ATLANTA -- Heading into the second round of the ACC tournament, all the talk concerning North Carolina State and its NCAA tournament chances centered on beating Virginia.
Or was it?
Now that NC State's 67-64 win over the Cavaliers is in the books, the Wolfpack can only sit and speculate on the fate of their tournament chances. They know their bubble didn't burst, but was their winning effort enough to persuade an NCAA tournament committee that was probably on the fence about NCSU?
"We deserve to play in the NCAA tournament," coach Mark Gottfried said following Friday's win. "Obviously, I'm not on the committee. We did what the committee asked us to do. We scheduled hard, tough. And quite frankly, walking into a new job and we weren't in the greatest position at that time either. We did what we were supposed to do."
Two wins in the ACC tournament will definitely help, but what could hurt is the fact that NC State entered Friday with an RPI of 59 and a strength of schedule of 31. Also, that four-game losing streak near the end of the season isn't too flattering.
However, NC State got some help when Miami won Thursday, giving the Wolfpack a sweep over a top-50 team. The win over Virginia was even bigger, as the Cavs entered the day 39th in the RPI.
"Everybody's talking about we don't have a key win, a signature win, against a top-50 RPI team," guard C.J. Williams said. "We did what everybody told us we needed to do: we beat Virginia. I feel like we should definitely be in the tournament."
Fellow guard Lorenzo Brown wasn't so matter-of-fact when asked about the Pack's chances at making the Big Dance, but he felt his team had done everything it could to push itself into the Big Dance.
"We've played our heart out. We're trying to prove ourselves to the committee," Brown said.
"We definitely needed this win. Hopefully, the guys that are running the [NCAA] committee will let us in the tournament."
From the way NC State has looked in Atlanta, this team has the makings of being pretty dangerous in the field of 68. NC State blew out Boston College and then shot 54 percent against the best defensive scoring team in the ACC. C.J. Leslie's grit offensively and defensively would make him a must-watch player in the tournament. And this team has shown tremendous resiliency at the end, countering that four-game losing streak with a four-game winning streak.
"A lot of people say we have a lot of talent. We do, but we also have a lot of heart and a lot of fight in ourselves and we just want to win each individual game," Williams said.
All this bubble talk would disappear if NC State did exactly what it set out to do this weekend: win the ACC tournament. (Sounds easy enough.) And this Wolfpack team believes it has what it takes to do it.
Top-seeded North Carolina, which swept NC State this season, is the next obstacle. Beating one of the nation's best would almost certainly lock the Wolfpack into the tournament, but Gottfried and his players are thinking beyond that. NC State has its mind made up on the NCAA tournament, so winning Saturday would just be the next step. Not the end.
"When we got on the plane the other day to come here, we came with the goal to win the tournament," he said. "That's why we came. The surest way to be an NCAA participant is to win your conference tournament and that's what we've come to do."