What to make of NC State’s non-conference basketball schedule

Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com

N.C. State’s non-conference basketball schedule is set.

The most challenging part of the schedule will be the three games the Pack plays in the Bahamas in November as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The eight-team field includes defending champion Kansas, N.C. State’s first opponent, as well as Southern Cal, BYU, Dayton, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Butler.

The rest of the non-conference slate, though, isn’t as juicy.

The Pack will play seven opponents in Raleigh, and one neutral-site game against Vanderbilt (in Chicago) in mid-December. They also don’t get a game this season in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

If N.C. State wants to bounce back from last season’s 11-21 campaign and get back to the NCAA tournament, the non-conference schedule could be the difference — especially if they turn out to be a bubble team.

NET matters

The NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) is used for judging teams when it comes to the postseason field. The NET takes into account game results, strength of schedule and game location, among other things.

And it usually benefits the visiting team. N.C. State won’t do itself any favors with potential home wins over Austin Peay, Campbell, FIU or Elon, their first four opponents before heading to the Bahamas.

When they return they’ll host William & Mary, Coppin State and Furman before taking on the Commodores.

None of N.C. State’s non-conference opponents, outside of the Battle 4 Atlantis teams, finished in the top 60 of NET rankings a year ago. Six of the eight Battle 4 Atlantis opponents finished in the top 50.

Even if the Wolfpack ran the table in their non-conference games — and if they have a good season — the NET could come back to bite them. Just ask Wake Forest.

Last year the Demon Deacons finished 25-10 overall, finished fourth in the ACC and were on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday.

Wake Forest was ranked 42 in the NET rankings and 3-5 against Quad 1 opponents.

“Anyone that doesn’t make the tournament when they are 13-7 in the ACC, that’s a hard pill to swallow,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “I think what really hurt our conference is in November and December. We didn’t have any signature wins. For whatever reason this particular committee put a lot of emphasis on your November and December schedule.”

If State wants to look impressive in March, that means they better snag a couple of big wins in the Bahamas.

“It shouldn’t hurt,” Keatts said. “We’ll get three great teams over there. If we go undefeated it’ll be really nice, right?”

During Keatts’ first season, the Pack went to the Battle 4 Atlantis and knocked off No. 2 Arizona. Guard Casey Morsell is looking forward to a chance to get that kind of signature win again.

“It’s a great opportunity to see where we are,” Morsell said. “I think that’s a good challenge heading into conference play.”

Non-conference Power 5 games

Even if N.C. State goes undefeated and wins the Battle 4 Atlantis, the games will be played in a ballroom of a resort in the Bahamas, a long way from PNC Arena.

Those would be important wins, but only a handful of Wolfpack fans could see them in person.

Moving forward, how can Keatts get Quad 1 opponents to play in PNC Arena, or potentially schedule home-and-home matchups with Power 5 opponents?

“It’s easier to get a Quad 1 or Quad 2 neutral game than playing at home,” Keatts said. “Being able to find another Power 5 (to play at home) is not as easy as people think.”

Last season, N.C. State played Purdue, at the time No. 1 in the country, in a neutral-site game in Brooklyn. In 2020-21, he had neutral-site games against Michigan and UConn canceled because of COVID.

During the 2019-20 season, Wisconsin came to PNC as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The previous season, Auburn, ranked No. 7 at the time, played at N.C. State, part of a home-and-home series with the Tigers.

“I thought our schedule last year non-conference playing the mid-majors was really good,” Keatts said. “This year we wanted to bring in a team that’s really good, that’s dangerous and that’s Furman.”

Two mid-majors — Wright State and Richmond — caught the Pack slipping a year ago. The Raiders beat N.C. State at home 80-74. The Spiders defeated the Pack 83-74 in Charlotte. Both teams made the NCAA tournament and won at least one game. At the end of the year, those losses didn’t look that bad.

If N.C. State hopes to turn things around and get back to March, those blemishes can’t be on the resume.