N.C. State needs help.
Its not the position the Wolfpack thought it would be when the season began, but its where N.C. State (20-8) is with three games left in the ACC regular season.
At 9-6 in the ACC, the fifth-place Wolfpack needs to win out, starting with Sundays road trip to Georgia Tech, and it needs help from the teams in front of them in the conference standings to avoid the play-in round of the ACC tournament.
A top-four finish would mean the Wolfpack, the preseason pick to win the ACC, wouldnt have to play on Thursday in the ACC tournament in Greensboro and it wouldnt have to win four games in four days for its first ACC title since 1987.
Were definitely not satisfied with where were at, senior forward Richard Howell said. At the same time, we know we have plenty of chances to prove we are one of the top teams in the nation, which we definitely believe we are.
The Wolfpack didnt get any help from Clemson or Duke on Thursday, which has essentially left N.C. State with only one viable path to an opening-round bye.
Miami, Duke and Virginia have all but locked up three of the top four spots. N.C. States most likely scenario would be to finish in a fourth-place tie with North Carolina, and only North Carolina (it would lose all tiebreakers that involved Virginia or Duke).
If both N.C. State and UNC finish 12-6, and UNC loses on March 9 to Duke, the Wolfpack would have the tiebreaker over UNC based on the Wolfpacks Jan. 12 win over Duke.
There are still a lot of moving parts that have to fall into place for the Wolfpack to get to that point, including N.C. State closing out the season with wins over Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Florida State.
Coach Mark Gottfried has been encouraged by his teams play lately, winning four of the past five games, including each of the past two home games by 18 points.
I think were playing better basketball right now, Gottfried said. I like the way in the last couple of weeks weve played. Now, we need to make sure we keep improving every day.
The biggest room of improvement for N.C. State is on the road. The Wolfpack has lost five of seven ACC road games this season, compared to a 7-1 home record.
Of the Wolfpacks four wins in the past five games, only one came on the road, at Clemson on Feb. 10. N.C. States last road trip was a 76-65 loss at UNC a week ago.
Stumbles at Maryland and Wake Forest are part of the reason N.C. State finds itself on the outside looking in for a Thursday bye. Howell said the team has gotten better on the road as the season has progressed.
I feel like weve come a long way, from just a couple of games ago, but we still have a long way to go, Howell said.
N.C. State at Georgia Tech
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: McCamish Pavilion, Atlanta
TV : ESPNU
Projected starting lineups
N.C. State (20-8, 9-6 ACC)
G Lorenzo Brown 12.6 ppg, 7.0 apg
G Scott Wood 12.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg
F T.J. Warren 12.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg
F C.J. Leslie 15.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg
F Richard Howell 12.8 ppg, 11.1 rpg
Georgia Tech (15-12, 5-10)
G Mfon Udofia 14.4 ppg, 3.0 apg
G Chris Bolden 6.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg
G Marcus Georges-Hunt 10.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg
F Robert Carter 10.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg
F Daniel Miller 8.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg
Player to watch
Scott Wood, guard, N.C. State
The senior guard has finished the conference season strong with an average of 17.8 points over the past four games and he has made 21 of 44 of his 3-point attempts. Wood needs 11 3-pointers to pass Rodney Monroe for the school career record.
Observations: Georgia Tech hasnt won consecutive games since beating Fordham and Chattanooga before the start of the ACC schedule. The Yellow Jackets beat Maryland, 78-68 on Wednesday, and has gone 5-5 in the ACC since an 0-5 start. Wolfpack senior forward Richard Howell averages 12.3 rebounds in ACC play and 4.5 offensive rebounds, both of which lead the league.