– First off, I want to say that this is easily the most fun Wolfpack team to watch in the past 10 years. The teamwork, the hustle and the heart is a real breath of fresh air for State fans who are used to season’s collapsing or expectation unmet thanks to suspect chemistry. It’s a real testament to Mark Gottfried. You could tell as soon as he got here that he’s trying to create a family atmosphere where trust and loyalty play big roles. It also shows you that it’s not only the coach having to preach and teach this type of buy in, but also a group of players that are team first. One player with a bad attitude can turn things sour. As Wolfpack fans, we’ve seen it. But this year is different, and it’s trickling down from their leader, TJ Warren who is a team player that is even tempered and isn’t demonstrative to his team after mistakes.
Now, let’s get into the ECU game….
– TJ Warren set a career high with 32 points. He was everywhere against ECU and they really had no way to stop him. His ability to change speeds, his footwork, body control and quick/soft release makes scoring look so simple. We’re watching one of the best all-around scorers in NC State history. He’s not going to be around next year, so enjoy every minute of what you’re witnessing. Anyways, we mentioned in our pregame piece that ECU was going to really struggle to stop TJ and that certainly was the case. I think that’s going to be a huge factor in the ACC. Does the opposing team have a swingman who can lock down on defense and stop TJ. If they don’t then NC State walks in with a pretty hefty advantage.
– Jordan Vandenberg has been absolutely huge for this team. Since he’s gotten back on the court NC State has reeled off 7 straight wins. That is not a coincidence. Vandy is not only helping a ton on the defensive end and with rebounding, but he’s a giant factor on offense and on the break. Jordan set a career high with 18 points on a bunch of his usual dunks, but also on a few nifty hook shots and post moves. As he keeps playing well, he keeps gaining confidence, and if the Wolfpack can run out a confident Vandy on most nights, then they have a good shot at a W.
– I think the career nights by TJ and Jordan kind of overshadowed an outstanding performance by Cat Barber. This kid is coming into his own and is showing why he was so coveted as a recruit. Remember, Barber is a freshman, so it’s amazing to see all of this come so easy. He finished the game with 16 points, 8 assists…but the big stat here is his 1 turnover. I know we came into this season thinking Tyler Lewis would be the leading man, and I do kind of feel bad for Lewis, but Barber has just been too good to take off the floor. He did it against Tennessee and he did it again against ECU. When State goes stagnant and the offense gets sluggish, it’s Barber who can simply make things happen off the dribble. He’s an elite scorer who is just learning how to play in this league. It’s scary to think what he can become.
– Oh my, Beejay Anya. The guy is becoming an instant fan favorite (and for good reason). He still needs to get his body in shape, but with that wingspan he’s becoming a real enforcer. 12 minutes, 2 points, 4 boards and 5 blocks. That kind of production from a big coming off your bench is something not many teams have. Anya shut down ECU in the final 5 minutes of the first half and single handedly changed the momentum of this game. He’s becoming a monster.
– I think we all can tell that Tyler Lewis is likely feeling a bit under appreciated. I mean here’s a kid who was billed as the leader of this team and we’re not even in conference play and he’s struggling to get 10 minutes per game. It’s tough, because he’s a great story and so exciting when he’s playing well. I just think a lot of his game is based on confidence and right now he’s fighting hard against the notion that he’s a backup point guard. But the faster he comes to terms, accepts his role and gets back to playing his game, the faster he’s going to find success again. No one has soured on him. He’s still a huge part of this team and there are going to be games where the play of Tyler Lewis will be the difference in a win and a loss for State, but he’s really hurting himself by trying to find his shot and prove he can score with Barber. He needs to be that change of pace back, that guy who makes no mistakes and protects the basketball. He’s not going to fill the scoring shoes of Barber on a nightly basis and he’s not going to be a lock down defender, so instead of trying to do things he’s not built to do, he needs to focus on his strengths and bring those to the table every time out. Doing that will not only make State better, it will get Lewis back in the rotation with a bigger role.
– Meanwhile, Ralston Turner is shooting 42% from beyond the arc. That’s only 2% lower than Scott Wood last season. He’s also providing defense and some rebounding, so really he has done a good job of replacing the senior shooter. Turner finished with 11 points on 3-4 shooting from 3.
– Lennard Freeman is still doing work. 4 points, 6 boards and infinite amount of hustle.
– Next up is a real test for the Pack. They have a week off before they face their first ranked opponent, #23 Missouri next Saturday Dec 28 at 8pm.
NC State’s NET Ranking After Defeating Maryland Eastern Shore
NC State defeated Maryland Eastern Shore 93-61 last night, improving to 6-2 on the season. Ironically, they fell one spot in the NET Rankings, from 51st to 52nd.
NC State’s two losses were against #1 BYU (!) and Ole Miss (#89). BYU was a Quad 1 loss, and Ole Miss was a Quad 2 loss.
The Wolfpack currently rank 7th in the ACC.
ACC Teams in NET Rankings
52) NC State
71) Virginia Tech
91) Boston College
105) Wake Forest
107) Florida St.
159) Georgia Tech
212) Notre Dame
For a refresher on how the NET Rankings are calculated:
Using the quadrant system, which was in its fourth season in 2020-21, the quality of wins and losses will be organized based on game location and the opponent’s NET ranking.
Quadrant 1: Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75
Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240
Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353
The number of Quadrant 1 wins and Quadrant 3/4 losses will be incredibly important when it comes time for NCAA tournament selection and seeding. (NCAA)
Kansas Transfer MJ Rice Makes Quite the Impression in his NC State Debut
We’ve seen a lot of new faces on the NC State Men’s Basketball team this season, but one face we haven’t seen yet is Kansas Transfer Guard/Forward M.J. Rice (6’5″/215)…until tonight.
Rice stepped away from the program for personal reasons earlier this Fall, and when he returned, he had a little catching up to do. It wasn’t until today during shoot around that Rice and Keatts both knew that tonight would be his debut.
“He’d been practicing for the last couple of weeks, and you know, I was just trying to figure out when he was ready. He and I, we talked a little bit after shoot around today and I said ‘MJ you ready to go tonight?'” said Kevin Keatts. “and he had this big huge smile on his face. He’s like ‘You sure you ready?’ He’s like ‘Ask me some plays.’ So he and I sit over there on the scores table at the Dale and we went over plays and I was like ‘You know what, you are ready to play.'”
Out of all the transfers Keatts brought in this offseason, Rice might have the highest ceiling. Rice was a 5-Star prospect in the 2022 recruiting class, and ON3 ranked him as the #24 overall prospect nationally. He committed to Kansas, where he played in 23 games for the Jayhawks as a Freshman in 2022, averaging 2.2 points in 7.6 minutes per game. Rice was a huge pickup in the Transfer Portal, ranked as the #2 player in the Portal, with three years of eligibility remaining.
Rice also isn’t new to the area either, playing high school ball at Durham Academy, before heading off to Oak Hill Academy and Prolific Prep.
In a short sample size, Rice gave us a glimpse of what the hype is all about tonight. He scored 11 points in 11 minutes of play, also grabbing 6 boards. Rice was 5-6 from the field, and hit the only three he took. In the most electrifying play of the night, Rice took it coast-to-coast, finishing with a soaring dunk.
“He gives us another dimension. We’ve been playing with six of our new dudes. Now we added the seventh and I’m happy for him. He’s going to help us. He’s going to be really good for us.” said Keatts. “I said this on the radio just now…we’ve got some older guys, but two really good young players in Dennis Parker Jr. and also MJ Rice. It was good for MJ to see the ball going in. I think he played 10 minutes had 11 points. He made a three. He had a big time dunk, so I was excited for him.”
“He gives us the ability to play a little bit more small ball. If we have to, we can play him and Dennis Parker both at the three and four. Really good defender at that position and can rebound the basketball,” said Keatts. “It’s going to take time. I’m trying to figure out how to kind of put him into the rotation, and now we’ve added another really good exciting piece to it, but it was good to have him back out there.”
Welcome to the Pack MJ! We’re glad you’ve arrived!
NC State 93 UMES 61: BOX SCORE
Pack Insider’s Highlight Reel of NC State’s Win Over BC
Ready to watch NC State’s Men’s Basketball team play in the ‘old barn’ tonight against Maryland Eastern-Shore? Well, until 7pm, go ahead and get yourself hype by watching Pack Insider’s Highlight Reel of the Wolfpack’s ACC opening win over BC this past Saturday. Check it out above.