N.C. State’s home wins over ranked teams – No. 2 Duke and No. 19 Clemson – have put the Wolfpack a little higher in the ACC standings than was predicted in the preseason.
Heading into the midway point of the season, N.C. State (13-7, 3-4 ACC) is doing well with a 12-2 record at home. In ACC play, the Wolfpack is 3-1 at home.
“I’m happy with this team,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “These guys are fighting and clawing. I’m excited to watch them play. They have gotten better. We are going to continue to get better.”
Home teams have been exceptional in the ACC so far this season. Virginia Tech’s 80-69 home win over No. 10 North Carolina on Monday is just the latest example.
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Road wins are another story. Only two teams in the league have winning road records in conference play — Virginia is 3-0 and Louisville is 2-1. N.C. State is 0-3.
To avoid finishing among the bottom five teams in the league, which is where the Wolfpack was picked to finish in the preseason, N.C. State must find a way to win on the road.
[ACC preseason media basketball poll is out. How did Duke, UNC and NC State fare?]
Beginning with Wednesday’s game at last-place Pittsburgh, N.C. State plays five of its next seven games on the road.
Up ahead are trips to North Carolina (Jan. 27), Virginia Tech (Feb. 7), Syracuse (Feb. 14) and Wake Forest (Feb. 17).
In losses at Clemson (Dec. 30), Notre Dame (Jan. 3) and Virginia (Jan. 14), the Wolfpack has been outscored by an average of 21 points.
Those three teams are good at home. Clemson, 11-0 at home, and Virginia, 12-0 at home, have yet to lose on their home court. Notre Dame is 7-3 at home.
“If you go back and look at the last few years,” Keatts said. “All three teams have had an unbelievable home record.”
N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts walks along on the sideline during the Wolfpack’s 88-58 loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 3.
Michael Conroy AP
Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics website, KenPom.com, projects N.C. State as having a 73 percent chance of winning at Pittsburgh (8-12, 0-7). The Panthers are 7-5 at home this season.
But KenPom.com gives the Wolfpack an 11 percent chance to beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Saturday, a 32 percent chance to win on Feb. 7 at Virginia Tech, a 30 percent chance at Syracuse on Feb. 14 and a 45 percent chance to beat Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Feb. 17.
In N.C. State’s road games, Notre Dame and Virginia shot exceptionally well, coming in at 61.6 percent and 65.8 percent in KenPom’s effective field goal percentage, which differs from regular field goal percentage by giving extra credit for made 3-pointers. Clemson, while beating the Wolfpack 78-62 on Dec. 30, had an effective field goal percentage of just 48.5 percent.
By comparison, Duke and Clemson both had higher effective field goal percentages than that in their loses to N.C. State at PNC Arena.
So N.C. State’s road woes are not as simple as good shooting by its opponent.
N.C. State’s shooting has been worse on the road than at home. The Wolfpack’s effective field goal percentages were 38.6 percent at Clemson, 41.7 percent at Notre Dame and 42.9 percent at Virginia.
Assists and turnovers have played a role, too.
In its three road losses, the Wolfpack averaged 9.1 assists per game while committing 15.1 turnovers per game. N.C. State’s season average is 15.5 assists and 12.3 turnovers per game.
The Wolfpack was without sophomore point guard Markell Johnson at Clemson and Notre Dame because he was suspended. He returned to play 23 minutes as a reserve at Virginia.
Johnson, who had 14 assists and six turnovers as a starter in an 86-81 home loss to Miami last Sunday, figures to be a key factor in determining if N.C. State can find more success on the road in the coming weeks.
N.C. State is one of five ACC teams – including Syracuse, Boston College, Wake Forest, Pitt – that have not won a conference road game this season.
Keatts, though, saw enough good things in N.C. State’s previous two games at home to believe better results are possible away from home.
“It’s the ACC,” Keatts said. “It’s a tough conference. But I like my group. We are right there in the mix with everybody else.”
Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC
NC State at Pitt
When: 9 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh
TV: Fox Sports South