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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 Wake Forest: BULLETED

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Head Coach Kevin Keatts met with the media in his post game press conference after NC State’s 91-82 victory over Wake Forest today. You can watch it here, or check out the bulleted breakdown below.

  • Our guys did a tremendous job of coming in here on the road and getting a good road win.
  • We played really good basketball the last 4 halves…dating back to the second half of the Memphis game and then the entire Wisconsin game.
  • Six guys in double digit figures…shows you how balanced we are.
  • Manny Bates was tremendous.
    • 8 points and blocked a lot of shots.
  • Happy with what we have with our rotation.
    • Everybody that’s playing in the game is contributing.
  • We’re going to get our first ice cream of the year (Road Win). So, I’m excited about that.

On historically struggling to win at Wake Forest…

  • We’ve had some success in here. My last 2 out of 3 years, we’ve been able to win.
  • It’s a tough place to play.
  • Had a chance last year, but we were without Markell Johnson.

Success from 3…

  • We shot the ball well from 3.
    • 12 for 22.
  • Was a little mad because I thought we passed up on some shots that we could have made.
    • Jericole had a 3 in the corner that I thought he should have taken.
    • Same thing with C.J. Bryce.
  • We’ve been putting a lot of work on making shots.
  • We expected when we came into this game that we could see a mixture of man-to-man and that 3-2 matchup, so we spent a lot of time the last few days on making shots from behind the arc.

Jericole Hellems…

  • If you guys would do me a favor and obviously keep Jericole Hellems and his family in your prayers, it would mean a lot to us.
  • I didn’t see what happened.
  • I was able to talk to him, and I told him to hang in there. He was talking. He was communicating with those guys. After I leave you guys, I’m going to go by and check on him.
  • It was hard for me the last 28 seconds of the game, because it was hard for me to focus on the game knowing that we had one of our kids hurt.

Where they are at now…

  • I love the way we’re playing.
  • With this team, it has been a little bit slow developing roles.
  • They’re starting to understand their roles and how to play.

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NC State Basketball

NC State 91 Wake Forest 82: BOX SCORE

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NC State had 6 players score in double figures this afternoon in a 91-82 victory over Wake Forest. The Box Score is below.

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NC State Basketball

NC State 91 Wake Forest 82: ACCDN Highlight Reel & Condensed Game

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NC State improved to 7-2 today defeating Wake Forest 91-82 on the road, which is their first ACC win of the year. Below is the ACC Digital Network’s Highlight Reel and Condensed Game.

 

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NC State’s Balanced Offensive Attack Secures a 91-82 Wolfpack Victory at Wake Forest

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Six NC State (7-2) players were in double-figures today in Winston-Salem, which led to a 91-82 Wolfpack victory over Wake Forest (5-5) on the road, which is never a given.

The monkey almost crawled back on the back of NC State in the final minutes, but the Wolfpack’s large lead was able to withstand sloppy play as the game wrapped up. With 4:08 left in the game, NC State was up by 17 points, but they allowed the Deacs to make it a 5 point game with 28 seconds to go.

Redshirt Senior Guard C.J. Bryce led the Wolfpack in scoring and rebounding, with 18 points and 8 rebounds off the bench, along with 4 assists.

Senior Point Guard Markell Johnson had 14 points (4-7 FG/2-3 3PT) and a team high 7 assists.

Sophomore Jericole Hellems’ hot hand didn’t cool off, scoring 13 points (5-9 FG/3-4 3PT), sinking 3 more three-pointers. Sadly, he took a nasty spill in the final seconds, and was taken off the court on a stretcher with what looked to be a head injury.

Redshirt Junior D.J. Funderburk scored 11 and Redshirt Junior Devon Daniels scored 12. Daniels also splashed the stat sheet with 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals.

Wake Forest’s Senior Guard Brandon Childress did everything he could to keep the Deacs in the game, scoring 30 points, sinking 5 three-pointers.

The difference in the game was NC State’s 2nd chance points and points off turnovers. The Wolfpack scored 21 points off of 12 offensive rebounds, and scored 27 points off of 19 turnovers.

This is the type of game NC State has lost over and over again in the past, losing 6 of their last 7 games in Winston-Salem. The Wolfpack are now 1-1 in ACC play.

The Wolfpack will have a week off before they play at UNCG next Sunday.

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