After Saturday’s devastating loss to Miami to fall to 5-4 in the ACC, NC State has reached a make-or-break point in the season. Many people are saying that the Wolfpack have a much easier second half of the schedule and are ripe for a charge back up the standings, but I do not necessarily see it that way. Games on the road against Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Florida State are no cake-walk. While the home schedule is quite favorable with Virginia Tech, Florida State, Boston College, and Wake Forest, FSU has proven tough to play anywhere (especially in close games with Michael Snaer involved).
At this point in the season, getting to 12-6 in the conference and finishing in the top 4 (AKA a first round bye in the ACC Tournament) would be seen as a success for NC State in my eyes. That conference record would allow for losses at Duke and at Carolina, which would be understandable. Last season (with a 16 game schedule, mind you) nine wins was good enough for a three-way tie for 4th place. Currently, the Wolfpack sit in a tie for 5th with Florida State, half a game behind Virginia. With only two games against teams above them in the standings, NC State has a good chance to make a move considering the relative parity of the league.
Obviously a huge key for NC State in the second half of ACC play is getting Lorenzo Brown back to full health. Tyler Lewis did a fantastic job against Miami on Saturday, but every team would rather have their upperclassman point guard leading the way. Offensively, the Pack should encounter very few problems. However, as has been the well-publicized case all season, the defense has to step up. There have been spurts of great defense lately, in particular during the UNC and Miami games, but NC State needs to put it together for a whole game to beat the better teams left on their schedule.
With a regular-season title most likely beyond reach, Mark Gottfried’s team will focus on getting that first round bye and generating some momentum heading into the ACC Tournament. The tournament is as up-for-grabs as ever this season, and NC State is one of the three or four teams that will be seen as a favorite in Greensboro this year. Personally, I think the Pack recover and finish up the regular season at 11-7 and make the finals in the ACC Tournament. This would set NC State up for a similar run to last season’s in the NCAA Tournament.