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NC State bracketology update: Crucial week ahead for the Pack

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Head coach Kevin Keatts’ squad cannot afford many more setbacks.
Head coach Kevin Keatts’ squad cannot afford many more setbacks. (Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports)

Conference tournaments began Tuesday when the Atlantic Sun held its quarterfinals, certifying that March Madness has arrived.

For most of the major conferences, like the ACC, this is the final week of the regular season. For NC State, it’s a week with potentially significant ramifications. NCAA.com’s Andy Katz released his mock bracket Tuesday afternoon and it had NC State as one of the last four teams in — playing Seton Hall in Dayton for the right to play No. 5 seed Nevada (and the Martin twins Caleb and Cody, former NC State players) in the round of 64.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi feels a little more confident in NC State’s résumé. He has the Wolfpack as a No. 10 seed and playing in Des Moines, Iowa, against No. 7 seed Auburn in a rematch of a 78-71 Wolfpack win earlier this season in Raleigh. The winner of that game would play, likely, No. 2 seed Michigan in the second round.

However, there are some who do not have NC State in the field — notably CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, who has the Wolfpack second on his list of first four teams out. Here is what he wrote recently:

“They have the classic résumé for being excluded, and if you think a soft bubble will save them, I refer you to 2016. The bubble was so bad that year that the committee took five teams with something so negative on their résumé that in any other year, they wouldn't have gotten a bid. Yet, they still left out South Carolina because of a bad non-conference schedule. And by bad, I mean much better than that of NC State.”

A closer examination, though, suggests that NC State’s 2019 profile could be viewed better than South Carolina’s in 2016:

• Back then, the NCAA used splits of top-50 and top-100 wins in the RPI. South Carolina was 1-1 versus top-50 foes and NC State is 4-8 this year. However, they now use the quadrant system, in which the Gamecocks would have been 1-4 in quad one. NC State is 2-8. In quad two, the Gamecocks would have been 6-1 and NCSU is currently 5-0.

Thus NC State has more quality wins than South Carolina, albeit not by much.

• South Carolina’s RPI that year though was No. 64 that year compared to NC State’s current NET position of No. 31.

• The Gamecocks also had three theoretical quad three losses, whereas NC State currently has only one.

• It is true both teams had bad non-conference schedules, but NC State at least played three non-conference teams that were quad one. South Carolina did not have a single out of conference quad one game. The Gamecocks’ non-conference strength of schedule was 296, which is better than NC State’s dead-last ranking of 353.

• The losses were not equal either. It was a down year in the SEC with just two teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI — Kentucky (11) and Texas A&M (18). South Carolina lost to Kentucky at home by 27 points and its marquee win was at home versus the Aggies by three.

NC State’s eight quad one losses were all against teams ranked in the current top 25. Overall the Pack has played nine games against teams ranked in the top 25, defeating Auburn (NET 20).

The Wolfpack’s schedule, though, will remain a factoid of consternation for the Pack. NC State’s issue is a lack of quad two/three games out of conference. Its three non-conference quad one opponents is actually a solid number. Of the top 100 teams in the NET, only 31 played four or more quad one non-conference opponents.

Yet NC State’s lone quad two/three game was Vanderbilt, which was played on a neutral floor and rates as a quad three victory. Its other nine non-conference games were all quad four opponents. For some perspective, a quick glance showed that the only Power Five conference team to have played more total quad four games than NC State’s 10 (the win over Wake Forest in the ACC also qualified as a quad four) was Washington State, which played 11.

That type of schedule, which has consistently been frowned upon by the NCAA Selection Committee, and a lack of profile-building quad one victories are holding the Pack back some, but most still project NC State into the field. Of the 110 updated mock brackets reviewed by BracketMatrix.com as of Tuesday afternoon, 99 had NC State in the field with an average seeding of 10.12.

In a sign of the wide range of opinion on the Wolfpack however, there are five other teams with an average seeding below NC State who all appear on at least three more mock brackets than NC State. If you were to go by the number of mock brackets listed as a barometer, NCSU and Alabama would tie for being one of the last four teams in along with Arizona State, Clemson and Temple.

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