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QUESTIONS FOR NEXT YEAR: Can NC State compete with a young frontcourt?

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With news that Omer Yurtseven will not be returning next year, you immediately have to start wondering what the Wolfpack’s frontcourt is going to look like in 2018-19.

Longtime anchors in the paint for NC State,  Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman, are gone to graduation. Yurtseven, as we mentioned, has informed the staff that he won’t be back, and in early March, sophomore forward Darius Hicks put in his transfer notice as well. This leaves Keatts with a grand total of zero returning big men.

This must be a bit unsettling for the NC State staff. Their bigs were a big part of their success this season. They were responsible for a little over 26 points and over 14 rebounds per game. That equals about 32% of their scoring and almost 40% of their rebounds.

How in the world are they going to replace that?

The answer to that comes in the form of three incoming recruits. Manny Bates, Ian Steere, and Derek Funderburk.

Bates and Steere are traditional freshmen, while Funderburk attended Ohio State, was dismissed and is currently playing at Northwest Florida State College, coming in as a sophomore.

While these guys don’t have the experience of the exiting bigs, there is reason to believe that they will be able to supplement a lot of what the Wolfpack is losing up front.

Kevin Keatts’ system isn’t suited for a traditional big man. He doesn’t want a lumbering 7-footer who strictly plays with his back to the basket and has trouble switching off onto smaller players on defense. He wants versatile, athletic bigs. Guys who can run the court, guys who can step out and knock down a jumper. He wants his bigs to be able to handle the basketball, able to create mismatches on offense, but can hold their own defensively. He wants guys that play above the rim and love to rebound.

When you look at it that way, that is a huge ask. There aren’t many 6’9 guys who can give you all of those things and the ones that can are being courted by just about every school in the nation.

But what Keatts wants is a little different than what he needs.For this system to truly be successful they ‘need’ a few things.

  • You have to run the floor. As a big in this system, you are being asked to run up and down the floor at a breakneck pace. With all of his pieces in place, NC State isn’t going to be playing as slow as they did this year (if Keatts has his way). Bigs will have to be able to thrive on the break. That means having the skill set to catch it on the run, make a move and finish without getting disoriented and clunky.
  • You have to be able to guard multiple positions. This was an area of concern this past season. NC State gave up too many easy buckets because of breakdowns and mismatches. Keatts would love to have a frontcourt that could be defensively interchangeable 3-5 and even be ok in the instance they get switched onto a guard. This carries over to our next point…
  • You have to be athletic. This is a big one which sort of umbrellas over the first two points but needs its own call-out. This was an area that killed the Wolfpack all season. Yurtseven and Lennard Freeman just were not athletic enough for this system and Abu just wasn’t dialed in this season. One reason he needs athletes is that the system he runs rewards deflection as a counted stat, so guards are gambling up front trying to get their hand on the basketball. This leads to situations where you have blow-bys, leading to a guard in the paint looking to score. Too many times this season, that guard was able to score. There were no legit shot blockers on last year’s roster and it hurt.
  • You have to be physical. Usually, big guys who are extremely athletic and skilled enough to run the floor aren’t exactly the most physical. So while they create mismatches on offense, there can be matchups where they get eaten up in the middle by the bigger, thicker, more stationary bigs. Last year, NC State had neither athleticism nor physicality in the paint and it killed them. For this system to work to perfection, you need to find a guy who can do all of these things and still be a physical force. Keatts is big on offensive rebounding since it’s a ‘possession adding’ statistic, and offensive rebounding is also very much a ‘physicality’ stat.

Those are your bare-bones necessities. Now, of course, Keatts would also like for those guys to be able to handle the ball and shoot it a little bit to keep the defense honest, but that is more of a ‘nice to have’ than it is a ‘must have.’

NC State scored big in this class by signing a very impressive group of bigs. While none of them is flawless, they are all extremely talented and bring a dimension to the game that this team just didn’t have last season.

Ian Steere is a 6’9, 260-pound savage. Known as one of the most vicious dunkers in his class, Steere committed to Creighton before changing his mind last September and flipping to the Wolfpack in October.

Now, most of what you’ll see from this kid on the highlight reels are dunks. He can flat out soar for his size, but Kevin Keatts didn’t single out Steere for his dunking. He singled him out because of his versatility. Keep in mind, he was a top priority for Creighton who almostly only targets skilled bigs and was also offered by Kansas last May.

Steere is agile for his size, he has good hands, good body control and a jumper with great form. Add in to the equation that he’s 260lbs (mostly muscle) and is as aggressive as they come. He has that ‘nasty’ that the Pack has missed in their frontcourt since Richard Howell graduated. His skills could use some polish, but he’s really not that far off at all, and he won’t back down to anyone. He’s got zero-fear and demands respect.

Then you have Manny Bates. Bates is another 6’9 4-star who actually played alongside Steere in Northwood Temple Academy (but was injured most of his senior season). While their height and high school are the same, these are two very different big men. Bates is more of a lanky athlete at this point, but he’s not afraid of contact. He’s physical and aggressive, but only weighs in at 195lbs. His frame suggests that he will fill out, but at this point, strength will be the main area of focus this offseason.

Bates is still a bit raw in the skills department, but he really has quick springs and is an elite level shot blocker. He actually was the number one rim protector this summer in the Under Armor circuit.

He projects to be a true defensive presence once he fills out. Don’t believe us? Maybe you’ll trust Tony Bennet of UVA who doesn’t pass out offers to kids who can’t be high-level defenders at the ACC level.  Virginia offered him this past July, but they weren’t the first. Last May he got offers from UConn, Purdue, Xavier, and Louisville. He committed to State in September.

Both Bates and Steere are working this offseason to become more versatile and more polished, knowing they will be relied upon for major minutes in their freshman season. Here is one of their sessions…

So you have the muscle with Steere, you the have the length with Bates, but what if teams go small, quick and focus on offense?

That’s when you turn to Derek Funderburk. He’s 6’9 and weighed in at 225 (up 15lbs from last reported). While this will be his first true game action as a high-major player, Funderburk spent his freshman year at Ohio State redshirting. Over the next summer, OSU fired Thad Matta and the new coach dismissed Funderburk for failure to meet team expectations. Instead of sitting out another year due to transfer rules, he decided to play at Northwest Florida State College, one of the more talented junior colleges in the nation. Now he’ll finally get to suit up and contribute at college’s highest level.

Funderburk is a big man based on height, but his skills allow him to play more of a stretch forward. He is extremely bouncy, has great footwork, great hands, and can score it from all over the court. With Keatts’ system, Funderburk will probably see most of his time at the 4 (which plays like most teams play their 3) but at times could create major mismatches by slotting in at the 5.

He can guard multiple positions, has great body control, a nice handle and a good looking jumper. If Funderburk packs on some more muscle,  you’re looking at a guy who could project as a pro prospect with his skill set.

These three guys are going to be relied upon to supplement what Omer Yurtseven brought to the table.

None of them, at this point, are as polished as Omer was on the offensive end. At the same time, Keatts made a name for himself without ever having a big like Yurtseven while at Wilmington.

Defensively and on the boards, NC State may be able to actually improve in the frontcourt. Sure they don’t have a 7 footer in the middle anymore, but they will have more physicality, way more athleticism and more talented depth than they had at any point last season.

We’re also hearing that with the scholarship Yurtseven leaves behind, Keatts is looking to add another big (possibly a grad-transfer).

If State could add a veteran big to the group, they still may not have a guy who is the total package in the middle, but they could have a group that is totally unique to one another. That would allow them to match any style of frontcourt play their opponent brings to the table.

NC State Basketball

Kevin Keatts Presser After UVA Victory: BULLETED

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NC State head coach Kevin Keatts met with the media for his postgame press conference after his Wolfpack squad pulled off a big victory at Virginia last night, winning 53-51. You can watch the presser here, or check out a bulleted breakdown below.

  • 2nd game in a row our guys stepped up and won the game on the defensive end.
  • Knew coming in this is a tough place to play. Virginia is so great on the defensive end.
  • I thought our guys did a tremendous job.
  • This is as tough a game as we’re going to play, especially after playing on Saturday with a short turnaround.
    • To prepare for Virginia with their offense and defense, and add in the fact that we were without Manny Bates and Pat Andree, it made it look tougher.
  • Markell Johnson made some great decisions. He played the entire game without having a turnover.
  • C.J. Bryce is really good. He was tremendous at the end. What a play he made.
  • Give Danny Dixon a lot of credit.
    • Hasn’t played a lot of basketball.
    • Hurt for awhile
    • Stepped in and played well.
  • When we were up 3, I decided to foul because all of the momentum was going towards those guys, and I didn’t want them to come down and make a 3.
    • I thought if they made a 3 in this building, it would be tough for us to win in overtime.
  • I’ve decided this year not to look at the NET.
  • Everybody is saying that the ACC is down. I don’t agree with that.
    • I think the ACC is just balanced. I think we’re still one of the top conferences in the country.
    • We just don’t have the superstars.
  • I’ve got tremendous respect for what Tony Bennett has done here. Because I am from Virginia, I do respect the fact of what he’s done here and what he’s built here.
  • We’re excited because it’s a road win, not just because it’s in Virginia.
  • I don’t know how long Manny Bates will be out.
    • When I saw him get hit, I thought he had something like whiplash.
    • He is in the concussion protocol.
    • I texted him this morning and asked how he was feeling, and he said he was doing ok.
    • He was actually in the training room.
  • Pat Andree has sprained that ankle probably 20 times in his career, so hopefully he’ll be fine also.

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NC State Basketball

NC State 53 Virginia 51: ACCDN Highlight Reel & Condensed Game

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The Wolfpack beat the Cavaliers in Charlottesville for the first time since 2005 last night, holding on for a 53-51 victory. The ACC Digital Network’s Highlight Reel and Condensed Game are below.

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NC State Basketball

NC State 53 Virginia 51: BOX SCORE

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NC State defeated Virginia on the road 53-51 last night, improving to 14-5 on the year. The Box Score is below.

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NC State Basketball

INJURY UPDATE: NC State will be shorthanded tonight vs UVA

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There have been some unconfirmed rumors floating around that Manny Bates did not travel with the team and thus would not be available tonight for the Wolfpack. We have now confirmed those rumors.

Bates did not travel to Charlottesville with the team after suffering a head injury in the early going vs. Clemson. This means State will be shorthanded in the frontcourt tonight against a very big and very physical UVA team.

To make matters worse, Pat Andree is also not likely to be suiting up tonight out for the Wolfpack. Andree suffered an ankle/foot injury. Sources are telling us they hope to have Manny Bates back by this weekend, but we’ve yet to hear a timetable for Andree..

NC State takes on UVA with a short bench and will rely heavily on DJ Funderburk in the middle. Danny Dixon will see extended minutes and Braxton Beverly will see an uptick in usage after logging just 7 minutes against Clemson.

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