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Offseason Basketball Preview: The Guards

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With TJ Warren, Tyler Lewis and Jordan Vandenberg gone, NC State basketball will have a very different look this season. We’ll be going position by position and talking about what you can expect and who we think will be stepping up to fill the voids.

In this installment we’ll be focusing on the guards.

Last Year’s Situation:
Coming into the season last year it seemed as if the guard position had some questions. State had a top tier PG coming in (Cat Barber) but also had a somewhat established youngster in Tyler Lewis. Lewis was definitely a fan favorite and a great floor leader, but his lack of athleticism and size left much to be desired for Gottfried. As for the 2 guard, that too was up in the air. Would Ralston Turner be able to provide enough versatility to play shooting guard or would State go with the more natural 2 guard in juco transfer Dez Lee. They also had the option of going with both Barber and Lewis at the same time.

Long story short, it all ended up being a mess. Lewis’ play dipped, Barber got hot and Gott went with the freshman. Barber then hit the freshman wall and needed to turn back to Lewis, who at this point had lost nearly all of his confidence. The two also did not especially like being on the floor together since neither felt their talents were showcased at the 2. Dez Lee was another guy whose season ended up being marred with inconsistencies. Lee started off strong and seemed as if he’d transition into being a pure scorer, but disappeared for much of the second half of the season. In the end it was only Ralston Turner who seemed to lock in his spot and really figure things out. Turner became State’s go-to scorer after Warren, averaging over 10 ppg and knocking down 37% of his 3s.

This Year’s Situation:
A lot has changed on the guard front. For one, Lewis left to play at Butler where he will be the only lead guard and not have the pressure of sharing time with Barber. As for Barber, reports are coming in that he has a renewed confidence and obviously has a brand new body. Check out the picture above (posted by NC State Basketball about a month ago)…Barber is stacked, folks. Talk about working in the weight room this offseason! This is what we talked about all last year  wanting to see from Tyler Lewis. Barber has gotten serious about his body and it’s certainly going to pay off. Building his upper body and giving himself more shoulder-width will allow him to create more space, absorb contact better, and finish at the rim against bigger, stronger defenders. This is really what you want to see out of your starting PG. They are handing him the reigns and he is preparing for those responsibilities. Expect big things from Cat this season.

Oh, and on another note… Barber will be wearing #12 this season. (Tyler Lewis’ old number)

Backing up Barber (and possibly starting at the 2) will be Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey. I’ve seen Lacey play on many occasions and love his game. He’s a solid scorer with a consistent shot and range beyond the arc. He’s definitely not as athletic or quick as Cat, but he will be a viable back-up for Gottfried and the Wolfpack. Now, before we go on I do want to make a quick statement. Everyone is talking about Lacey as a guy who is going to step in and take over for Warren. While I really think Lacey has great scoring ability and has the opportunity to be a very good player in this league, he isn’t Warren. He’s not going to go out and score 20 per night. Lacey is more than a role player, but he’s not a bonafide superstar yet by any means. I’m not saying he won’t lead this team in scoring, but I just want to be more realistic as to what you can expect. Don’t fall into the old State-fan trap of crowning some guy that hasn’t played a minute for your team, especially when he really hasn’t been a truly dominant player over his first 2 seasons of college ball.

So if Barber and Lacey are starting, what happens to Dez Lee and Ralston Turner? Well for one, you’re starting to see that this team actually has some depth at the guard position. I think you’ll see this team go to more of a 3 guard line-up with Turner at the 3 at times. You will also surely see Turner at the 2 on occasion, but it will be interesting to see how this shakes out. With Turner and Lacey on the court, you will have 2 guys that can really fill it up. Add in the fact that Barber will likely take a step forward as a shooter and you have a very dangerous backcourt. I do wonder where Lee fits in. I know there will be minutes for him to take, but he’ll have to really battle for them and carve out a slot for himself as their go-to on the ball defender. I think that is where he can provide the most value. On the same token, I think Dez can also be a big part of this offense if he can show more consistency. However, with Turner and Lacey vying for the same minutes, there are going to be some serious battles in the Dail Center.

Before you start wondering why we’re not mentioning Cody or Caleb Martin, it’s because I don’t think either of those guys are true guards. Cody is definitely not a 2 and although Caleb likes to list himself as a 2, I think he’ll end up seeing more time at the wing. That being said, I think this year’s guards/wings are going to kind of blend together. Turner and Caleb Martin are pretty similar in the way they play (with Caleb having the higher ceiling). We’ll certainly dissect this situation more in our next segment where we examine the wings.

 

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NC State Basketball

OUR TAKE: On NC State’s selfless win over William & Mary

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Another cupcake game, another huge blowout. This NC State team continues to take care of business, finishing off the Tribe 85-64.

The win is great and all, but a notch in the win column over W&M isn’t all that impressive. What is impressive, however, is the way this team is winning. This team can, and has beaten teams in so many different ways. Whatever the game has called for, NC State has had the answer.

Against Dayton, they needed to match their physicality and their experience. They did that, outrebounding a bigger, stronger Dayton team 34-28 and relying on  Jarkel Joiner to keep the team focused and playing at their pace. (Joiner also went for 27 points).

Against Butler they needed to neutralize Manny Bates and expose their lack of depth inside. They did this with Mahorcic and Burns going for a combined 27 points and limiting Bates to just 8 points.

Then last night, against a William and Mary team who was scrappy and active on defense, and throwing double teams at NC State, they had to pass their way into easy buckets. They did this with 18 assists (W&M only had 8). The Pack was led by Terquavion Smith’s 7 assists, while his backcourt mate, Joiner, dished out 6. Even Dusan Mahorcic got in the action with 3.

The point I’m making is that the whole reason I’ve been so bullish on this NC State team from the get-go is that I recognized this versatility. The game of basketball is about matchups. Any small mismatch can put a lot of pressure on an entire team. Look at it like a chain. If one link of the chain is broken, the entire chain is no good. Same goes for basketball, if one defender can’t stay in front of his man, or one big can’t handle the guy he’s guarding, you need help. When a guy rotates over in help side, it creates a series of events that all have to go perfectly if you want to stop your opposition from scoring. The next guy over needs to recognize one of his teammates leaving for help, he then needs to rotate to the guy that was just left, meaning the next guy over has to rotate. All of this rotation is what makes up team defense, and as much as you teach team defense, these 19-year-olds are not going to be able to stay focused enough to consistently make the right read.

That’s why having no mismatches is key. It eliminates a lot of problems you may have on the defensive end. Last year there were mismatches all over the floor. We didnt have a PG who could stop these lighting quick guards from getting to the rim. When they got to the rim, we didn’t have an interior guy who could be relied upon to protect the basket. And then you had an undersized Hellems at the 4, who many teams attacked in the post.

A good coach looks for these mismatches and exploits them.

This team, however, is really hard to get a mismatch again. Joiner can guard any quick PG and he’s big and strong enough to bang with a stronger, thicker PG. Smith is long enough and quick enough to stay in front of most 2 guards. Morsell, NC State’s best overall defender, can guard pretty much anyone at the 3 with his size, strength, and understanding of defensive positioning. At the 4 you have Jack Clark, who has been huge for this team’s defense. He’s 6’8, mobile and athletic, and he’s a pretty gritty kid who doesn’t mind contact in the post. Then you have the bigs. Dusan is a horse. If you need a banger or enforcer, he’s your guy. Then you have Burns, who’s size alone makes him tough to move around. You saw Bates struggle with Burns sheer size. Bates is tall, springy, and long, but he’s got a thin frame. Sure he’s packed on lean muscle, but lean muscle ain’t moving a guy like Burns. The only thing I saw that could really hurt the Pack is super tall 3 who can hang on the perimeter and get shots off over Morsell (Like Grady Dick), or a really athletic, undersized big. I thought KJ Adams would probably cause problems, but he didn’t.  Mahorcic is a lot more nimble than I was expecting, and I’m not as concerned as I was on that front.

Getting back to this game, NC State moved the ball well, ramped up the defense after a slow first 5 minutes, and overwhelmed the Tribe with size and speed.

Here are a few things that really stood out to me…

Casey Morsell is on fire. Morsell went off again for 23 points on 8-12 shooting and 6-9 from 3-point range. He’s not shooting 53% from long range which is absolutely insane seeing as he’s shot 47 3’s (he’s hit 25 of those). In fact, Morsell shot 100 3’s last year and only hit 35 all season long. That’s still 35% which isn’t all that bad, but he’s going to eclipse that number over the next few games, and we’re only just entering ACC play. And this isn’t some random hot streak, in my opinion. Morsell is hitting 3s at home on the road (so far only in the Atlantis Ballroom, which is supposed to be a tough place to shoot). He’s also cleaned up his form. He’s not thinking about it as much,  you can tell. No more hitches at the top like last year. He’s always had good form, but now he’s got confidence and he’s just letting it fly without focusing on mechanics. That’s a sign of a ton of offseason work and a coach that has given you the green light. Morsell knocking down open 3s is huge. Pairing him with 2 guards who defenders need to focus on is going to leave him open. He’s now taking advantage. (Note that Morsell was a 4-star recruit who started day 1 at UVA. He was known for his offense in HS, so him finding his offense isn’t too hard to believe.)

Terquavion Smith is still settling into his new role. Last year Smith and Seabron was all NC State had. He could have a one-track mind on scoring. I don’t think people give enough credit to point guards. When you play basketball, most of the time you have a defined role. Just score. Or just rebound and score. There isn’t that many decisions to make. Open? Shoot. Guarded? Pass. But a PG or someone looking to get his teammates involved has way more going on in their head. Open? Shoot? How open? Could we get a better shot? Is anyone open? Should I slow it down? What’s the situation, pace, who is hot? Do they need me to score?

Bring able to turn that on and off is something only the most elite PGs in the world can do at a high level. Now, Terquavion Smith is being asked to add some of that to his game and as good as he is, it’s a transition. This is the first time in his life he’s not just a scorer. Sure, there were times when double teams came, that he’d dish off for a bucket, but setting guys up and making these split-second decisions every time down the floor is a process. What you’re seeing is Smith getting used to that process. He’s actually putting up great overall numbers. He’s averaging 16.1 points, leading the team with 5 .3 assists per game and grabbing 3 boards per game. He’s hitting 39% of his shots, which is where he was at last season, but he’s only hitting 33% for his 3s, down from 37%, but his assists are up from 2.1 to 5.3. His turnovers are also up from 1.7 last year to 3.1 this year.

So what do you make of this? Well, Smith is going to start hitting more 3s eventually, but his FG% is on par with last year. His assists are way up, and in comparison, Markell Johnson, NC State’s 3rd overall in career assists averaged 5.1 assists per game for his career and 2.45 turnovers per game. If Smith can knock down a few more threes and clean up a few turnovers, then he’ll be an elite scorer who is creating opportunities for his teammates at the pace of some of the best PGs in NC State history.

Greg Gantt finally got some significant run and looked pretty darn good. He got 9 minutes in this one and looks like he’ll really provide some value on the boards. He’s physical has a high motor and reall was active on defense. He’s pretty thick and strong, so he might start eating into Ernest Ross’s minutes here soon. Ross has been given a lot of opportunities, but he hasn’t shown much just yet. Gantt hit a long 2 (initially ruled a 3) but also airballed a floater. I think it will be a few games before we see what Gantt brings to the table offensively, but he’s already proving he can give Keatts some good minutes on defense.

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Kevin Keatts Postgame Press Conference After William & Mary Victory: BULLETED

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NC State Men’s Basketball head coach Kevin Keatts met with the media tonight after the Wolfpack’s 85-64 victory over William & Mary 85-64. You can watch it here, or check out a BULLETED breakdown below.

  • We did some really good things.
    • What I’m really proud of is 18 assists on 31 made field goals.
      • Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner are really playing unselfish basketball.
        • When you look at the 2 of those guys, they had 13 assists, and I think this was a career high for Terquavion.
        • He sacrificed a little bit in scoring, but what’s happening in front of us is that we’re starting to see a little bit more of a complete player.
    • Our energy was good once we got going.
    • Our bench was incredible.
      • Some guys came in and did a really good job.
    • It was a good win, and we move on.
  • The way I look at it right now, I’ve got 6 starters.
    • For this game, I wanted to go with DJ Burns over Dusan Mahorcic, and both of those guys are going to end up playing half the game anyway.
    • It’s just a matter of who starts and who I sub first.
    • I’m getting away from all the superstitious stuff.
  • It’s the reality of it [not being in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge]. Someone’s not going to be in it. We’re just not in it, and it didn’t bother me at all.
    • I’m rooting for our conference to do well, and I can’t wait to get out of here and check the scores.
    • I know we started off 2-0.
    • I don’t know who won today, but I will watch some of the games.
    • It’s not about that. When you’re playing against another conference, all your excitement is just for our other teams to do well.
  • [How they would have done if they were in it this year] Well, I will say this…since I’ve been here, we’ve been fortunate enough to be 3-1 in the Challenge, but we won’t know.
    • We’re not in it. I’m rooting for every ACC team in the next 2 or 3 days.
  • We’re doing some good things. Do I think we still have a long way to go in certain areas? Absolutely.
    • It’s early. It’s a little bit early for a conference game, but the reality of it is that we have to play on Friday.
    • We’ve grown in the last 2 or 3 weeks. We’ve gotten better.
    • The Bahamas helped us, playing 3 really good teams back-to-back.
    • I like some of the things we’re doing.
    • We’re going to take the next couple of days to try to get better and get ready for Pitt.
  • He’s [Casey Morsell] been working.
    • I think it’s the 2nd time this year that he’s made 6 three-pointers, and you love to see a kid who puts in the work and works on those shots every day for it to go in.
    • That’s added a really big dimension to our offense.
    • I don’t think he ever thought he was a defensive guy.
      • That’s probably why he’s here.
      • He’s a great kid who works hard. He’s turning into a great 2-way player.
  • I knew I was getting an energy guy [Dusan Mahorcic].
    • He’s all about what NC State’s about. He’s a hard-head guy.
    • He brings it every day. He’s the type of guy you cheer for.
    • He’s going to get on the floor, he’s going to block a shot, and he’s going to jump up and down.
    • He’s tailor-made for what our program’s about.
  • If I were you, I wouldn’t challenge him on that [that Mahorcic describes his game as tough]. I don’t know if you’re ready for that.

Box Score

ACCDN Highlight Reel & Condensed Game

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Men’s Basketball: NC State 85 William & Mary 64: ACCDN Highlight Reel & Condensed Game

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The NC State Men’s Basketball team defeated William & Mary 85-64 tonight, improving to 7-1. You can check out the Box Score here. Below is the ACC Digital Network’s Highlight Reel and Condensed Game.

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Men’s Basketball: NC State 85 William & Mary 64: BOX SCORE

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NC State improved to 7-1 tonight, defeating William & Mary 85-64. Below is the Box Score.

Casey Morsell continued shredding the net, with a team high 23 points. He shot 8-12 from the field and and absurd 6 of 9 from three.

Terquavion Smith had yet another poor shooting performance (3-11 FG), but finished 2nd on the team with 13 points, and had a team high 7 assists, with only 1 turnover. That ratio is a great improvement for Lil T.

Jack Clark was efficient, scoring 12 points on 5 0f 8 shooting from the field, and 2 of 4 from deep. He also had 6 rebounds and tied for the team high in steals, with 3.

Dusan Mahorcic continued to impress, chipping in 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting, and led the team with 9 boards.

Jarkel Joiner is good at basketball, filling the stat sheet with 11 points (5 of 11 FG), 4 rebounds, 6 assists (3 TO) and 3 steals.

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