NC State's Kevin Keatts talks about the Wolfpack's NCAA Tournament game against Seton Hall
Back in the NCAA tournament field following a two-year absence, N.C. State faces a similar task to the one it faced in 2015 if it hopes to make it out of the first weekend.
The Midwest Region's No. 9 seed Wolfpack (21-11) will open play on Thursday against No. 8 seed Seton Hall at Wichita, Kansas .
The winner of that game faces the likelihood of playing the region’s top seed, Kansas, in Sunday’s second round. The Jayhawks (27-7) will play No. 16 seed Penn, the Ivy League champion, on Thursday.
In 2015, when N.C. State last appeared in the NCAA tournament, the Wolfpack beat LSU 66-65 in an 8-9 game before upsetting top-seeded Villanova 71-68 at Pittsburgh.
This year’s Wolfpack team enters the NCAA tournament already owning six wins in 13 games against teams that made the field.
Three of them came against teams also in the Midwest Region: No. 2 seeded Duke, No. 5 seed Clemson and Syracuse which will play in the First Four as a No. 11 seed.
N.C. State’s other wins over NCAA tournament teams were over North Carolina, the No. 2 seed in the West Region and Florida State, seeded No. 9 in the West Region.
"I’m excited for my players and staff to make the NCAA Tournament," NC State coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement Sunday night. "This is the greatest tournament in the world and I’m thrilled my players get to experience it. To go from being preseason picked 12th in the ACC to an at-large selection for the tournament is a great accomplishment. It has been a very rewarding season, but we still have a golden opportunity to build on it. We’ve been given an opportunity to compete for the greatest prize in our sport and we look forward to the challenge."
Navigating the Midwest Region will not be easy as it has already earned the early nomination as the toughest of the four regions.
Joining Kansas and Duke atop the region’s seeds are No. 3 Michigan State and No. 4 Auburn.
According to KenPom.com, Duke (3), Michigan State (6) and Kansas (9) are all among the nation’s top 10 teams. Auburn checks in at No. 16, followed by fifth-seeded Clemson at No. 19.
The Wolfpack’s first opponent, Seton Hall (21-11), is at No. 26 in the KenPom ratings. The Pirates went 10-8 in the Big East, losing to Butler 75-74 last Thursday in the Big East tournament.
That was one day after N.C. State, which was 11-7 in the ACC, lost 91-87 to Boston College in its only ACC tournament game.
So both teams will be dealing with similar amounts of the rest/rusty factor.
Like N.C. State, Seton Hall also has six wins over teams that made the NCAA tournament. Five of those wins came in Big East play, with two wins each over Providence and Butler and one against Creighton. The Pirates beat Texas Tech in a neutral site game at Madison Square Garden.
“We drew a very good N.C. State team that is playing very well,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said on Sunday night.
Speaking on a teleconference about 60 minutes after learning N.C. State was Seton Hall’s opponent, Willard said he remembered watching the Wolfpack’s 76-69 win over Louisville on March 3 on television. He came away impressed.
“I watched their Louisville game,” Willard said. “Very tough hard-nosed team. They offensive rebound the basketball extremely well. They have a good turnover to assist ratio. Very balanced. That was the one thing I saw and did remember. It always looked like they had three or four guys on the floor that can score.”
N.C. State will rely on graduate guard Allerik Freeman (15.4 points per game), sophomore center Omer Yurtseven (13.8 points) and junior guard Torin Dorn (13.8 points).
Of those three, only Freeman has NCAA tournament experience. It came over the last three seasons when he played at Baylor.
Now those three hope to create positive NCAA tournament memories with the Wolfpack.
The last time N.C. State was in the field in 2015, it made it to the Sweet 16 by knocking off a top seed.
The chance to do it again lies ahead for the Wolfpack.
NC State vs. the NCAA field
Arizona, 90-84, Nov. 22 (N)
Duke, 96-85, Jan. 6 (H)
North Carolina, 95-91 OT, Jan. 27 (A)
Clemson, 78-77, Jan. 11 (H)
Florida State, 92-72, Feb. 25 (H)
Syracuse, 74-70, Feb. 14 (A)
Virginia, 68-51, Jan. 14 (A)
North Carolina, 96-89, Feb. 10 (H)
Clemson, 78-62, Dec. 30 (A)
UNC Greensboro, 81-76, Dec. 16 (H)
Tennessee, 67-58, Nov. 24 (N)
Miami, 86-81, Jan. 21, (H)
Virginia Tech, 85-75, Feb. 7 (A)