Another game of NC State at full strength, another impressive win. The Wolfpack used big games from Terry Henderson and Dennis Smith Jr to topple the Stags 99-78.
Better spacing leads to hot shooting night
NC State shot 53% from the floor and 52% from 3 point range in the victory. Henderson hit 6-10 from beyond the arc (finished with 25pts) and Dennis Smith went 5-7 from 3point range (finished with 17 points). You also had Abu going 6-9 from the field, Yurtseven going 6-11 and Dorn going 3-6.
So yeah, you get the point. The team was hitting their shots. But this was more than a team that had a good night, it was the product of good, clean, open looks. You are starting to see just how valuable Omer Yurtseven is. All of the sudden the team is dying to dump it down to him or find him in the middle of the zone. The reason is, he’s a playmaker. He’s not a black hole in the post. Yurt is catching the ball and reading the situation. Most of the time he’s drawing attention and kicking it out for open shots, but sometimes if the help is late, he’s making them pay by scoring.
This type of ‘point-center’ brings an entirely new wrinkle to the Wolfpack offense and literally changes this basketball team. The spacing and opportunity that this kid is creating just with his presence is enough to make nights like this not so surprising.
Abu showing signs of resurgence
We’ve been admittedly hard on Malik Abu this season. I mean, it’s not like his stats have been bad at all, it’s just that Abu has NBA level talent, and he has the ability to literally take over the game on the inside. But this season, we’ve seen him turn into more of a midrange shooter and someone who is not as interested in mixing it up physically in the paint. We wondered if it was him trying to stay out of foul trouble, or him wanting to showcase his jumper a little more.
Whatever it was, it seems like he’s done with it and back to beasting. Sure, he still took a few midrange jumpers, and you know what, he’s actually making them this season, so you can’t complain. However, in this one, we saw him start really playing more physical. He attacked the rim and played a little more with his back to the basket at times. This versatility is what makes him so special. He needs to show teams he can abuse them in the paint, and then step out every now and then to flash his jumper. With Yurtseven in the fold, it allows Abu to play his natural position and really gives him much more space to work. Offensively it was good to see him attacking and playing in the role that he’s been so successful with in his year at NC State.
It wasn’t only on offense where we thought Abu looked better. It was also on the boards. He was much more active in this one finishing with a team-high 8. Overall, a big step forward for Malik in this one.
Roles are starting to be defined
The keys to this season are going to be less about wins and losses at this point, and more about improvements and team building. This year Gottfried has a young team with very little true veteran leadership. The good news is that the schedule has been pretty easy. This is giving the team time to figure themselves out, find their roles, and get used to playing together.
With the team back at full strength, you are starting to see real roles emerge. Smith Jr is fitting in nicely as a lead guard who can and will score. He is really getting good at picking his spots and scoring within the flow. Henderson and Dorn have really not had too much trouble figuring out their roles. Henderson seems to have taken a little more of a scoring role as of late, and Dorn, who started the season red-hot, has since taken his foot off the gas a bit. These two will likely fluctuate in their shot totals and final scoring numbers but make no mistake, both are probably going to be near the top of the scoring leaders at season’s end.
Rowan is still a wild card at this point. Not so much a wild card in the sense of you don’t know what he’s gong to give you. I think that is very clear. I think it’s still to be seen how much he’s relied upon to score. Right now he’s coming off of a 3 week hiatus (due to concussion), and is being eased back into shape. In his absence, NC State has gotten big time minutes from Henderson, Dorn and Smith. Rowan at full strength will just add another capable scorer to the mix. The key is that it doesn’t seem like anyone is going to have to shoulder the load as the ‘go-to’ guy. Smith, Dorn, Henderson and Rowan can all give you elite scoring numbers on a given night.
Markell Johnson is seeing his minutes dip just a bit, but that was expected and it has nothing to do with his play. The kid is an absolute stud and going to be someone who is a major role player on this basketball team. He’s going to slot in a lot more as a backup to Smith and a little less alongside Smith. There will be times when the two play together (esp. if Smith keeps scoring like he is), but with Dorn, Henderson and Rowan playing well, Johnson becomes a 6th or 7th man who brings energy off the bench and heady, athletic floor leader who if it weren’t for Smith, woudl be the Pack’s lead guard.
In the front court, you are seeing the rotation start to become clear. Yurtseven is such a game changer that he’s already seeing major minutes and becoming a major part of the offense. He is going to be the guy in the paint. Then you have Abu. The more Abu shows he can dominate the boards and attack the rim, the more minutes he’s going to see. With Kapita being totally capable and Anya playing better as of late, Abu is still in a sense, fighting for minutes. If, however, Abu plays like he did against Fairfield then it’s pretty obvious that he’s going to be a guy who State relies upon to lead them on the boards and be their workhorse in the paint.
Here is the 2024 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament Bracket
The bracket for the 2024 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament is here. The 10th ranked NC State is the #2 seed in the tournament, and their first game will be on Friday at 5pm on ACC Network.
The Wolfpack will play the winner of the Duke (7 seed) vs. Georgia Tech (10 seed)/Pitt (15 seed).
NC State defeated Pitt 83-47 on February 11th, and they defeated Georgia Tech 86-85 on February 18th.
The Wolfpack lost to Duke 58-69 on February 25th. NC State entered the game as 1.5-point favorites, but ended up losing in enemy territory.
Georgia Tech defeated Pitt 68-58 on January 7th. Duke defeated both Georgia Tech and Pitt this season, defeating the Yellow Jackets 84-46 on January 14th, and the Panthers on 69-38 on February 1st.
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!