On Thursday night N.C. State basketball will go on the road to face undefeated Auburn in a non-conference showdown.
For the second-straight season, N.C. State and #12 Auburn will battle in a non-conference matchup. Last year it was the Wolfpack coming away with the win in Raleigh thanks to a career-high 27 points from Markell Johnson. This season, the two squads will face off at Auburn, with both teams looking for signature wins. The Tigers best win this season came against Davidson, as they have yet to play a team from a major conference. For the Wolfpack, their best win so far was perhaps last time out when they defeated UNC-Greensboro on the road. Regardless, both teams enter tonight’s matchup with hopes of bolstering their NCAA Tournament resumes.
In order to win, the Wolfpack will need big production from the veteran guards.
Easily the most talented two players on N.C. State’s roster are the aforementioned Johnson and C.J. Bryce. Both senior guards, Bryce currently leads the Wolfpack in scoring with 15.9 points per game on 55% shooting, including 41% from beyond the arc. Johnson is second on the team in scoring, posting 13.0 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists. It’s also worth noting that Bryce is the team’s leading rebounder. Behind them, Devon Daniels is a solid scorer, and Braxton Beverly can be lethal from the three-point line. If N.C. State hopes to win this game, then all of those guys are going to have to play well.
The Wolfpack guards will need to hold their own on the defensive end as well. Auburn ranks 13th in the country in scoring–just ahead of State–and is led by their own senior guard, Samir Doughty. In his second year at Auburn, Doughty is averaging a career-high 17.3 points per game while shooting an efficient 49% from the field. State isn’t a great defensive team in the half-court set, but if they can use the full-court pressure to wear down the Tigers like they did in last year’s contest, then they’ll give themselves a chance to win.
Entering Thursday, N.C. State is 25th in ESPN’s BPI and 51st in the NCAA’s NET rankings.
Prior to tonight’s game, there’s a good chance N.C. State is currently on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament. Despite being 8-2, the Wolfpack already has a bad loss to Georgia Tech, and lost its only game against a ranked opponent. To make matters worse, State has one of the worst out-of-conference schedules in the country. In fact, their non-conference strength of schedule is the second-lowest in the nation. Because of that, the Auburn game is especially big for the Wolfpack. With such a poor non-conference slate, N.C. State needs to capitalize on the opportunity for a marquee win in a true road environment. Keep in mind that it was the cake-walk of a non-conference schedule that kept a 24-win Wolfpack team out of the tournament last season.
As promising as the BPI ranking looks, the selection committee has become more reliant on the NET rankings–a tool that has a less positive outlook for the Wolfpack. State ranked 33rd in the NET ratings last season, yet still missed the tournament. That should be a huge cause for concern, as they are currently well-below last year’s ranking. Even ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, who at one point projected N.C. State to be a six-seed, is currently forecasting the Wolfpack outside the field of 68 in his most recent edition of Bracketology. All that being said, Kevin Keatts needs a big win Thursday night. And as we all know, he is indeed a winner. It’s time he backs it up with another statement victory.