With the NCAA tournament just around the corner, the bubble teams are going to be on the edge of their seats until the bracket is announced Monday. One of these team’s is the Wolfpack of North Carolina State. Taking a blind look at their resumé, the ACC school seems bound for the tournament. The one fault going against the team is their failure to make their conference tournament.
Coach Kelly Findley’s squad went an impressive 8-0-1 in their non-conference games, while finishing an average 3-5-3 in the toughest conference in the country. While five conference losses doesn’t look great in terms of overall record, keep in mind that four of the games were by one goal and three were against teams ranked top 10 in the country. The battled test squad is exactly what the tournament needs as they grit out results regardless of who the opponent is. NC State has been in seven overtime games this year, and was undefeated in all of them.
What also needs to be taken into consideration is the loss of senior playmaker Nazmi Albadabi (5g, 3a) to an angle injury early on in the season. The captain missed nearly a month in a span where the team suffered, but with the talented midfielder in the lineup, the Pack is a remarkable 7-3-2. Recently the team has been on a nice run of play where they’ve only lost 2 of their last 8 contests.
The team is inexperienced in terms of postseason play since they haven’t gotten an NCAA tournament birth since 2009, but they deserve a bid more than anyone. The success story of this squad wasn’t easy to come by. Coach Findley has come in and made a name for the Pack. His past two recruiting classes have been phenomenal while also bringing a possession based, attack minded mentality to the current team. This attack is led by the dynamic trio of Nazmi Albadabi, Nick Surkamp (8g, 2a), and Alex Martinez (2g, 8a) who have accounted for more than half of the team’s offensive production. When they are all on their game, it’s difficult for any defense to stop them.
If the Pack needs hope to make the NCAA tournament, look no further than the 2012 USF Bulls. The Bulls missed out on the Big East tournament last year, but still snuck into the NCAAs and even won their first round game. NC State is in a very similar boat, but their strength of schedule makes their bid even stronger. The fact that more than half of the team’s games have come against top 40 RPI teams cannot be overlooked.
Assuming the Wolfpack make the tournament, they will be an automatic threat. Their schedule was among the toughest in the country which should benefit them come tournament time. The mixture of youth and senior leadership is a nice combination, for which Findley is due credit. Freshmen Michael Bazja (2g, 2a) and Travis Wannemuehler haven’t disappointed since coming into Raleigh, each starting 13 games.
The committee always has a tough decision when choosing the 48 team field, but one thing is certain, NC State deserve one of those bids. The rugged ACC schedule on top of their undefeated non-conference record, should add up for their first tournament appearance since 2009. The rest of the field should be worried, watch out for the Wolfpack.
Ben Roth is a contributing writer for College Soccer News. He can be reached at Ben.firstname.lastname@example.org