NC State, in its first year under Mark Gottfried, had just been selected to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006. The Pack earned an 11 seed and will open play against San Diego State on Friday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio. In seemingly fitting fashion, the Pack was the last team revealed during the selection show.
"The very last one they reveal... I can't even explain it," CJ Williams said.
The last 24 hours had been a whirlwind for the Pack, one that seemed to inch them further and further away from an invite. It started with the Pack's semifinal game against North Carolina, where it failed to capitalize on an opportunity to lock up a bid with a win over the Heels and also missed out on a trip to the ACC title game in the process.
It continued on Sunday afternoon when St. Bonaventure knocked off Xavier to steal an at-large bid. Sports Illustrated's Andy Glockner and CBS's Jerry Palm both predicted that the Bonnies had taken NC State's spot in the NCAA field and that the Wolfpack would be the first team out of the tournament. Only ESPN's Joe Lunardi had the Pack still in the field late Sunday night, and he had them as the second-to-last team in ahead of Seton Hall.
"When you get on ESPN and everybody is talking about bubbles... you just hope for the best," Scott Wood said.
But the reality was that the Pack wasn't at the bottom of the pecking order after all. The NCAA selection committee released its selections in order of overall seeding, and the Pack checked in at No. 42 on the list. That ranks ahead of five other at-large selections, meaning the St. Bonaventure's win was never in danger of knocking the Pack out of the field. Iona was the last at-large selected but BYU, South Florida, California and Texas all would have been bumped out before the Pack.
"I was very nervous," athletic director Debbie Yow said. "I knew our RPI and Strength of Schedule was higher than Virginia's, and when I saw them on the board I had hope, but we got down to the last slot."
The disparity between the experts and the actual committee seems easy enough to explain – strength of schedule. Of the teams labeled snubs in the selection show aftermath, all except Northwestern had strength of schedules far worse than the Pack. In the case of the Wildcats, they bested the Pack in strength of schedule but won just 18 games and had a losing record in conference play.
"Our strength of schedule became something that helped us," Gottfried said. "When I took this job and wanted to make our schedule harder, Debbie Yow was very supportive. We had to buy out of some contracts... we had to spend some money. So that shows what kind of a commitment we got from Debbie Yow."
Clearly that was money well spent by the athletic department as the schedule disparity probably made the difference between the Pack going to Columbus or hosting an opening round NIT game. Gottfried's time at ESPN, where he worked with Lunardi and helped break down NCAA resumes as an analyst, helped him understand the process and influenced his decision to upgrade the Pack's schedule over the summer.
With the drama and elation of Sunday over with, the Pack now has to focus on proving that the committee made the right choice in selecting the Pack. The team has a chance to prove it belongs on the court when it takes on the Aztecs at the end of the week.
"We're as confident as you can be," Gottfried said. "We're disappointed we didn't beat North Carolina, we had a chance to, but with the way we are playing right now our guys know that they can play with anybody in the country."