss).

Average wins, average losses

The team sheets also include the average RPI of teams a school defeated and the teams it lost to.

The average RPI of teams Syracuse has defeated is 128, while the teams that defeated the Orange are 55.

For N.C. State, those numbers are 175 and 47.

So this data point is even between the teams. And that’s why a win over N.C. State would be so important tonight.

It would help lower the average RPI of teams N.C. State has defeated and raise the RPI of teams that have defeated Syracuse since the Orange has a much better RPI than the Pack.

VIDEO: Abdul-Malik Abu talks about the Wolfpack’s loss to North Carolina at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.

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