Johnson: The Bubble

Unable to pick up wins against Duke or Florida State, the Pack is running out of time to bolster its NCAA tournament resume.

It's been a long time since NC State has been part of any sort of serious bubble discussion.

Not once in the previous five seasons did NC State have much hope of making the NCAA tournament. So just having this conversation in late February is a major step forward for the Pack. Mark Gottfried's staff and the players deserve credit for making it this far and still being in the hunt for a tournament bid.

The Pack's overall consistency has been the biggest reason its hung around the bubble so long. With the exception of the Georgia Tech game, the Pack hasn't lost a game in which it was supposed to win. The problem is they also haven't won a game in which they were supposed to lose, with the exception of the Texas game back in November. The games have played out almost exactly as predicted. Consistency has been both the reason the Pack has gotten this far and the reason it hasn't gone any further.

In the week leading up to the Duke game, it was correctly pointed out that the Pack probably needed to win one of its next three against the Devils, Seminoles and Tar Heels. They've gone 0-for-2 so far, in what were probably its two best opportunities, and still lack a signature win that bolster the NCAA resume. Gottfried, however, doesn't believe you can make any definitive statements about the importance of this stretch.

"We could lose these three and win the next three and you're telling me we're not going to get in the tournament, for sure?" Gottfried said. "I worked for ESPN, I was told to be an expert. I was told to stand up there and for sure say 'This is the law.' And hell, I didn't know. But I'm not going to get on TV and say 'Well, I really don't know what they're going to do.' What you always have to understand with the tournament is that we don't control what other teams are doing."

"My point with all that is, sure it would be nice if we would have swept right though. If you don't, that doesn't mean you're eliminated. Some things still happen."

RPI, the tool that the selection committee most heavily leans on, is a completely outdated statistic that can be gamed by smart teams. If you want to know more about the problems with RPI as a measurement of team performance, please read this excellent piece by Ken Pomeroy from last March. But as long as the committee uses RPI, we have to reference it when trying to figure out a team's NCAA tournament chances.

Right now the Pack sits at No. 60 in the RPI, with a strength of schedule rated at 41st nationally. The Pack currently sports a 2-7 record against teams in the top 50 in the RPI and a 4-8 record against teams in the top 100. Jerry Palm, CBS Sports resident bracketologist, said the Pack aren't done yet but they'll need to close out the ACC schedule strong and make some noise in the ACC Tournament.

"Florida State hurt more because it was a more realistic shot of winning." Palm said. "Yes, they need quality wins for sure if they're going to make it. UNC, Miami, somebody in the ACC tournament. Gotta beat somebody."

More advanced rating metrics fall in line with RPI. The Pack is rated No. 55 in Pomeroy's rating system, No. 52 in the Sagarin ratings and 61st in the Massey ratings. The team is pretty much unanimously considered by every rating system to be on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble at this point in time.

Unfortunately the Pack is quickly running out of time to change those prospects. Miami and UNC are their remaining top 50 opponents, plus whoever they might play in the ACC Tournament. They also have to pick up two road wins in Blacksburg and Clemson, two teams that are having down years but remain dangerous on their home turf.

The last two losses have dug a hole for the Pack and it will take some work to get back on the right side of the bubble. Unless they pull off the upset on Tuesday night, a 3-1 finish would still leave them with work to do in the ACC tournament. Anything worse than 3-1 and the Pack is probably looking at an invitation to the NIT. But, as Gottfried pointed out on Saturday, no one really knows.

"You never know with this," Gottfried said. "What I don't want my team to do is get so caught up in all of that they become convinced of that outcome. We're still all guessing until that Sunday."

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