Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
All it took was a historically awful performance at home followed by a comprehensive loss to a rival over a span of four days for the North Carolina State men’s basketball team. The narrative of the season turned 180 degrees just that quickly.
At 16-7 overall and 4-6 in the ACC, the Wolfpack, now in the throes of a three-game losing streak, dropped from the national rankings and landed squarely on an NCAA Tournament bubble that could burst just as quickly if the team does not snap out of its funk soon.
N.C. State earned the lack of faith it is receiving, especially with the remarkably wretched effort against Virginia Tech at home Saturday. The 17-point thumping to eighth-ranked North Carolina on Tuesday was easier to foresee, especially with the Pack struggling of late.
The Tar Heels have blasted State in recent years. Dominance occurs for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest factors is the team that imposes its will claims the games when the adversary is on equal terms. UNC has been better than N.C. State for many years, but when the Wolfpack had a comparable team the Tar Heels smashed them anyway.
UNC is but one team out of 15 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and N.C. State now must collect itself so that the stretch run is a time to pick up steam as opposed to evaporating.
N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts noted after Tuesday’s 113-96 loss to the Tar Heels that the Wolfpack entered Chapel Hill only one game off of its ACC pace from the previous season — almost assuredly the loss at Wake Forest on Jan. 15 that rivaled Saturday’s 47-24 defeat at home against No. 12 Virginia Tech in terms of sheer befuddlement, although for vastly different reasons.
“Going back to Saturday, I think that was a once-in-a-lifetime game,” Keatts said after the loss to UNC. “I hope it is.”
The ACC is not a place for teams needing convalescence. The Wolfpack, which has lost four of its last five games, has a trip to Pittsburgh followed by a home tilt Wednesday against Syracuse. Following that, N.C. State makes another traverse through the Triangle, with a showdown in Cameron Indoor Stadium against second-ranked Duke on Saturday, Feb. 16.
“I think if you look back at our schedule, we’ve probably played the toughest part of our schedule and I think people forget that,” Keatts said. “We played number three in the country at the time from Virginia, then you turn around and I think Virginia Tech was 11 or 12, then you come on the road and play the number 8 team in the country. That’s a tough schedule for anybody and we have to now lock in and get better and improve on some things that we’ve got to work on.”
Tough schedules come with the territory in the ACC.
The footing in N.C. State’s territory is currently tenuous at best. In the context of this current season, the Wolfpack has to get it together fast.
Rob McLamb of Inside Pack Sports has covered N.C. State athletics and recruiting since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @RobMcLamb.