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Pack Heads to the Garden to Take on #22 WVU



NC State vs. #22 West Virginia
9:30 PM | Madison Square Garden, NYC | ESPN2

In arguable the most historic basketball venue, NC State is getting set to face off against West Virginia tonight at 9:30pm.

The Bob Huggins led Mountaineers are off to a great start. Ranked #22 in the nation, these guys are 9-1 and already have a win over #17 UConn and bring to the table the #1 ranked defense in the nation. Averaging 13.7 steals per game and forcing turnovers on over 30% of their opponents possessions, the Mountaineers will be a tough challenge for the Pack.

The good news is that NC State is coming off of a hard fought win over another very physical, very defensive team in Tennessee. But West Virginia isn’t just a one sided coin. They also have an offense that ranks 28th in the nation in points per game. They do it with the help of All-American PG Juwan Staten. Staten is a 6’1 senior who averages 15 points and 4 assists per game. He does it by creating off the dribble, getting to the rim or knocking down a midrange jumper. He’s only shooting about two 3s per game, so he’s not trying to beat you from beyond the arc. State will have to limit Staten’s penetration if they want a shot in this one.

How West Virginia does it…
WVU isn’t a one man show by any means. They have 3 guys averaging in double figures and two more guys getting more than 7 per game. They are led by Staten, but they also have 6’7 senior Jonathan Holton and 6’9 senior forward Devin Williams. These guys are strong, active and talented. Like any Bob Huggins led team, they are going to be scrappy, in your face and very physical. They like to generate offense off of their turnovers, so protecting the basketball is going to be paramount. They also aren’t going to shoot you out of the gym. Their best options from the perimeter are Staten and Daxter Miles Jr, both of whom are shooting a pedestrian 35% from 3. Stopping the penetration and keeping their bigs from getting too deep should be two areas of emphasis for the Wolfpack defense.

How State can win…
Stopping Staten will be a start. He’s a shoot first PG who is trying hard to become more of a floor general. If State can can keep him from going off, they will have a real shot at winning this game. Defense is going to be huge, but getting going offensively is going to be the bigger task. WVU plays crazy defense. They are in passing lanes, going for steals and playing very physical basketball. The Pack did a great job of handling this kind of defense from Tennessee, but the Mountaineers bring it to the next level. Cat Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner are going to have to be very strong with the basketball. No weak passes, no letting their guard down, because the minute they do, the Mountaineers will jump all over them.

Huggins group is also a big, strong rebounding group and the Wolfpack bigs are going to need to step up tonight. Anya needs to stay out of foul trouble and Abu, Washington and Freeman are going to have to ready to fight on the glass. Meanwhile, this might be a nice matchup for Abu. He has been coming on strong and this is a game where his motor and physicality can really come in handy.

State is holding opponents to around 36% shooting, which is really good and they have a chance to do that again against the Mountaineers. As a collective group they simply are struggling shooting the basketball. If they aren’t getting to the rim or controlling the offensive glass, they can go through long stretches of sloppy offensive basketball. State needs to make sure this happens tonight by pestering the guards and really not backing down to the physicality of the bigs.


Key Players for State….
Cat Barber‘s play is going to be huge. I thought he played the best game of his young career against Tennessee. It wasn’t so much the stat line, although he did have 8 assists and only 1 TO, but he also played smart basketball and made good decisions all night long. Barber only shot the ball 3 times, and all 3 were good shots. This is the type of game we’ll need to see out of him tonight. Sure, there will be times when he needs to score it, but he is starting to understand his strengths and weaknesses and play accordingly. Protecting the ball and getting it to the right people at the right time will go a long way in leaving NYC with a victory tonight.

Trevor Lacey is another guy who obviously will be big for the Pack. State is doing a better job of running their offense and getting good looks, but against WVU it’s going to be tougher. They’re not going to be getting a ton of clean looks like they did against Tennessee last time out. They’re going to have to work for their buckets and when things get out of control (and they will with the frantic pressure of the Mountaineers) it’s going to have to be Lacey isolating and scoring.

Anya/Abu – These guys were a great combo against Tennessee and they’re going to be a big part of whatever happens tonight. West Virginia is going to attack inside and Anya and Abu need to be physical enforcers who both protect the rim and own the glass. If the guards can slow down Staten and the Abu and Anya can match the intensity and physicality of their bigs, State has a great shot at this one.

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NC State Basketball

Wolferetti: Feed me my crow. NC State lost to Creighton and I’m here to break it down (and admit I was wrong)



I was wrong.

I thought this matchup was a good one for NC State. I watched a lot of Creighton this year and to me, they looked like a team that NC State could roll over. Let me explain why.

I knew a few things. I knew Nembhard was a PG that could get a little out of control if sped up. I knew with a little defense and physicality, Sheierman could be made uncomfortable. I knew Kalkbrenner was a good defender but was going to sink on the pick-and-roll to protect the basket.

Joiner’s pull up just wouldn’t fall

I figured that Joiner, the pull-up king would be taking that DJ Burns screen, getting to the middle, and pulling up as Kalkbrenner sank. I figured Smith would exploit this as well. Well, turns out Joiner was off and couldn’t get his pull-up game going and Smith, well yeah Smith did exploit this pretty well.

Burns didn’t look like Burns

The other thing I’d figure would happen is that I thought DJ Burns would really frustrate Kalkbrenner. If you’ve looked at games where Kalkbrenner had to face a really good, physical back-to-the-basket big man, those bigs usually had pretty good games in the scoring column.  I honestly don’t understand what happened to Burns in this one. Sure he got a few stupid early fouls, but before he even picked up a foul he looked out of it. With no double teams coming, Burns is usually calculated, slowly backing you down and hitting you with a flurry of head fakes, pump fakes or spins. If the big doesn’t bite, Burns can fade away, go with a contested hook shot, or pass out.

In this game, Burns looked sped up for some reason. The first time he got the ball he quickly backed in and threw up a hook that rattled out. Not awful, but usually you see him probe a little more. Then the next time he didn’t even look for contact, instead, he threw up a little floater that didn’t fall. While neither were awful shots, both were uncharacteristic of Burns. On top of those things, he looked absolutely gassed within minutes of coming in. My guess is that it was the altitude, but either way, it took a toll on him.

Whatever it was, it had him frustrated and he had two really bad fouls where he just shoved Kalkbrenner (he also had a phantom foul that was ridiculous). That said, it just wasn’t his night and this made NC State a lot more one-dimensional.

Casey Morsell came to play, but this NC State roster just wasn’t built to get a guy like him going, which is a shame. Jarkel Joiner was a huge reason why NC State got to where they got. His scoring ability, his speed and his toughness and leadership skill were huge. But Joiner is a scoring guard, and great basketball teams need POINT guards.

What is a point guard, and why can’t we have one?

A point guard isn’t just a guy who dribbles it down. It’s a guy who understands the games within the games. Guys who dictate pace, call plays (sets) and are essentially coaches on the floor. NC State and Kevin Keatts never had that this season, and while you can get a long way with scoring guards and good big men, you’ll never compete for anything of worth until you prioritize the skill set of a true point guard. I think that has been NC State’s problem for years, and I find it kind of insane that coach after coach falls into this idea of having a scoring guard play as a PG for more offense to get on the court.

This is no shot at Jarkel, either. The guy was one of my favorite players to watch on this team, but it just is what it is. He is a scoring guard who happens to be slotting in at PG. When you see Keatts bring in a guy whose priority is getting his guys open and dictating pace, then you can start to believe that this program may be close to arriving. Until then, sneaking into the tournament and hoping guys get hot hands is as good as it gets.

Look at Kihei Clark (Virginia’s PG). I know it’s not a great time to be talking about Clark, whose errant pass ended up losing the game for Virginia on Thursday, but look at Clark’s build.5’10, 170lbs. Look at his stats. Mid-30s shooting % from 3. Hight 70s from the FT line. The guy is nothing special when it comes to the numbers, but he’s a leader and he distributes the basketball to the right guys at the right time. Tony Bennett has started Clark for 4 years despite the fact that he’s coaching a team that is always in the running to win the ACC and won a national championship less than 5 years ago.  He could replace Clark with an elite, tall, athlete at any moment. But he doesn’t. Why? Because he understands what I’m talking about. It’s a puzzle that coaches need to put together, and one piece of that puzzle is a guy like this.

I was wrong about this game. I thought things would play out differently. They didn’t. I’m not blaming anyone in particular, but the makeup of this team vs. the makeup of teams that play deep into March are different. Maybe this is step one to getting there. We’ll have to see how the roster shapes up next season.

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NC State Basketball

VIDEO: NC State falls to Creighton 72-63 in first round of NCAA Tournament | Extended Highlights & Box Score

NC State came out flat, DJ Burns looked gassed, and for the most part, the Pack looked shell-shocked vs. Creighton from the opening tip. However, Terquavion Smith is excluded from all of that. He was amazing and in what was likely his final game at NC State, he kept the Pack afloat, dropping 32 points on 12-25 shooting. In the end, it wasn’t enough as their big man, 7’1 Ryan Kalkbrenner went for 31.



NC State came out flat, DJ Burns looked gassed, and for the most part, the Pack looked shell-shocked vs. Creighton from the opening tip. However, Terquavion Smith is excluded from all of that. He was amazing and in what was likely his final game at NC State, he kept the Pack afloat, dropping 32 points on 12-25 shooting. In the end, it wasn’t enough as their big man, 7’1 Ryan Kalkbrenner went for 31.

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NC State Basketball

VIDEO: Smith, Joiner and Keatts talk in postgame press conference

Terquavion Smith, Jarkel Joiner and Kevin Keatts meet with the media after 72-63 loss to Creighton in the NCAA Tournament.



Terquavion Smith, Jarkel Joiner and Kevin Keatts meet with the media after 72-63 loss to Creighton in the NCAA Tournament.

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NC State Basketball

Wolferetti: 3 reasons why NC State is going to win today



God bless these guys over here at PI. I submitted this article to them this morning and got this back.

“Joey, this is a good piece, but are you sure you want to come out and say that NC State is going to win? Why not just do a ‘keys to the game.’ or something? Hedge your bets. Why are you always wanting to put your reputation on the line?”

To that I say, “Nah, I’m good. I want my reputation on the line. What fun is this if I’m not callin’ it like I see it?”

Look, they’ve been worried about me stating outlandish opinions before. Like when I said after game #1, after I first laid eye on this team, that it was going to be a team that will flirt with or get into the Top 25? I got hammered for that, but was I right? And today I’m back on my prediction tip, telling you that NC State will survive and advance. And here are my 3 reasons why.

1. Creighton hasn’t fared well against teams with great Turnover Margins.

If Creighton has a glaring weakness, it’s turnover margin.

NC State’s turnover margin ranks 16th in the NCAA. Creighton’s is a miserable 291st. This means Creighton turns the ball over a lot and doesn’t create many turnovers. Meanwhile, NC State is the exact opposite. They create a lot of turnovers and really protect the basketball. This statistic right here is going to play a major role. The Creighton guards, especially Nembhard, can get sped up, and when they do, they can get sloppy and out of control. Meanwhile, Joiner and Smith flourish at top speed.

Let’s look at the one team that Creighton lost to every time they played them (and played them multiple times). That team is Marquette.

What do Marquette and NC State have in common? Well, they are both Top 20 in the nation in Turnover Margin. Marquette ranks #3 in the NCAA while the Pack is 16th. Creighton turned it over 18 times in their first meeting at Marquette. The second time these two teams met, Creighton turned it over 15 times.

The other teams they faced in the Top 50 of Turnover Margin in the nation?

#39 Arizona State
#10 Texas

That’s it. And guess what, Creighton lost every single one of those games. They have yet to beat a team in the Top 50 in Turnover Margin.

Reminder. NC State ranks 16th.

2. Large, back-to-the-basket bigs have fared well against Creighton

6’9, 245lb, Adama Sanogo from UConn dropped 17 against them in a win.

6’9, 215lb, Oso Ighodaro from Marquette dropped 16 on them in their first meeting, and then 18 in their second.

6’7, 220lb, Bryce Hopkins from Providence scored 20 on them in both meetings. One of which was a win.

All of these guys are big, strong, back-to-the-basket bigs and all of them bullied their way to huge games again Creighton.

In all 3 instances, Creighton refused to double-team on most possessions and the big men ate. So how will they deal with a big that is bigger than any of these guys?

DJ Burns is 6’9, 275lbs and he’s going to be a focal point for NC State in this game. If Creighton opts to play Burns straight up, history says they are going to have a long night and Burn is going to have a big game.

3. Creighton hasn’t seen guards like Joiner and Smith

Sure Creighton has quick guards. Nembhard, the 6’0 PG rarely gets a matchup where he doesn’t have a quickness advantage. Today, against Joiner, he won’t have one. There is so much talk about Creighton’s guards bottling up their opponents, but watch them play and you’ll see that they simply haven’t had to face guys like Joiner or Smith. Creighton will allow the floor to be spread and will not fight against playing this game at a fast pace, and those are the types of games we’ve seen the NC State guards feast.

Creighton is a very good team. They have some very good pieces, but I just think they’ve found themselves in a matchup that isn’t very good for them despite being data-darlings. I could be wrong, but to me, this looks like a game where people are reading off statistics and making assumptions without watching film. Without looking at each team’s Achilles heel. And without really breaking down the matchups.

I think this is a really good matchup for the Pack and I think I’ll be back talking to you in about 24 hours looking at who the guys will play on Sunday.

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