COLUMN: How to be a winner on FDOC

25. 340.

Going into the game last night, which some might call a rivalry game, but Tar Heel athletes probably won’t, the team in Carolina Blue had the 25th best strength of schedule, and the home team from Raleigh had the 340th.

350th, by some site metrics.

There are only 353 teams that participate in Division-I Basketball.

The game, played on the night before UNC students began classes, functioned like a semester for Carolina, in some respects.

They got out fast, pushing to an early 14-2 lead on transition buckets and hot shooting. The starting five looked like they had their swagger back, full of vigor to quiet the fans in PNC Arena.

And then the Heels defense slumped, as it has at times this season, and NC State fought back into the game. At halftime, it was a five-point game, partially because of an interesting goaltending call, which I’ll return to later.

It felt like that middle-of-the-semester moment where you realize that you don’t have to go to class. While Carolina only lost the lead for a few fleeting moments in the second half, they weren’t in control of the game, just coasting enough to keep themselves in it.

Some electrifying buckets from Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly were the midterms of the night. Dunks and threes that make a fan just… sigh. The type of shots that make momentum turn itself all the way around.

But alas, a few timely Cameron Johnson shots, including an and-1 three, before he suffered what seemed to be a leg cramp, kept Carolina in the game long enough to set up a late push to a strong lead.

Or, as I have seen it in my own life more than a few times, late night cramming and lucky questions keep that grade above water until you can pull a B out in the class.

The game finished 90-82. But I’ll say 90-80, because daggumit that ball was still going up and wasn’t over the rim.

I’ll let you be the judge.

But let’s go back and take a moment to think about that stat that I listed at the beginning.

340th.

The only team with a worse strength of schedule that sits in the top 100 of the Ken Pomeroy rankings is Pittsburgh, who Carolina manhandled only a few days earlier.

It makes sense for a fan base to proudly display a banner hailing their coach with the short sentence, “Kevin Keatts is a winner” when he’s gotten the team to their best start ever, right?

Well, that might make more sense if the team hadn’t started the season off by playing six straight mid-major teams before losing to Wisconsin.

But they beat Auburn, don’t forget about that!

The same issue that has plagued most Duke teams for years now, not playing tough non-conference schedules or just not playing road games at all.

Barring having an incredibly special team talent-wise, this often leads a squad to having no idea how to handle their early opponents in the NCAA tournament, despite losing few games throughout the season.

I personally respect Kevin Keatts a lot, as a southeastern North Carolina native who loved his UNCW teams. However, if you want to be taken seriously at a big program like NC State, you’ve got to play tougher teams.

For example, playing five Power 5 teams, and a team that played in the national title game two years ago throughout November and December, including three preseason top-10 teams.

You might drop a few of those games due to learning curve, but evidence from 2017 supports that it will probably work out in the end, in the off chance that you find yourself in the national championship game against a team that played a much worse schedule than yours.

If you don’t schedule those early ranked non-conference battles, you might find your fans leaving early in your first tough conference game of the season.

Kind of like acing those first few classes you take and then expecting things to be the same when you start your Chemistry major.

It’s not realistic.

@allthesebanners