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How NC State ended up in the NIT

NC State’s Keatts on his teams chances of making NCAA Tournament

NC State coach Kevin Keatts talks gives his opinions on the Wolfpack's chances of making the NCAA Tournament field following their loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019.
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NC State coach Kevin Keatts talks gives his opinions on the Wolfpack's chances of making the NCAA Tournament field following their loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament Thursday, March 14, 2019.

N.C. State’s in the NIT.

Belmont, Temple, Ohio State and St. John’s are in the NCAA tournament.

How did that happen?

Let’s answer that question by looking at the main questions from before Sunday’s selection show (and one big-picture question):

How will the NCAA use the new metric the NCAA created to evaluate teams?

The NCAA created the “NCAA Evaluation Tool” to replace the RPI as its primary sorting tool. There are more factors to the NET than the RPI, including efficiency numbers and margin of victory.

N.C. State was strong in the NET rankings and needed the NCAA to use the NET as a weighted value, not as a point of comparison. That’s not what the NCAA did. At No. 33, it was the highest-rated team to miss the field and it was rated better in the NET than 14 of the at-large teams to make the field.

N.C. State was 40 spots higher in the NET than St. John’s, who was the last at-large team to make the field. N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow expressed her frustration with the NCAA’s application of the NET.

“Just want the committee to follow what they say matters. That’s all,” Yow wrote on her Twitter account on Sunday night.

Committee chair Bernard Muir, who is the Stanford AD, said the committee used the NET but it was just part of the whole puzzle.

“I think it’s important for people to keep in mind the NET is just one tool of many that we use to evaluate teams,” Muir said in a teleconference on Sunday night after the selection show.

“Certainly we’re spending a lot of time observing what the teams do in competition. I hate to use ‘committee speak,’ but this is what it is. We’re looking at their full body of work throughout the course of the season.”

The committee used the NET similarly to how it used the RPI. The raw ranking wasn’t as important as how you did against teams sorted by certain ranking in the NET. That used to mean top 50 and top 100 wins. The committee went to a quadrant system last year with “Quadrant 1” considered the toughest and “Quadrant 4” the weakest.

N.C. State had a 3-9 record in Q1 games, which Muir highlighted as a reason for its exclusion.

How much does strength of schedule matter?

Muir didn’t specifically mention N.C. State’s strength of schedule. The Wolfpack’s nonconference SOS ranked last, No. 353, at of all Division I teams. The committee has traditionally valued the NC SOS because those are the games that a team controls and it has punished teams for a weak SOS.

The NET includes an SOS factor but the team sheets still list the NC SOS and the overall SOS separately. N.C. State’s overall SOS was No. 178, the weakest of all of the major programs on the bubble.

Temple (No. 223) and St. John’s (No. 219) did get in with weak NC SOS rankings. On paper, Oklahoma was helped by the fact that it didn’t play any Q4 games (the only at-large team who didn’t). The Sooners had the best NC SOS (No. 49) of the final six at-large teams selected.

Do ‘good’ wins matter more than ‘bad’ losses?

There is no doubt about this. The NCAA has always valued wins more than it has punished losses. Muir specifically mentioned N.C. State’s biggest flaw was its lack of quality wins. N.C. State had wins over Arizona, Duke and UNC last season and made the NCAA tournament. This season it had a win over Auburn.

N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts mentioned during the season that his team had “great” losses. That’s true. Five of the Wolfpack’s nine Q1 losses were to teams who earned No. 1 seeds but that didn’t help N.C. State.

And those “bad” losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech (both Q3 losses) weren’t mentioned by Muir and unlikely were a factor.

NC State's Torin Dorn talks about the Wolfpack's loss to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at LJVM Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Tuesday, January 15, 2019.

St. John’s, the last team in the field, had five Q1 wins including two over Marquette and one over Villanova. The Red Storm also lost twice to DePaul, the last-place Big East team.

Now how “good” wins or even a team’s “best” wins are compared and weighted seems inconsistent.

Muir specifically mentioned Temple’s home win over Houston (a conference win) as the primary reason for the Owls’ inclusion. Temple had a 2-4 Q1 record and its only win of note outside of league play was over Davidson (which didn’t make the NCAA field).

Muir also said that what stood out about Belmont was its 2-2 record in Q1 games and that it took advantage of the opportunities it had. Belmont, from the Ohio Valley Conference, lost to Purdue, beat Lipscomb on the road and split with Murray State in its Q1 games.

Indiana, one of the first four teams out, had the most Q1 wins (six) of the teams on the bubble.

Ohio State had an 0-6 record against the top of the Big Ten but made the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes beat Cincinnati in the season-opener to notch their only Q1 win over a team in the field.

Does the conference record matter?

If that wasn’t clear before it should be by now. Conference record is simply not one of the criteria the selection committee uses.

Ohio State (8-12 in the Big Ten) and Oklahoma (7-11 in the Big 12) are in the tournament and N.C. State, 9-9 in the ACC, is not.

So how did N.C. State end up in the NIT?

N.C. State will host Hofstra on Tuesday at Reynolds Coliseum in the first round of the NIT. It’s N.C. State’s first time in the NIT since 2010.

All NET, SOS, good wins, Q1 talk aside, Keatts actually had the biggest problem for his second team pegged after the loss at UNC on Feb. 5.

“I think everybody knows that my teams are going to compete and play hard,” Keatts said after the 113-96 loss to the Tar Heels. “We aren’t always going to do everything right. Now, our biggest challenge is we have to start playing smarter.”

The “smarter,” specifically in end-game situations, never came around for the Wolfpack. Otherwise, one of those key missed opportunities — at Wisconsin (79-75), at Louisville (84-77), at Florida State (78-73), at home against Virginia (66-65, OT) — might have had a different outcome.

And N.C. State wouldn’t be in the NIT.

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