by Neil Morris
While blessed with more than 15 years of head coaching experience, Mark Gottfried is in his first season as a coach in the ACC... and its referees. His arm-waving, jacket-flinging gyrations motivate players and a fan base long in need of such fighting spirit. However, they have also run afoul of several officials, notably a couple of public dust-ups with referee Roger Ayers.
Let me be clear: This is not blame attributable to any coach, referee or player; it is a matter of human nature. Once Gottfried earns his ACC bona fides, he will undoubtedly be afforded the same courtesy as the league’s older heads. Until then, questionable hand-checking and over-the-back calls may still befall a team ill-equipped to absorb them.
Regardless of the level of propriety displayed during yesterday’s game, the Wolfpack anxiously await another outcome: whether their ticket will get punched as an at-large selection for the NCAA Tournament. Conventional wisdom is that N.C. State needed a good showing in Atlanta to make a convincing case. Notching wins against the likes of Boston College and Wake Forest were essential but not dispositive. They needed a win against a quality, ranked opponent, something they had not accomplished during the regular season given seven chances to so do.
Virginia was to be that team, but in another example of the Pack’s star-crossed fortunes, the Cavaliers dropped out of the AP Top 25 last Monday, prior to the tournament, for the first time since mid-December. Still, Friday afternoon’s victory over Virginia was the sort of quality win that often propels bubble teams into the tournament.
Of course, beating the highly ranked Tar Heels—even Henson-less—would have settled the argument. Still, the loss to North Carolina was the sort of game, gritty and, yes, controversial outcome in which the loser’s esteem actually rises.
N.C. State has a top-50 RPI and projected top-25 strength of schedule. Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s proclaimed “Bracketologist,” presently predicts the Wolfpack as one of the last four at-large selections. “Dance Card” is a statistical formula created by three economics professors using a data analysis program developed by SAS that has a 94.3 percent accuracy rate over the last three years. It currently shows N.C. State with a 91.77 percent chance of earning an at-large berth.
No matter the stats, it’s often the eyeball test that holds the most popular sway. And unless the NCAA selection committee members are wearing white tape on their Cole Haans, this weekend N.C. State passed that exam.