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ACC Preview # 3 - NC State

Is the Pack..you know...back?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 17 NC State at Saint Louis
ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 17: Saint Louis Billikens guard Fred Thatch, Jr. (20) shoots over NC State Wolfpack forward Manny Bates (15) during a nonconference college basketball game between the NC State Wolfpack and the Saint Louis Billikens on December 17, 2020, at Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis, Mo.
Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Has Kevin Keatts succeeded at NC State?

It probably depends on how you frame the question. Win-wise, he’s 79-47 overall and 39-34 in the ACC.

As we’ve been saying, toss out last year when the Pack was 14-11 and 9-8 overall.

In his other three seasons, he’s averaged 21.6 wins and 12 losses which is respectable.

He’s made the NCAA Tournament once and the NIT twice and of course in 2019-20, the postseason was canceled due to Covid.

He’s also overcome a lot. He lost Saddiq Bey to Villanova after the Adidas scandal broke. Bey is now in the NBA. Jalen Lecque and Josh Hall decided to go straight to the league. Sacha Killya-Jones left Kentucky and ended up at NC State briefly - then decided to go pro too.

None of them have ever done much other than Hall, who is currently on a two-way with Oklahoma City, and would probably have benefited from some more experience.

And last year State lost star Devon Daniels in January to an ACL injury and there’s the whole Covid thing.

State fans, who have been trying to catch up to Duke and UNC since the post-Valvano ‘80s, are never satisfied.

Well, some State fans anyway. In general, we think Pack fans are great but some are just very difficult and frustrated and that’s probably as true for Keatts as it has been for any State coaches post-Valvano.

So let’s look at the roster: who’s gone? Who’s back? Who’s new?

Let’s start with departures:

  • DJ Funderburk, senior
  • Braxton Beverly, senior
  • Devon Daniels, senior
  • Shakeel Moore, transferred to Mississippi State
  • Nick Farrar, transferred to Charleston

Funderburk is getting a shot with the Jazz, Beverley is at Eastern Kentucky as a grad student transfer and Daniels might have returned after his ACL injury but chose to move on.

Moore has stunning athleticism but if his skill level had matched it he would have been something else. He’ll get a great teacher in Ben Howland at Mississippi State who will insist on defense and sound fundamentals, all of which should make him better.

Nick Farrar may have left too soon. A local guy, he had plenty of time to develop but now he’ll be a big(ger) fish in a smaller pond.

Returnees:

  • Jericole Hellems, 6-7 senior
  • Thomas Allen, 6-1 senior
  • Manny Bates, 6-11 junior
  • Cam Hayes, 6-3 sophomore
  • Dereon Seabron, 6-7 sophomore
  • Jaylon Gibson, 6-10 sophomore
  • Ebenezer Dowuona, 6-11 sophomore

Transfers:

  • Casey Morsell, 6-3 junior (Virginia)
  • Greg Gantt, 6-8 junior (Rutgers)

Freshmen

  • Terquavion Smith, 6-4
  • Breon Pass, 6-0
  • Ernest Ross, 6-9

After Daniels went out, Hellems surprised a lot of people by really upping his game. He ended up averaging 12.9 ppg and five boards and now he has to be seen as a reliable force.

Cam Hayes was pretty solid as a freshman and we expect he’ll continue to improve. We like him a lot. He’s not nearly as athletic as Moore but look who’s still in town. He needs to improve obviously but we like his potential. Also, he’s likely to be a four-year point guard, which as we saw last year with Georgia Tech, is a really good thing.

If he backslides, or doesn’t grow though, State might have a problem. More on that in a bit.

Where State is going to be a pain in the ass is down low. Manny Bates has already proven to be a superb shot blocker. He’s a serious problem.

Ebenezer Dowuona is a sophomore now and he has really nice hands. He’s also fairly athletic. He’s just a sophomore but we could see him making a major leap this season.

But State also has Zebulon native Gibson, also a sophomore, and freshman Ernest Ross, who may prove to be a real steal but at 190, he’s likely to get pushed around a bit. And give Keatts this: he’s got a keen eye for emerging talent, as Ross or Gibson may demonstrate again. So don’t be shocked if one of these two emerges.

In the mid-range, State has Hellems, Seabron and Gantt to work with. We talked about Hellems above. Seabron is 6-7 with guard skills and he’s quick too but at 180, and in his third year in the program, he’s not likely to bulk up a lot before he leaves.

Gantt was a part-time starter for Providence and will likely provide depth for now.

At Wilmington, Keatts built his teams around really tough-minded defensive players, some of whom were undersized. But rugged defense was the key.

This year he might be able to replicate that formula, but with the big guys backing it up, which he couldn’t do at Wilmington.

Hayes was a decent defender as a freshman and now State can also turn to Smith, who may have been the best high school player in the state last year. His high school coach also said he’s tremendously competitive and any coach would love that.

Then there’s Pass, who was a two-sport star in high school: he also played football at Reidsville (NC) High and helped win three straight state championships. He averaged 32.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists, which isn’t all that hard at a smaller school, but still impressive.

And of course there’s Morsell. He didn’t necessarily do that well at Virginia, but he may have just been a bad fit. He was a Top 50 recruit out of high school so he could still turn out.

In general, State looks pretty set for a good year. They have size, athleticism and strength. Keatts has the kind of guards he likes and flexibility.

Our biggest questions are chemistry and point guard. Chemistry is an open question for almost every team with so much player movement. Who knows? And as far as point goes, Hayes has the inside track but here’s no guarantee that he will keep his job and clearly he has to continue to improve.

Assuming he is the starter though, who backs him up? Smith? Pass? Morsell, who was considered a combo guard coming out of high school?

Still, no matter how you arrange the pieces, State has at least one shot blocker, maybe two, maybe even three. They can pressure the ball with tough, physical guards although the freshmen, like most freshmen, may need to bulk up a bit. They have wings who can shoot and who can get up and down the court.

Shooting could still be an issue. Beverly was the best three point shooter last season and after him it was Hellems.

If one or two more guys can step up and be reliable offensively, and the Pack stays healthy, State has a chance to have a really special season.

And then maybe Keatts will finally win over the entire fanbase.