Hear me out on this: The reason why the American public finds itself almost magnetically drawn to March Madness year after year is that the tournament is one of the last vestiges of a bygone American dream.
The promise of a deep-pocketed basketball Goliath being slain by a no-name David in an exhilarating display of amateur desperation and joie de vivre is an irresistible siren song.
In a society where upward social mobility is becoming increasingly rare, March Madness is an arena in which upward social mobility is routinely manifested and the upheaval of hegemony occurs with regularity. We find great joy and solace in the spectacle of teams unshackling themselves from the chains of their supposed predestination.
All of this is to say that I would like nothing more than to see North Carolina State be snubbed on Selection Sunday, because the Wolfpack are the antithesis of what makes March Madness special. Here’s their resume (page 35).
Being in the ACC affords a team several golden opportunities to land a statement win. Not everybody gets to play Duke. And Virginia. And North Carolina. Twice. In this way, NC State was born into privilege. And what did the Wolfpack do with this privilege–did they use it to their advantage, to put themselves in a position to make positive change in the world?
No, no they did not. They lost every single upper-quadrant 1 game they played. EIGHT chances for a statement win, and they lost all of them. They scored 24 points at home against Virginia Tech.
But that’s not what bothers me the most about NC State. What bothers me the most is that they are 352nd in non-conference strength of schedule. There are 353 teams in Division I. Southeast Missouri State managed to play a more challenging non-conference slate. Tennessee Tech managed to play a more challenging non-conference slate. Even Wake Forest, who had to play eight quadrant 1A games in ACC play alone, managed to play a more challenging non-conference slate.
NC State knew that they had so many good games built into their conference schedule that they could post a losing record in ACC play and still be in decent shape. So they scheduled easy win after easy win. There is a degree of luck to non-conference strength of schedule (NCSOS for short) because you don’t necessarily know how the opponents you schedule will fare over the rest of the season, but 352nd does not happen by accident.
The Wolfpack knew what they were doing. It’s lazy and it’s cynical. They looked at their conference schedule, and instead of seeing opportunity, they saw defeat. So they took the easy way out for wins and went full Orakpo in non-conference. Never go full Orakpo.
But while coasting by on the automatic wins they scheduled and the bevy of chances they had for a big win, they lost at Wake Forest. And then they lost at home to Georgia Tech on their own Senior Night. That’s two bad losses.
Furman slipped up once this season, against Samford, and that one loss is probably going to keep them locked out of the tournament. Because Furman doesn’t have an ACC schedule to post bail. But the Wolfpack, a repeat offender, will likely not be kept out of the Big Dance. Our basketball justice system is broken.
NC State is the kid who should’ve been expelled by now but won’t face any consequences because his parents are on the board of trustees.
If losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech is the college basketball equivalent of conspiracy to defraud the United States, and being 352nd in NCSOS is equivalent to lying to investigators and a federal grand jury, then merely being sent to Dayton for a play-in game is like being given a 47-month sentence––it’s a slap on the wrist.
The Usual Disclaimers
- This is what I think the committee would do given what we know about each team. I do not necessarily agree with the committee’s projected evaluations of these teams.
- My bracketology does not aim to predict what will happen; it is a simulation of what would happen if the season ended today.
- Italics in the graphic denote conference champions.
- Projections do not account for games played on the day before the projections are released (ex: games played on Thursday, March 7th, are not accounted for in these projections).
- Keep all of this in mind if you choose to @ me on Twitter.