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. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com
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. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

NC State

Eight more games: Here’s a look at the rest of NC State basketball’s regular season

By Steve Wiseman

swiseman@heraldsun.com

February 06, 2018 10:30 AM

RALEIGH

With the ACC tournament four weeks away, N.C. State is exceeding expectations in Kevin Keatts’ first season as the Wolfpack’s coach.

Picked to finish 12th in the ACC in a preseason media poll, the Wolfpack (16-7, 6-4 ACC) right now looks like a team that will earn a bye and not begin league tournament play until the second round on March 7 in Brooklyn.

NCAA tournament bracket projections by CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm and ESPN’s Joe Lunardi released Monday have N.C. State in the tournament field, with both listing the Wolfpack among teams playing in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio.

Riding a three-game winning streak, N.C. State has eight ACC regular-season games remaining. The Wolfpack has a better ACC record than all eight of those teams.

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Let’s consider that for a second. Back on Dec. 30, Keatts assessed his team by saying N.C. State had a “low margin for error” because his team was “not as talented as most teams in the ACC.”

Keatts wanted his team to play together to maximize the talent it does have and the Wolfpack has done that, pleasing and surprising its coach at the same time.

On Jan. 3, N.C. State lost by 30 (88-58) to Notre Dame in Indiana. A month later, on Feb. 3, N.C. State beat Notre Dame 76-58 at home.

Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey is now a Wolfpack believer, too.

VIDEO: NC State men's basketball coach Kevin Keatts talks about the Wolfpack's victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at PNC Arena on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. Ethan Hymanehyman@newsobserver.com

“They believe they are going to win in any situation,” Brey said. “They are an NCAA tournament team. They deserve it.”

N.C. State’s weak non-conference schedule (rated No. 267 nationally) means the Wolfpack has to have a strong showing in league play to overcome that negative.

So far, N.C. State is doing that.

Through Sunday’s games, N.C. State’s RPI is 62, and through Monday’s games its KenPom rating is 57. Here’s a look at the Wolfpack’s final eight opponents and N.C. State’s chances of winning those games:

at Virginia Tech, Feb. 7

Virginia Tech’s record: 16-7, 5-5 ACC

Virginia Tech’s RPI: 67

Virginia Tech’s KenPom ranking: 41

KenPom projected percent chances of winning: Virginia Tech 68, NC State 32

KenPom projected score: Virginia Tech 85-80.

Steve’s thoughts: This game is a battle of two bubble teams. N.C. State can deal the Hokies’ NCAA chances a serious blow with a win.

North Carolina, Feb. 10

UNC’s record: 17-7, 6-5 ACC

UNC’s RPI: 10

UNC’s KenPom ranking: 12

KenPom projected percent chances of winning: UNC 62, N.C. State 38

KenPom projected score: UNC 84, N.C. State 81

Steve’s thoughts: Hey, remember that KenPom gave the Wolfpack an 11 percent chance of winning in Chapel Hill on Jan. 27. Instead, the N.C. State won that game 95-91 in overtime. A Wolfpack win on Saturday should move N.C. State off the “last four in” lists and comfortably in the field.

At Syracuse, Feb. 14

Syracuse’s record: 16-8, 5-6 ACC

Syracuse’s RPI: 47

Syracuse’s KenPom ranking: 44

KenPom projected percent chances of winning: Syracuse 64, N.C. State 36

KenPom projected score: Syracuse 70, N.C. State 66

Steve’s thoughts: There’s nothing special about this Orange team. But N.C. State struggled to make outside shots against Pitt’s 2-3 zone. Syracuse does it better.

At Wake Forest, Feb. 17

Wake Forest’s record: 9-14, 2-9 ACC

Wake Forest’s RPI: 116

Wake Forest’s KenPom ranking: 93

KenPom projected percent chances of winning: N.C. State 50, Wake Forest 50

KenPom projected score: N.C. State 80, Wake Forest 79

Steve’s thoughts: N.C. State had to outplay Wake in the final four minutes to rally and beat the Demon Deacons 72-63 at PNC Arena on Jan. 18. Wolfpack needs this win and should get it.

Boston College, Feb. 20

Boston College’s record: 14-9, 4-6 ACC

Boston College’s RPI: 79

Boston College’s KenPom ranking: 83

KenPom projected percent chances of winning: N.C. State 71, Boston College 29

KenPom projected score: NC State 81, Boston College 75

Steve’s thoughts: Boston College is a more competitive ACC team than it has been in previous seasons, but has no road wins against teams in the top 200 of the RPI. The upcoming game is a home game for N.C. State, so the Wolfpack simply has to win this one. And it should.

Florida State, Feb. 25

Florida State’s record: 17-6, 6-5 ACC

Florida State’s RPI: 40

Florida State’s KenPom ranking: 22

KenPom projected percent chances of winning: Florida State 53, NC State 47

KenPom projected score: Florida State 84, NC State 83

Steve’s thoughts: This is similar to N.C. State’s home game with Miami on Jan. 21, when the Hurricanes pulled out an 86-81 win. It was a winnable game for N.C. State but it let it get away. Beating FSU is possible for the Wolfpack, especially at home. N.C. State needs to have a good shooting day, which it didn’t have against Miami.

At Georgia Tech, March 1

Georgia Tech’s record: 11-12, 4-6 ACC

Georgia Tech’s RPI: 140

Georgia Tech’s KenPom ranking: 108

KenPom projected percent chances of winning: NC State 54, Georgia Tech 46

KenPom projected score: NC State 72, Georgia Tech 71

Steve’s thoughts: Notice that, according to Ken Pomeroy, N.C. State’s chances to win this one are the second-highest among the final eight games. The Wolfpack needs to play well in this road game to send a positive message to the NCAA selection committee.

Louisville, March 3

Louisville’s record: 16-8, 6-5 ACC

Louisville’s RPI: 26

Louisville’s KenPom ranking: 37

KenPom projected percent chances of winning: N.C. State 52, Louisville 48

KenPom projected score: N.C. State 78, Louisville 77

Steve’s thoughts: This one is hard to project because no one really knows what Louisville’s mindset and emotions will be by this point in the season. The NCAA and FBI cloud over the Cardinals is real.

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC