clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ACC Preview #3 - NC State

The Wolfpack has questions, but also promise

North Carolina State v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 02: Head coach Kevin Keatts of the North Carolina State Wolfpack questions an official during the second half of their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 02, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 88-69
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

He has and he hasn’t.

Kevin Keatts has been at NC State three full seasons now and while he has firmly stamped his identity on the program - no one would mistake this for a Mark Gottfried team - he hasn’t moved State up in the standings that much.

Last year, State finished 6th in the ACC at 20-12, ahead of Notre Dame, Syracuse and, most importantly, eight spots ahead of #14 UNC.

Sorry, we had to say it.

The year before, State finished 22-11. The year prior to that, 21-11.

You have to admit, he’s been consistent. And it’s not like he’s Danny Manning. His teams compete, especially on defense.

His record at NC State is 65-36 (.644) slightly below his career record of 137-64 (.682). He has two post-season appearances at State (last year’s post-seasons was of course canceled).

So we don't think anyone is tired of Kevin Keatts in Raleigh just yet.

The problem is that in the Triangle, you have to keep up with the Joneses, and when the neighbors are named Krzyzewski and Williams, keeping up is not easy.

Last year, in UNC’s worst season since Matt Doherty got finished smashing the program to pieces, State lost to UNC twice and split with Duke (the rubber match in the ACC Tournament was canceled).

In 2018-19, State lost twice to UNC and once to Duke and in 2017-18, split with UNC and beat Duke.

So overall, Keatts as an ACC coach is 5-1 vs. UNC and 2-2 vs. Duke. Keatts personally is 2-3 vs. Duke if you count the NCAA loss to the Blue Devils before he came to NC State. Even in that game though, Wilmington gave Duke a lot of trouble. It wasn’t an easy win by any means.

Still, Duke finished 25-6 last year and seemed like it was ready for a good post-season run and would probably have finished with 29-30 wins again.

UNC fell off the cliff at 14-19 but the year prior the Tar Heels were 27-6 and got to the Sweet 16.

Duke that Zion-riffic season finished 32-6 and just missed the Final Four. In 2017-18, the Blue Devils were 29-8 and fell in the Elite Eight.

UNC? 26-11.

So State has been winning, but as we say, it’s a tough neighborhood.

And it’s not helped by State’s recent pattern of recruiting high school players who are able to go directly to the NBA. First it was promising point guard Jalen Lecque. This year, it was Josh Hall.

Hall, a native of Durham, has opted to stay in the draft. A talented 6-9 player, he would have been a major recruit for the Pack.

Could State still succeed this year?

Well possibly. There’s a lot to be determined though.

State loses Markell Johnson, a talented 6-1 point guard who, remember, was originally recruited as Dennis Smith’s backup. He had a much better career at State than did Smith and at times was just spectacular, as Coach K very publicly noted after a great game against Duke.

CJ Brice, who followed Keatts from Wilmington, is also gone. He was a Keatts archetype, a tough midsized player who fought like hell.

The best news for State is that DJ Funderburk and Devon Daniels both realized they could use another year and pulled out of the NBA Draft.

Funderburk is a big, strong presence in the lane and he doesn’t back down much. He put up 12.8 ppg and 6.1 rpg.

Daniels could become State’s go-to offensive player this year. He averaged 12.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 2.2 apg last season. He also plays with a lot of energy. He really has a chance this year to make a strong NBA argument.

Braxton Beverly is also back as is Jericole Hellems.

Beverly is just 6-0 but when he heats up, he’s a very dangerous shooter. He’s a bit of a liability on defense but when he’s hot, he’s really hot.

Hellems played last season at just 205 but showed some real flashes. He has a chance to really build on last season where he played 27.5 mpg and nearly hit double figures. A little weight would really help him.

Manny Bates is also back and while he has work to do on offense, the 6-11 Bates may be the best shot blocker in the ACC. He should get plenty of time and a lot more if his offense catches up. One area he could really stand to improve is free throw shooting, where the Fayetteville native hit just 48.6 percent.

JUCO transfer AJ Taylor (6-6/205) had a serious knee injury in his first game and sat out the rest of the season, as did redshirt freshman Dereon Seabron (6-7/180). Look for both to play this season.

Thomas Allen originally committed to Mark Gottfried’s program and asked to be released after Keatts took over. He ended up at Nebraska and then transferred back to Raleigh after Tim Miles was fired to play for Keatts after all. If we have one wish for Allen it’s that he finishes his career with Keatts. Starting over with yet another coach would be a real drag.

He missed last season due to ankle surgery - he sat out as a transfer but practice time is valuable, particularly for a transfer - so we’ll see where he is when we see the team.

He’s said to be a reliable second guard who can take on some point responsibilities but probably not full-time. He can provide offensive pressure because he’s a good shooter and passes well, which will help State a lot, and is also a good defender.

And by the way, like a lot of State’s roster, he’s from the state, in his case Raleigh. This state has always had great talent but in the last decade or two, with the great increase in population, it’s gone way up overall. We’ve always had the occasional David Thompson or Rod Griffin or Buck Williams pop up in small towns and of course Michael Jordan is from Wilmington, but now cities like Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Durham have far more talent than we used to see. It’s good to see Keatts trying to keep it home.

The freshman class would have obviously been better with Hall but it’s not bad.

  • Ebenezer Dowuona: 6-10, 220 lbs.
  • Nick Farrar: 6-7, 230 lbs.
  • Cam Hayes: 6-3, 175 lbs.
  • Shakeel Moore: 6-1, 185 lbs.
  • Jaylon Gibson, 6-11, 200 lbs.

Like Bates, Dowuona has work to do on offense, but his defense is solid and he gives State another solid shot blocker. He’s also reasonably mature physically and you can expect him to bulk up over the next couple of years. We wouldn’t call him a project but keep an eye on him. He could become a real force.

Farrar is a local kid, from Apex, who dreamed of playing for State and accepted his offer quickly. He blew up last year and might be a big surprise this year but he’ll need to be in ACC shape, not high school shape. In the video we’ve seen, he could stand to be in better condition. That said, he has some serious skills, including solid three point shooting.

Hayes sounds like the kind of guard Keatts will love. He’s 6-3 and solidly built and sees himself as a point guard, a great defender and a leader. Apparently some other schools do as well since FSU, Louisville, Maryland, Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Texas Tech all offered.

Like Farrar, he wants to play close to home and State was a better option to him than nearby Wake Forest (we bet new coach Steve Forbes would have liked a crack at him).

Moore played with Hall at Moravian Prep and is highly athletic and explosive. It’s a big jump from high school to the ACC, but his talent is going to quickly make him a fan favorite. He may be the best leaper in this year’s ACC freshman class. Our questions about him aren’t about instinct or talent. It’s about skills and intangibles. If he puts in the work to be great, he certainly can be.

Gibson is perhaps the most interesting recruit in some ways. He had committed to Wake Forest but asked to be released after Danny Manning was let go and quickly switched to NC State.

He’s a kid who developed a perimeter game as a smaller player then grew to 6-11. We’ve seen this before in guys like Scottie Pippen. We’re not comparing him to Pippen of course other than in that general way. It’s handy to have a big guy with guard skills.

And not only can he handle the ball well, his high school coach says he can run like the wind. And if Moore turns out to be as good as we think he might, those two are going to be beautiful together when State runs. And as we’ve said over the years, NC State basketball should be fast-paced and electric, something Herb Sendek never got and was despised for not understanding. It’s in the program’s DNA.

Small point/irony to note: Moore will go from playing with Hall at Moravian Prep to playing with Gibson at State. Gibson bailed on Wake Forest about the time Hall decided to pursue the NBA. Hall’s move opened the door for Gibson to stay in Raleigh and gives Moore (or Hayes) another big guy who can get out and run, which will help enormously.

One other small point: Although Dowuona hails from Georgia, the rest of the class hails from in-state, with Gibson from Raleigh, Farrar from Apex, Moore from Monroe and Hayes from Greensboro. And would-be recruit Hall was from Durham. As we said before, it’s nice to see Keatts working this state for recruits.

So here’s how we see State.

We’re not sure about the wings yet, or the interior offense. Hellems could be a major asset. Farrar’s offensive skill and strength should get him time if he is able to run. If we remember correctly, Virginia was very keen on him and he would fit that system beautifully. We’re not sold on him at State yet but he has a beautiful shot and is an intelligent player, and those are never bad things.

We’ll be interested to see what Sebron offers too and also Taylor. They’re great wild cards. Either one or both could step up, or they could be practice players at least at the start of the season. Either way they can help.

The strength should be in the backcourt. Beverly is a defensive liability but he’s a torrid shooter at times and a senior. He’ll get minutes.

Daniels is versatile enough to play some forward which fits into Keatts’ system very well. Toss in the freshmen Hayes and Moore, who can both play point, and Allen who can help, and State has a reasonable shot at being able to find someone who can pick up for Johnson.

We won’t be surprised if both freshmen start and Daniels goes to the front court for a three-guard lineup. Put them together with Funderburk and either Bates or Dowuona and that’s a reasonable lineup. Or you could go smaller with Funderburk in the post and Hellems because a guy who played 27+ minutes last year is probably not going to sit.

Whatever it works out to, State will have some youth to deal with and, as has been the case since the Sendek era, will spend more time on fundamentals than some other ACC teams.

But there is talent in Raleigh, which means options, and this is a group Keatts can build on, particularly defensively. He can build on the shotblockers and interior defense but there are enough athletic players for the Wolfpack to really crank up the pressure and run. And when they do, Moore is likely to shine and guys like Gibson and Allen will find roles. Don’t be surprised if Farrar develops a niche on the secondary break.

The bottom line analysis on State is this: someone has to come through at point guard and Keatts has to prove his coaching ability by taking a young but talented team with some possible limitations but also some new strengths and show improvement.

NC State is clearly not Wake Forest over the last decade or so - thankfully - and we think Wolfpack fans appreciate the fact that their team plays hard at all times. State has been a winning, middle-of-the-pack (sorry) ACC team since Keatts arrived and he’s a welcome relief from the Gottfried circus. However, he needs to break through to a higher level soon and we think this team could win 25-27 games if things go right.

And of course if there is a post-season.