Hellems vs Virginia

N.C. State's Jericole Hellems (4) looks for room as Virginia's Reece Beekman (2) defends during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Virginia at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, February 3, 2021.

March Madness is about to get underway as teams around the country are gearing up for their respective conference tournaments. The NC State men’s basketball team is looking to make a solid run through the ACC Tournament in hopes of a miracle bid to the big dance later in the month. While that seems like a daunting task for this Pack roster, its hot streak in the last set of ACC matchups makes it clear that this team possesses plenty of upset potential.

With Duke’s loss on Saturday, the Wolfpack (13-9, 9-8 ACC) was able to slip up into the ninth seed, where the team will have to face off against eighth-seeded Syracuse (15-8, 9-7 ACC). This matchup has not been kind to the Pack so far, as the team has lost in both games against the Orange this season.

The first matchup against Syracuse came on Jan. 31, 2021, where the Pack was defeated 73-76. The Pack was actually ahead by a considerable margin late in the first half before allowing Cuse to come back into the game later in the second half. 

This was NC State’s first game without leading its then-leading scorer redshirt senior guard Devon Daniels, who suffered his season-ending injury in the game prior. While the Pack was able to put up a good fight against Syracuse in the first matchup, it was clear this team was searching for a new identity after losing the centerpiece of its offense.

Only two games separated the two matchups against Syracuse this year, where NC State was still in need of time to reformulate its game plan with the recent loss of Daniels. The second meeting of the two teams was not quite as close, with the Pack falling 68-77 due to a combination of Wolfpack turnovers turning into Syracuse points and a 22-point performance from Cuse’s junior forward Alan Griffin.

NC State has hit a new stride since that last Syracuse matchup, however, ending its season on a five-game conference win streak, including a win over UVA, the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament. 

The team has found a new identity on offense, moving the ball around to get many more people involved than before. NC State has also been riding the hot hand when applicable, with big performances coming from a variety of players across the last stretch of regular-season games.

If NC State is able to defy the results from earlier in the year and advance past Syracuse, it will have to face-off against the previously mentioned No. 1 seed UVA. These teams have met twice so far this year, with the matchup set at 1-1.

While a matchup against the best team in the ACC seems like the worst-case scenario, moving out of the 10th seed saved the Pack from having to face Florida State again, who decimated NC State in the game earlier in the year. 

The Pack matches up well against this UVA team, who is known for its slow and methodical play, characterized by low-scoring games and large possession times for the Cavaliers. NC State has no issue playing in low-scoring games. Such games allow for fewer individual heroics from any Wolfpack players and allow for a more team-based approach where the Pack doesn’t need to rely on a 20-point performance from any of its players.

If NC State can win that quarterfinal matchup, it will have to face the winner of what will likely be Georgia Tech and Clemson. There is a possibility that Pitt or Miami make it into that matchup over Clemson, but assuming that the better team wins in each of the games leading up to the quarterfinal, expect Clemson to be there. 

NC State would likely rather face Clemson than Georgia Tech in this scenario if it were to come to fruition. Despite the Pack losing its matchup against the Tigers earlier in the year, it was a very close game that NC State should have never allowed to go into overtime. How NC State matches up against Georgia Tech, however, remains unknown following the cancellation of the game between the two programs earlier in the year.

To bring this NC State scenario to its end, the Pack would face the winner of the lower-bracket on championship Sunday if it were to win the entirety of the upper-bracket games. The lower half of the tournament is stacked with talent, from sleeper teams such as 10th-seeded Duke, sixth-seeded UNC and seventh-seeded Louisville to the teams with a double-bye in Florida State and Virginia Tech. The quality of the team that makes its way out of that lower half is guaranteed to be a tough opponent for any team that wins the upper bracket.

The road for NC State to win this tournament is a rocky one, with plenty of things having to go absolutely perfect for the Pack to advance past the quarterfinals. For a shot at making the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to take more than that. Many predict that NC State will have to at least reach the ACC title game to have a shot at being selected by the committee. That is a huge task for this team, but only time will tell.

All the speculation surrounding this team’s postseason potential will come to an end when it faces Syracuse in the second round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday, March 10 at noon. The game is set to take place in Greensboro, North Carolina, and will be broadcast live on the ACC network. For live updates on this game, other ACC tournament games or any other NC State sports make sure to follow @TechSports on Twitter.