Abdul-Malik Abu was like every other N.C. State fan last year.
Abu was immersed in the world of bracketology and tracking the Wolfpack’s chances of making the NCAA tournament.
RPI, “Last Four In,” “First Four Out” and strength of schedule were all factors on Abu’s radar.
“Bracketology is fun,” Abu said. “Everybody likes to feed into it. I looked at it last year in high school, I wanted to make sure we were in.”
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Now that the freshman forward is knee-deep in N.C. State’s pursuit of a fourth straight tournament bid, he says he has gotten out of the bracket projection business.
“As a player you’ve got to just got out there and win,” Abu said. “The best chance you have of making the tournament is winning.”
The Wolfpack (15-11, 6-7 ACC) helped its cause with a big road win over Louisville last Saturday and hopes it can build momentum for March with Saturday’s home game against Virginia Tech (10-16, 2-11).
With a strong strength of schedule – No. 4 in the country according to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports – and two wins over top 25 teams in the RPI, N.C. State has worked its way into the bracket projections by ESPN and USA Today but not by Palm.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried, who has taken three different schools to the NCAA tournament, does keep up with the projections. He doesn’t recommend it for daily consumption for his players, though.
“You’ll go crazy, absolutely nuts, because it’s so fluid and it changes so much,” Gottfried said.
N.C. State’s has five more games before the ACC tournament to help determine its postseason fate. Junior guard Trevor Lacey said he doesn’t keep up with the projections but understands what the Wolfpack has to do to get back to the tournament.
“We’re going to try to make our job easier by winning games and painting a better picture,” Lacey said.
The better picture needs to include more consistency from the Wolfpack. N.C. State has big wins over Duke (No. 5 in the RPI) and the Cardinals (No. 22) but it also has several missed opportunities.
N.C. State hasn’t won consecutive games since beating Wake Forest and Charleston Southern in early December. The 87-75 win over the Blue Devils on Jan. 11 was followed by six losses in eight games. N.C. State can’t afford a similar letdown after the Louisville upset.
“We’ve been all over the board and we know it,” Gottfried said. “We need to be more consistent and hopefully we can put consecutive nights together where we do really well down the stretch.”
The struggling Hokies, under first-year coach Buzz Williams, don’t offer the same resume-building opportunity as the previous two games – at home vs. Virginia and at Louisville – but there’s something more there, Gottfried said.
“We talk to our guys about being at your best at the end of the year,” Gottfried said. “Hopefully, they’ve listened.”
Lacey said there’s a good reason to ignore the whims of bracketology. Right now, projections are just an informed guess with some opinion involved.
Lacey said “most definitely” N.C. State is a tournament team. But opinions, even their own, won’t help the Wolfpack on Selection Sunday, Lacey said.
“It’s not about our opinion or what we say we can do,” Lacey said. “It’s about what we do on the court. We still have to prove ourselves of being in there.”
Room to dance?
N.C. State finds itself in a familiar position, hoping to grab one of the last at-large spots in the 68-team field for the NCAA tournament. Here's a comparison of 12 teams vying for the last four spots:
Notes: Top 50 and Top 100 refer to the number of wins over teams ranked in the top 50/100 of the RPI. SoS1 is strength of schedule in all games, SoS2 is strength of schedule in nonconference games.
Source: Jerry Palm, CBS Sports
Virginia Tech at N.C. State
When/where: 6 p.m., PNC Arena, Raleigh
TV/Radio: ESPN2, 101.5-WRAL
Projected starting lineups
Virginia Tech (10-16, 2-11 ACC)
G Adam Smith 13.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg
G Malik Muller 6.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg
G Justin Bibbs 12.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G Ahmed Hill 8.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg
F Shane Henry 2.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg
N.C. State (15-11, 6-7 ACC)
G Cat Barber 11.8 ppg, 3.6 apg
G Trevor Lacey 16.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg
G Ralston Turner 12.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg
F Lennard Freeman 3.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg
F Abdul-Malik Abu 5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg
The Hokies have no size since jettisoning big man Joey van Zegeren midseason for disciplinary issues. N.C. State will start with Lennard Freeman at one forward and he’s capable of defending on the perimeter but don’t be surprised if N.C. State goes with heavy dose of the Martin twins to match Virginia Tech’s smaller lineup. Joe Giglio