It would be fair to describe N.C. State coach Elliott Avent as consumed by the NCAA tournament.
“I think about it every second,” Avent said.
But the way the Wolfpack coach sees it, the only way into the NCAA tournament is to make the ACC tournament first.
If the Wolfpack (21-17, 9-11 ACC) can win enough games to get into the main draw of the conference tournament in Durham next month, Avent likes his team’s chances at a return to the NCAA tournament for the 12th time in 14 years.
If not, N.C. State, which hosts Virginia (26-15, 9-12) in a three-game series starting Friday night at Doak Field, will likely miss the NCAA field for the second straight year.
It’s that simple. The math for the ACC tournament is not. Ten of the 14 teams, regardless of the division, make the ACC tournament, which is in name only a “tournament.” The bottom four teams go through a play-in round to join the top six teams. The eight teams are then split into two pools. Each pool goes through round-robin play. The pool winners meet for the ACC title.
Avent said the pool-play format might save on pitching for the NCAA tournament, but it doesn’t help the ACC get more teams into the 64-team NCAA field. He said the league’s coaches have voted to go back to a 10-team, double-elimination format, but there hasn’t been a change.
“There are going to be two or three good teams left out of the ACC tournament every year,” Avent said. “You have no chance to play your way into the NCAA tournament if you can’t get into the ACC tournament.”
This year’s conference race has been clustered in the middle. Louisville (19-2), which advanced to the past two College World Series, is running away with the top spot. Miami and (15-6) and Florida State (14-7) have created some separation for the next two spots. But there are nine teams separated by three wins in the ACC standings.
There’s a chance a team like Clemson (22-19, 11-9 in the ACC) could make the ACC tournament but not the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech (24-16, 9-12 ACC) is in danger of missing the ACC tournament, but at No. 26 in the RPI, could make the NCAA field, a unique path that UNC managed to navigate in 2010.
Seven ACC teams – Miami (3), Florida State (7), Louisville (11), North Carolina (16), Georgia Tech (26), Virginia (32) and Notre Dame (33) – are in the top 35 of the RPI. Those seven teams, D1Baseball.com editor Aaron Fitt said, figure to be safely in the 64-team NCAA field.
“It feels fairly clear,” Fitt said. “There’s a lot that can change, but those seven teams are in pretty good shape.”
N.C. State, with Boston College, is on the bubble, Fitt said. The Wolfpack’s RPI is No. 65, and it needs to move up into at least the top 50, Fitt said, to get into the at-large conversation. Boston College, which is coming off of a sweep of Georgia Tech, is No. 51 in the RPI.
At 4-10 vs. the top 50 of the RPI, and 8-13 vs. the top 100, N.C. State needs to improve its mark against the top teams. With series left against Virginia and Louisville, the opportunity is there for the Wolfpack to make the move, Fitt said.
“They need more quality wins,” Fitt said. “That’s the bottom line.”
N.C. State can work on its ACC standing first. The Wolfpack would be the No. 7 seed, and back in the play-in round, if the ACC tournament started today. N.C. State lost in the play-in round last year, 4-3 to UNC, and missed out on the NCAA tournament.
Avent doesn’t want to be in the same situation this year. He wants to get one of the top six spots – the Wolfpack is one game behind UNC (10-10 ACC) for the sixth spot and two behind Clemson (11-9) for the fourth seed – to avoid being in a precarious NCAA position.
To get there, the Wolfpack needs to figure out a way to win close games. The Wolfpack has lost eight of its past 11 games, six by one run or in extra innings.
N.C. State vs. Virginia
Where: Doak Field
Friday: 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: 6:30 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m.