NC State used a balance attack led by Caleb Martin and Cat Barber to get back on track with a win over South Alabama 88-70.
Early on it looked like the Pack’s opening season loss was going to bleed over into this game. Quick shots, turnovers and lack luster defense allowed the Jaguars to stay close throughout the first half, but things changed after the break.
Suddenly Cat Barber became more assertive, Caleb Martin started finding his groove and the Wolfpack offense started to click. As the offense started to take shape, the defensive intensity began to spike as well. Instead of moving the ball around the perimeter and settling for a contested jumper, Barber began to attack. When defenders adjusted he was able to kick to the open man or find a big underneath. Gottfried also got them to start trusting his high-low attack. They began running it through the high post, which opened up opportunities for the bigs in the low post. Some deft interior passing started leading to open looks, and uncontested slams on the blocks. When South Alabama adjusted and collapsed on the bigs, the perimeter looks started to open up.
This is the type of offense that NC State is going to need to trust going forward. Gone is Trevor Lacey, who bailed the Pack out with his ability to create off the dribble, but that might not be as bad as it sounds. State is now going to need to trust Gottfried’s offense to get open looks, and the faster they understand that, the quicker they’ll become a factor in the ACC.
Let’s take a look at some of the positive notes from last nights win:
In game one, and in the first half of this one, Barber was much too patient. He looked like the Cat from early last season, complacent and ok with simply moving the ball from point to point. Barber is at his best when he’s getting into the paint and making plays. He doesn’t necessarily need to get to rim on his drives, he just needs to get his man on his shoulder and demand weak side help. He started doing this in the 2nd half last night and as expected, the offense opened up. Barber had a huge game, going for 17 pts, 12 boards and 8 assists. This is the Barber that State will need if they are going to succeed.
Abu was a monster in game one and again in game 2. He is just such a force down low, especially when he’s guarded by an under-sized opponent. In only 20 minutes of play (foul trouble) he put up 14 points and 6 boards. This team really needs him playing at a high level at all times. Sure, he’s going to dominate in the post, but he’s also such a disruptor at the high post. While he surely can knock down open jumpers from there, in the 2nd half you saw him applying pressure to the defense by putting it on the floor or finding the low post dump down for a 1 on 1 opportunity with no help.
Finally, we got to see all the hard work Beejay put in this offseason. He looked quicker, more agile and more confident in the post and on defense. He finished with 8 points, 5 boards and 5 blocks, but his play really ignited this team. With him and Abu on the floor there is certain to be mismatches. He was able to take the high-low dump downs and turn them into points. This is where, on offense, he’s going to flourish.
Two games and two great performances by Caleb, who is now looking like a true scoring threat for the Pack. He had 19 points on 7-10 shooting (4-6 from beyond the arc) and really looked good. Sure, he had a huge night in game one, but as we said after that game, he’s going to need to show more discipline in his shot selection. Against W&M he took a lot of shots out of the flow of the offense and while some went in, the misses really deflated their rhythm. Against South Alabama he was much, much better. He took good shots, attacked when he could and looked like a true scorer out there. His form is vastly improved and if he takes smart shots, he’s going to be filling up the stat sheets on the regular basis. This was a very encouraging performance from Caleb.
Next up is IUPUI in Raleigh on 11/18. This only gives Gottfried and his guys two days of rest and prep before taking to the floor again. If they can show as much improvement in that one as they showed against Southern Alabama, then we might be looking at a young team that is ready to take on some bigger challenges.
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.