NC State Wolfpack @ #1 Syracuse Orange
7pm | Carrier Dome | ACCN
With a win today NC State could take a gigantic step toward punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament in March. There’s only one problem…They have to beat #1 ranked, undefeated Syracuse on their home floor.
Yesterday we broke down the zone defense that makes Syracuse so dangerous. Today, in preparation for the game, we’ll take a look at the keys for NC State and the star players on both sides.
Players to Watch:
For NC State: TJ Warren
The key player for the Wolfpack will, of course, be their leading scorer TJ Warren. It’s pretty obvious that Warren is going to be a huge factor in whether State plays well or not, but even more so against the Orange. The sophomore forward is averaging 23ppg and just recently was snubbed by being left off the final nominee list for the Naismith Award (best player in college basketball). With a chip on his shoulder, Warren is going to be that much more dangerous. He’s obviously going to be option #1 today when they face the nation’s best zone defense. Warren’s unique ability to knock down midrange jumpers is going to bother Syracuse. They make a living off forcing contested midrange shots from the middle of their zone. Most teams in America just don’t have guy tall enough or accurate enough to be able to hurt the Orange in this capacity, but NC State does. It’s not going to be simple to get the ball to TJ in the middle of that zone, but the guards need to use ball fakes, and quick reversals to open up some passing lanes. Once he’s got the ball in the middle, there is usually a little daylight. If Warren get hit a few of these early, he’ll make Syracuse pull in their zone a bit and it will look a lot more like a normal, less aggressive 2-3. Not sure that’s actually a good thing for State (since they’re only shooting 30% from 3pt range), but it’s what they’re going to have to overcome if they want to shock the world and pull off this win.
For Syracuse: CJ Fair
If State can score against this defense (which isn’t easy), then they can definitely make this a game. Syracuse isn’t a high scoring team and they rely a lot on CJ Fair for their offense. The NBA ready forward is averaging nearly 17 ppg and shooting 45% from the field. Fair can do it all. He’s long, lean and quick. He’s got a soft touch and he’s aggressive around the hoop. Leave him alone and he can knock it down from anywhere on the court. At 6’8 he’s likely going to be guarded by Warren, but TJ is going to have to play smart because Fair can get him into foul trouble pretty easily. Stopping Fair needs to be their #1 goal on defense, but it’s easier said than done.
Keys to the Game for NC State:
Be quick, decisive and aggressive against the zone
2-3 zones have a way of lulling a team to sleep. State has really struggled with that and have gone stagnant against nearly every 2-3 they’ve seen all year. That type of play is going to get your crushed against the Orange. As we pointed out in yesterday’s article, State doesn’t have any time to mess around with dribbling out top or holding the ball to survey the situation. They’re going to need to move the ball and move it fast. They’re going to have to trust their zone offense and trust that their guys are going to be where they’re supposed to be. They’re going to need to anticipate the Syracuse zone rotations and get guys open with quick pass fakes, crisp passes and fast ball movement. When they see a gap, there is no time to hesitate. They need to attack and attack strong. Dez Lee will likely be the most well suited of the guards to get into the lane and create havoc. If State wants to win, we’re going to need to see the most physical, focused performance of the season.
Tyler Lewis and Cat Barber need to key the offense
Neither guy is likely to have a big scoring night (unless somehow they get hot from 3pt range), but both are very important to the Wolfpack’s chances. The Orange is going to try to trap Lewis and really pressure him in this zone. Smaller guards often have trouble making point to point passes against this zone because of the length and wingspan of their guards. Lewis needs to use his smarts to his advantage. His ability to create misdirection with his passes and his ball fakes will be big for State, as well as his ability to calm the team down and stopping them from getting out of control or taking poor shots against the zone.
For Barber, they key is going to be to not over dribble. The reason Lewis has earned more playing time is because Barber has allowed the offense to get stagnant against zones. The ball doesn’t move as well when he’s in there because he likes to put it on the floor, attempt to attack and if it’s not there, make the pass. That’s not the way to beat a zone and it’s certainly not going to fly against Syracuse. Barber is going to have trust that moving the ball quickly will open up lanes for him, and at that point he can attack. Cat has started playing better recently and his shot seems to be coming around. The Pack is going to need a huge game from him today if they want to win against this longer, stronger Syracuse team.
Shoot it with confidence
Let’s be straight-up here. State isn’t going to win if they shoot the ball poorly. This isn’t a team that has made a living off great shooting nights. In fact, when State is forced to win from the outside, they rarely are able to do it. The good news is that they are coming off a game where they shot the ball extremely well. Against Wake they shot 53% and hit 45% of their 3s. That’s a huge step in the right direction and great to see at this point in the season. In fact, I don’t think that this team is full of bad shooters. I think they have good shooters who are questioning their shots and not trusting themselves. Lewis, Barber, Warren and Lee can all shoot. They all have good form and they all have shot well in their past, which makes me confident that at some point this shooting slump is going to end…hopefully that day is today.
Shut down the Syracuse guards
This one is huge. The Orange have two guards that I feel are playing way above their ceiling right now. Freshman Tyler Ennis is living on cloud 9 after his long game winner against Pitt and Sophomore Trevor Cooney is shooting the ball like he’s Scott Wood. Ennis is good, but he’s still a freshman. State needs to be very physical with him and not allow him to get where he wants to go. Cooney needs to be tracked, especially around the 3pt line. He’s shooting around seven 3’s per game and hitting at a 43% clip. He’s big and pretty strong, but nothing Dez Lee can’t handle. Gottfried is going to have a tough decision though. Does he go with Lee, who is certainly their best defensive stopper, or does he go with Turner who he really needs out there against this zone. It’s a tough call, but this is why Gott makes the big bucks.
State is going to need to play physical, control the boards and really have one of their best showings of the season. Syracuse is good, but I don’t think they’re good enough to go undefeated all season. They’re coming off a close win against Pitt and might already be looking forward to their next matchup with Duke (which is only a week away). If State can come out with aggression and focus, they could have a chance to get a win that would propel them into tournament bid come March.
NC State vs. UMES: BY THE NUMBERS
NC State defeated Maryland Eastern Shore 93-61 on Wednesday night. Here’s a look at the Wolfpack victory BY THE NUMBERS.
NC State dominated in all 4 Factors that lead to victory. They shot better, won the turnover battle, grabbed more offensive boards and got to the free throw line more.
Six NC State players scored in double figures. Last time that happened? March 6, 2020.
Junior Jayden Taylor led the Wolfpack in scoring with 21 points, shooting an impressive 8 of 11 from the field, and 3 of 5 from three. Over the past 2 games, Taylor is shooting 68% from the field and 63% from beyond the arc. Taylor has now led NC State in scoring in 3 of their 8 games, and is averaging a team high 14.9 points on the season. He is also shooting an insane 50% from deep, which is obviously a team high. What makes that number so impressive, is the fact he shot 32.6% from three last year at Butler.
Senior DJ Burns had 15 points, and was back to his normal self, shooting an efficient 7 of 9 from the field. Over the prior two games, Burns had made only 40% of his shots, which isn’t like him.
Senior Casey Morsell had 12 points on 4 of 8 shooting (1-4 3PT) and 5 rebounds. Morsell is shooting 36.1% from three on the year.
Sophomore MJ Rice made his NC State debut, and made the most of his 10 minutes of playing time, scoring 11 points and grabbing a team high 6 rebounds (2 offensive boards). He shot 5 of 6 from the field.
Sophomore LJ Thomas continued to provide a spark for the Pack, and like Rice, maximized his playing time, scoring 10 points in 9 minutes of play. He also had a team high 3 steals.
Senior DJ Horne had 10 points, shooting 4 of 7 from the field, and 2 of 5 from three-point land. Horne also led NC State with 4 assists, and now leads the team in assists on the year.
Junior Ben Middlebrooks picked up his first start of the season. Middlebrooks and Junior Mohamed Diarra ended up playing equal minutes (14). Diarra was seemingly more productive, with 8 points and 5 boards (averaging a team high 6.9), compared to Middlebrooks’ 2 points and 4 boards. Before you write off Middlebrooks’ impact in his first game as a starter, NC State was +23 with him on the court, which was a team high, compared to Diarra’s +7.
The Wolfpack will be back in action next Tuesday night in PNC Arena, against UT Martin at 7pm.
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!