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ACC Question Marks: Is Kevin Keatts Getting It Done?

NC State coach Kevin Keatts
PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17: Head coach Kevin Keatts of the North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks reacts in the first half against the Duke Blue Devils during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Dunkin’ Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.
Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

So how is Kevin Keatts doing at NC State anyway?

It’s an interesting question especially from a Duke perspective. As we know, in Mike Krzyzewski’s second and third seasons, he won 10 and 11 games respectively.

So far at State, Keatts has gone 21-12, 24-12, 20-12 and 14-11. As we’ve said all season, everyone should get a pass on this season and last season of course the post-season was canceled.

So in many respects, it’s a mystery.

Still, he’s been pretty consistent about only losing 12 games a season, with this past year one less.

So perhaps the better way to look at it is player development: have his kids gotten better? We’re not going to do crazy levels of stats here. This is more of our sense of things with his upperclassmen, since we’ve been able to watch them more closely than the younger guys.

  • DJ Funderburk: not our favorite ACC player, but he unquestionably got better in Raleigh and by this past season, was one of the better big men in the ACC.
  • Devon Daniels: the Utah transfer was seen as a reasonably good but not great prospect. He really became quite good by the end of his time in Raleigh, although a knee injury limited him to 12 games which also made life tougher for his coach as Daniels was his best player.
  • Braxton Beverly: the diminutive bearded native of Hazard, Kentucky, was never going to be All-ACC or anything but he became a solid rotation player and an outstanding three point shooter. He certainly got better during his time with State.
  • Jericole Hellems: he’s gotten better every year under Keatts.
  • Manny Bates: still limited offensively, but Bates has become a major pain in the butt on defense where he’s arguably the ACC’s best shot blocker. Just a redshirt sophomore, he has time to improve offensively.

Keatts has had some tough breaks and bad timing, but we thought his Wilmington teams were wonderfully tough and competitive. His recruiting has been solid and appears to be getting better although, again, we won't know just how much better for at least a couple of seasons.

There has been some grumbling from State fans and if Steve Forbes does a quick rebuild in WInston-Salem, that won’t help.

Our advice to State fans would be to be patient a bit longer. Coach K is going to be the eternal caution about firing people too soon and Keatts has kept his program reasonably stable during Covid and everything else that’s happened over the last year and a half. We’d like to see him succeed because the ACC is so much better when State is good and it’s been a very long time since State has been consistently good. He’s also going to have to deal with the NCAA fallout from the Mark Gottfried era so things may be up and down for a while longer yet.

However, at Wilmington, his teams were incredibly tough and tough-minded and he showed great intelligence in finding under-appreciated talent that fit his system beautifully. We see no reason why his State teams can’t have those same qualities - as long as State fans don’t turn on him. Given Covid and the Gottfried disaster, he deserves time to build. The alternative?

Well, after Jim Valvano was run off, NC State hired, in order, Les Robinson, Herb Sendek, Sidney Lowe and Gottfried.

That’s nearly 30 years wandering in the basketball desert and of those hires, only Sendek was seen as an optimistic choice.

Part of rebuilding is frankly up to the fans. Loyalty is bound to be very appealing to the current coach and will be to the next one as well.