NC State Wolfpack vs. Northwestern Wildcats
Dec 4 (tonight) | 7:30 PM | Raleigh, NC | ESPNU
*This game is part of the ACC/Big Ten challenge
The Pack takes on Northwestern tonight at the PNC Arena at 7:30pm as they look to extend their winning streak to a season high 3 games in this ACC/Big Ten matchup.
It seems like State is starting to round into form over the past two games. They’ve made adjustments, gotten Vandy back from injury and have transitioned Cat Barber into the starting rotation. These things have definitely helped take this team to the next level and they’ll look to build on that tonight vs the Wildcats.
Get to know Northwestern
The Wildcats come into this game at 4-4. So far they’ve struggled with quality opponents taking losses to Mizzou, UCLA and Stanford, but this isn’t really a bad team. Their head coach is long time Duke assistant, Chris Collins. He’s in his first season as HC and is still trying to change the mindset of his team. Collins was the favorite to take over for Coach K when he retired, but the old rat is still lurking the sidelines of Cameron Indoor and it doesn’t look like he’s leaving anytime soon. Collins, who’s not getting any younger, decided to bolt, get some head coaching experience in hopes of building his resume for when K does decide to retire. As for his team this year, they’re ok but the Wildcats are really focused on the future. That being said, this team has a few really nice pieces and this will be no walk in the park for the Pack.
Northwestern Players to Watch:
Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb are two guys that the Wolfpack need to key on. Crawford is really their go-to scorer…or at least he was supposed to be. A season ago, Crawford led the Wildcats at 13 PPG and was supposed to lead them again this year, but the emergence of JerShon Cobb has been a pleasant surprise for Collins and company. Cobb is averaging 15ppg and is currently up on Crawford (but only by a point). These two can really score it. Both are guards who can create their own shot and knock it down from distance. State will need to keep a close eye on these two, because after them there aren’t any true stars. The offensive system has changed some from the typical Northwestern 5-out spread offense that relied heavily on 3s. They still shoot the 3 at a nice clip, but this is a team that’s learning physicality and trying to get more of a fighter’s mentality. Right now they are still searching, but they’re not to be taken lightly.
Can the Wolfpack pull off the win?
Yes, in fact they SHOULD win this one. State is quicker, stronger and has talent than Northwestern, but defense will be key. State will need to use their D to not only shut down the Wildcat guards, but also to crank up the pace. Barber will be a huge piece to this puzzle. He’s likely going to matchup with either Cobb or Crawford and be asked to lock them down. With Dez Lee taking whoever Barber does not take, State has two really good defenders against two really good scorers. This is the first time in a long time that I can remember the Pack really having two good lock down guys on defense.
State also needs to control the boards. Northwestern has struggled in this area while the Pack has started to get it going. The return of Jordan Vandenberg has been monumental in this shift. The big Aussie has been the key cog in NC State recent uptick in productivity. He’s scoring, blocking shots and grabbing boards. Tonight he’ll face another 7 footer in sophomore Alex Olah. This kid is a lot like Vandy. He’s raw but he’s a pretty skilled 7 footer. While this could be a good matchup, I think Jordan (if he keeps playing the way he has been) will dominate it.
Player to Watch for NC State:
I’m going to go with a no-brainer on this one. The key guy for State tonight is Warren. Northwestern doesn’t have anyone who can really matchup with him and he’s been on fire lately. Now, Cat Barber and Dez Lee will be huge as well, especially on the defensive end, but when it comes down to it, Warren is the key tonight.
Zone or No Zone?
The scouting report against State is to go zone. They haven’t shot well and they’ve looked sluggish at times against 2-3s. It will be interesting to see what Northwestern does. Chris Collins is a Dukie and if we know the Blue Devils, we know they will almost NEVER go zone. Is Collins as ‘man-to-man’ stubborn as K? We’ll see, but it would certainly help him, especially since his team isn’t 100% bought in on the defensive end.
For State, I think the more zone they see the better. They need work against it and last time out they really seemed to turn a corner with Warren and Barber in attack mode, dicing it up. If they keep standing around the perimeter and jacking up 3s they’re going to lose a lot of games, but if they can learn to really attack the gaps then they’ll be fine. They need more work against it, but I’m doubting they see much of it tonight.
Here is the 2024 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament Bracket
The bracket for the 2024 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament is here. The 10th ranked NC State is the #2 seed in the tournament, and their first game will be on Friday at 5pm on ACC Network.
The Wolfpack will play the winner of the Duke (7 seed) vs. Georgia Tech (10 seed)/Pitt (15 seed).
NC State defeated Pitt 83-47 on February 11th, and they defeated Georgia Tech 86-85 on February 18th.
The Wolfpack lost to Duke 58-69 on February 25th. NC State entered the game as 1.5-point favorites, but ended up losing in enemy territory.
Georgia Tech defeated Pitt 68-58 on January 7th. Duke defeated both Georgia Tech and Pitt this season, defeating the Yellow Jackets 84-46 on January 14th, and the Panthers on 69-38 on February 1st.
There is Reason to be Frustrated
If you are an NC State fan, it’s only reasonable that you’re frustrated with the state of the Men’s Basketball program.
Under Kevin Keatts, NC State has gone to the NCAA Tournament twice in 7 seasons. The Wolfpack didn’t win a game in the Big Dance in either of those appearances.
Keatts has led NC State to a 3-5 record in the ACC Tournament, failing to reach the semifinals a single time.
You could make an argument that his first season in Raleigh was his best (I don’t think it was), because the Wolfpack finished 5th in the ACC, which is the highest the team has finished in the conference under his watch.
2017-18 – 5th
2018-19 – 8th
2019-20 – 6th
2020-21 – 9th
2021-22 – 15th
2022-23 – 6th
2023-23 – 9th (currently)
Average finish: 8.3
(For context, in 6 seasons, Mark Gottfried’s average finish was 8.7.)
Over the past 7 seasons, NC State has been ranked in the Top-25 in only 8 polls (2 separate seasons), with the highest being on January 7th, 2019, when the Wolfpack were ranked 15th.
Under Gottfried, NC State was ranked in 13 polls (all one season). With Herb Sendek at the helm, the Wolfpack were ranked in the Top-25 in 5 different seasons, in a total of 35 polls.
Do I think Kevin Keatts is the worst coach at NC State in recent memory? No, that award goes to Sydney Lowe. In all reality, NC State’s record overall and in conference play is nearly identical under Keatts, as it was under Mark Gottfried and Herb Sendek.
Kevin Keatts – 58.3/48.3
Mark Gottfried – 58.9/45.3
Herb Sendek – 59.1/45.0
What’s the difference between Keatts and the other two?
A couple of observations.
Sendek finished his time at NC State with 5 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and Gottfried started off his tenure with 4 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. The Wolfpack advanced to the 2nd round 3 times, and the Sweet 16 once under Sendek. Under Gottfried, they advanced to the 2nd round twice.
Sendek led NC State to the ACC Championship game 3 times (in 10 years), and the semifinals 4 times. Gottfried led the Wolfpack to the semifinals on 3 occasions. Heck, Sidney Lowe led NC State to the ACC Championship game once, and the semifinals on another occasion.
Is the NC State Men’s Basketball program worse off under Keatts than it was under the previous coaches? If you simply look at total wins and losses, that’s not necessarily the case, but when you look at the Wolfpack’s production in postseason play, there is no other answer besides ‘yes.’
Every now and then you have to be willing to eat crow. Years ago, I was of the opinion that Herb Sendek needed to go. Do I think that Sendek would have brought NC State back to where it was in the 80’s? I didn’t think it then, and I’m not certain my opinion on that has changed, but the past 20 years has proven to me that the grass isn’t always greener.
Call me nostalgic, but from a historical perspective, I believe NC State fans have right to expect their Men’s Basketball program to be successful…to consistently be ranked in the Top-25…to finish in the top half of the ACC…compete for conference championships…and go to the Big Dance on a regular basis.
There is reason to be frustrated.
Madison Hayes Will Be Returning for Her Final Year of Eligibility in 2024-25
Last night NC State Guard Madison Hayes was honored on Senior Night, but she also announced that she would be returning in 2024-25 for her final year of eligibility. She was honored alongside Center River Baldwin and Forward Mimi Collins, who are both out of eligibility after this season.
Hayes is in the midst of a breakout season this year, averaging 11.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, which are both career highs. She ranks 3rd on the team in scoring, behind the other two Guards in the starting lineup, Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers, who will also be back in 2024-25. Even though she is a Guard, Hayes leads the Wolfpack in rebounding. Her 44.1% Field Goal Percentage is the best of any of the Wolfpack Guards, and her Three Point Percentage of 41.7% is the best on the squad.
As a Senior in high school, Hayes was named a McDonald’s All-American in 2020, and she earned a spot on the All SEC Freshman team in 2021 as a member of Mississippi St. In 2021-22, she transferred to NC State, and played in 26 games off the bench, but earned a spot in the starting lineup last season.
Big news for the Wolfpack Women’s Basketball program!