It was clear almost immediately Thursday in the Smith Center that N.C. State’s basketball team is not close to being ready to beat North Carolina.
Next question: Will the Wolfpack now undermine its station by beating itself?
With a game against 19th-ranked Virginia (16-3, 3-2 ACC) on Saturday night in the RBC Center, Mark Gottfried and his players are in danger of allowing one loss to result in another.
The Thursday/Saturday turnaround is always a challenge. Most coaches don’t like it, even though it’s the sort of scheduling that helps teams get ready for the NCAA Tournament format.
But when the Thursday game is against an arch-rival, the likelihood of an emotional downer spikes.
Gottfried attributed much of his team’s trouble Thursday to a lack of poise. That certainly was a big factor in the Tar Heels’ 74-55 win, which really wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Carolina’s defense frustrated State from the opening minute. The Pack got next to nothing inside and struggled to create open shots on the perimeter.
But from State’s perspective, the big picture hasn’t changed a great deal.
The team’s goal from the start was do enough to earn an NCAA bid, and at 15-6 (4-2 ACC) that goal is well within reach.
But beating Virginia in the RBC Center is almost imperative. The Pack’s Jan. 11 home loss to Georgia Tech is problem enough. Losing to another beatable team would only make State’s NCAA resume even more suspect.
The ACC is so weak this season that only UNC, Duke and Florida State can comfortably count on bids. Virginia and State appear to be slightly ahead of the remaining seven teams. Since the two will not play each other again in regular season after Saturday, it’s as close to a must-win for State as you’ll find this early in the season.