N.C. State's first ACC game of the season, and first for coach Mark Gottfried, is against Maryland on Sunday at the RBC Center.
Except Gottfried's not interested in looking ahead, not even to Maryland on Sunday, not with Delaware State (4-8) coming to Raleigh on Wednesday.
"The players are anxious to get the league started but we have to keep our minds on Wednesday's game," Gottfried said on the weekly ACC teleconference on Tuesday.
The Pack's first four ACC games are against the Terps, Georgia Tech (Jan. 11), at Wake Forest (Jan. 14) and Boston College (Jan. 19). On paper, that looks like a 4-0 start, with Maryland's visit on Sunday being the toughest hurdle to clear.
The league is down or in plainer language, not very good (see Wake's home loss to Wofford last night or Florida State's two losses to Ivy League teams or Georgia Tech's loss to Mercer or any loss by Clemson. Note, I didn't even mention Boston College).
At 10-4, N.C. State has started the season right about on schedule. State beat Texas, and Princeton made that win look better by winning at FSU, but couldn't close out Indiana, Vanderbilt or Stanford (any of the three would have increased its NCAA odds tremendously, especially Indiana — a game it led by seven points with about 7 minutes left. Indiana has only gone on to beat Kentucky *and* Ohio State).
Still, State needs to win and win big in the ACC to make the NCAA tournament. It has to beat the teams in the same boat — Virginia Tech, Virginia, Miami — and it has to beat the teams in a smaller boat (BC, Wake, GT, Clemson).
Even 10-6 in the ACC, without a win over Duke or Carolina, might not be enough. That's the reality of where the league is in 2012 and the last few seasons. (Virginia Tech beat then-No. 1 Duke last year, finished 9-7 in the league and still didn't get in).
These bigger-picture issues aren't on Gottfried's radar, at least not ones he's willing to publicly discuss.
"When you're coaching a team, the object is to be careful looking down the road too far," Gottfried. "I've been on some teams that have lost some we thought we would win and won some very few people thought we would win.
"We have to stay away from looking at that broad picture."
Gottfried's probably right, since State has lost nine straight to Maryland and hasn't won more than six league games in the ACC since 2006, no sense looking past the Terps.