Tonight NC State plays the biggest game of their season as they take on #1 seeded Villanova in the round of 32. For many teams this would be the toughest game they’ve played all season, but not the Wolfpack. With the ACC so strong this season State has faced both Duke and Virginia twice, two teams who are arguably better than Villanova this season. So it’s not like State is going to come out and just be overwhelmed by talent, however Nova poses a threat that is a little unique. This is a team that has dominant guards. A team that has shoots the ball very well and is completely unselfish. They are a tough matchup, but actually are kind of similar to State. Here are our keys to the Wolfpack pulling off the upset.
Handle Their Guards
This is really the biggest thing. Nova relies Dylan Ennis, Darrun Hilliard, and Ryan Arcidiacono. Ennis is the guy that creates. He’s a steady PG who is their true defensive stopper. He will certainly guard Lacey and at 6’2 could really bother him. Hilliard is the scorer. He’s averaging 14ppg and can score in a variety of ways. The 6’6 senior is certainly going to be a tough guard for NC State. He can shoot is over top and he can use his size to take to the rim. Stopping Hilliard needs to be priority for Gottfried and company. After that you have Arcidiacono. He’s averaging 10ppg and 4 boards. He too is shooting around 38% and can really heat up of he gets going. Those 3 guys are a handful, but that’s not all their guards. Aside form these main three you have sixth man Josh Hart. Hart is another one of these giant guards. He’s 6’5 and is also averaging 10ppg. He doesn’t shoot a ton of 3s, but he’ll light you up if you don’t watch out. He’s hitting 47% from outside.
So as you see this is a team of big guards that can all shoot, pass and attack the rim. They are good, but State has some pretty good guards themselves. One thing Lacey and Turner will have to do is keep the Nova backcourt out of the lane. Ralston has had trouble keeping guys in front of him and if that happens here you might see a little more of the Martins in this one.
On offense State is going to have to move the basketball. So often State is trying to go one on one and isolate Lacey. Nova is too big for Lacey to do that and their length is going to make it hard for Turner to get clean looks. One guy that could have huge game is Cat Barber. The uber-quick PG is a mismatch for Nova, who really doesn’t have anyone to match his speed. He’ll need to get into the lane and create havoc if State wants a chance to win this.
Win the Front Court Battle
This is where State COULD surprise some people. Nova has the experienced bigs in Pinkston and Ochefu, but State’s bigs might be turning the corner right at the right time. Abu is becoming a go-to guy in the post with his athleticism and physicality and you better believe Anya is feeling real confident after his game winner. But an x-factor here is Kyle Washington. The sophomore finally got back in the swing of things last game and gave the Pack a boost they sorely needed. This team really need Kyle’s intensity, hustle and ability to bring their bigs out of paint with this jumpers. He adds a different dimension to the Wolfpack and if he has a big night, Nova may not have an answer.
Play With Fire
The Pack can’t come out lackadaisical like they did against LSU. They’ve played well as world beaters this season, so there is a good chance they’ll come out hyped. They need to be in passing lanes, locking down on the ball, rotating quick on help-side D and closing out on shooters under control. If they can play smart and play with some conviction then the Pack has a real chance to shock the world.
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!