Upcoming Home Games Pivotal For Wolfpack

Brett Friedlander

It's only mid-January, but when you're a college basketball team flirting with the NCAA tournament bubble -- as NC State always seems to be -- it's never too early to start thinking ahead to March.

Specifically, how many wins it's going to take to not be disappointed on Selection Sunday.

It's a subject that's clearly on the mind of the Wolfpack as it approaches what could be a pivotal two-game homestand against Miami tonight and Clemson on Saturday.

"Last year, I didn't think too much about postseason play, but when we started to let games slip away that we had in the bag, it's big to us and it's big to the (NCAA selection) committee, I believe," junior forward D.J. Funderburk said.

"These next two games we've got to really lock in, stay focused and get these wins. That will definitely help us in the long run."

The Wolfpack (11-5, 2-3 ACC) has already let several opportunities pass it by this season, including a 72-58 loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday in which it scored the game's first 10 points, then sleepwalked through the rest of the game offensively.

In State's defense, at least one starter has been out of the lineup in all three of its conference losses thus far. But that extenuating circumstance won't carry much weight when the selection committee starts comparing resumes to fill the final few spots in its 68-team bracket.

The good news for the Wolfpack, at least potentially, is that there's a realistic chance that leading scorer and rebounder C.J. Bryce will be ready to return tonight against the Hurricanes after missing the past four games with a concussion.

Coach Kevin Keatts said Tuesday that the redshirt senior wing is "trending in the right way,' adding that his participation will be a gametime decision.

Regardless of who is or isn't in uniform, Keatts acknowledges that even with 15 more ACC games to play, his team can't afford to waste any more opportunities.

Especially at home.

"Every game is important," Keatts said. "Every game is going to come down to the wire. We’ve got two games this week at home. We’ve got to try and take care of homecourt advantage.

"As crazy as this sounds, I think I saw a stat yesterday where most of the wins have come on the road. It’s a different ACC season than it’s been in the past."

The biggest difference is that unlike past seasons, there is no dominant team or teams at the top of the standings.

After Duke's loss at Clemson on Tuesday, every team in the league now has at least one loss. At the other end of the table, every team in the league has at least one win. In between, there are nine teams that are within two games of .500 -- meaning that virtually every game that is played from here on out is likely to be a tossup.

"I’m like every other coach. I wish we had won every game that we have played," Keatts said. "But when you look at our conference, it’s so much parity. When you look at the rankings of our conference, and I’ll even take it a step further and say most of the Power 5 conferences throughout the country, everybody is right there. 

"We’ve got four or five teams that are sitting right at 2-3 and then a couple of guys at 3-3. Then you’ve got Duke playing well and maybe Florida State, and then I think everyone is the same. Then you’ve got three or four teams with one win. On any given night, everybody can beat everybody."

While that parity will make for some intense competition and intriguing storylines over the  final month and a half of the regular season, it could also cut down significantly on the number of teams the ACC sends to the NCAA tournament this year.

As Funderburk mentioned, the best way to avoid being left out in the cold come March -- as State was a year ago -- is to win as many games as possible now.

"As far as the ACC, I feel like every team we're going to play is going to be a dogfight to the end," Funderburk said. "I think about the postseason sometimes, but for the most part I just think about the next game. This next game against Miami, we've got to really lock in to the scouting report, shut down the guys that contribute the most and we'll be alright."