A two game winning streak over two ranked opponents has led to plenty of confidence about making the NIT. It's also led to a few whispers about that other tournament. Could the Pack somehow play well enough down the stretch to grab an NCAA berth?
It's not going to be easy, that's for sure. With no marquee non-conference wins and a bad loss at Cincinnati, State probably needs to go 9-7 in league play to assure themselves of a bid. Eight conference wins might do it, depending on how much of a break the committee gives the Pack for not having Engin Atsur in the lineup during December and January. Also, wins in the ACC Tournament could prove beneficial as well, but for now let's focus on the remaining conference games.
Either way, the Pack needs to win at least five, probably six of its final eight games. So, is this a pipe dream? Let's look at it game-by-game. I've used kenpom.com's prediction system to give the Wolfpack a chance of winning each game, but since these seemed a bit low I came up with my own personal percentages as well. Keep in mind that my guesstimates are by no means scientific, so take them with a grain of salt.
Tuesday @ Georgia Tech – This is a young and enigmatic team that really struggles on the road – losing to both Wake Forest and Miami. Unfortunately for the Pack, the Jackets will be in the friendly confines of Alexander Memorial Coliseum where Georgia Tech is 12-1 this season. With that being said, State is 2-1 on the road in conference play this season, the lone loss being a close defeat at Virginia.
KenPom chances of winning: 11%, AJ chances of winning: 30%
Saturday, Feb. 10 @ Miami – The Hurricanes are probably the worst team in the league, and have been absolutely decimated by injuries on the front line. The Wolfpack should be able to take advantage of the mismatches under the basket and pull out a win on the road.
KenPom: 56%, AJ: 70%
Wednesday, Feb. 14 vs Maryland – Like the Yellow Jackets, Maryland has really underperformed in league play after a good non-conference season. The Wolfpack probably match up better with the Terrapins though, plus the crowd should be pretty rowdy in the first game back at the RBC Center since the UNC upset.
KenPom: 34%, AJ: 55%
Sunday, Feb. 18 vs Virginia Tech – It's hard to say if the recent struggles of the Hokies are a blip on the radar or the start of another late-season collapse. A good road team, Virginia Tech will certainly be looking for revenge after suffering their first home loss to the Pack last week.
KenPom: 41%, AJ: 45%
Wednesday, Feb. 21 @ North Carolina – Something tells me that the Tar Heels won't be 'fat and happy' for this game against the Pack. At home, looking for revenge, this team still has all the talent to run the Wolfpack out of the building. But with Lowe involved you can never say its impossible.
KenPom: 2%, AJ: 5%
Saturday, Feb. 24 @ Florida State – The Seminoles started the ACC season 0-3 but have caught fire since, capping off a 5-1 run with their first victory at Cameron in 15 years. This could be the Pack's toughest game outside of Chapel Hill.
KenPom: 15%, AJ: 25%
Wednesday, Feb. 28 vs Wake Forest – The last home game of Lowe's inaugural season will be against a Demon Deacons team that keeps slowly improving as it works its way through the league. That said, this is still a game that the Wolfpack should win, especially on senior night.
KenPom: 73%, AJ: 70%
Saturday, March 3 @ Maryland – The Terrapins have lost just one home game all season, so it seems appropriate to knock the Pack's chances down a good bit on their visit to College Park.
KenPom: 13%, AJ: 30%
So lets add that up and figure out, based on these percentages, just how likely the Wolfpack is to win enough games to grab an NCAA bid. Now, I didn't pay a lot of attention to probability math in college, but I think I did this correctly. Here are the final numbers:
So if you agree with the idea that State needs nine conference wins to earn a berth, then 'pipe dream' seems like an appropriate description. Eight wins is much more possible, but still pretty unlikely. This probably just confirms what many people already knew – the Wolfpack is not an NCAA team, but is almost certainly an NIT team.