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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

NC State Men’s Basketball Ranked 28th in KenPom’s 2019-20 Preseason Rankings

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Stat junkie KenPom’s preseason 2019-20 rankings are out, and the NC State Men’s Basketball team sits at 28th nationally to start the year.

The Wolfpack’s is projected to rank 10th nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, with the Defense sitting at 64th.

NC State sits at 6th in the ACC in these preseason rankings, which lines up perfectly with the Official Preseason rankings by the ACC Media. They are projected to have the 4th most efficient offense, and the 12th most efficient defense.

The Wolfpack is projected to go 22-9 in the regular season.

NC State finished the 2018-19 season ranked 41st nationally in KenPom’s final rankings.

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NC State Basketball

Primetime with the Pack: HIGHLIGHT REEL

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The NC State Men and Women’s Basketball teams put on a show for the fans last night at Primetime with the Pack at Reynold’s Coliseum.

Freshman Dereon Seabron won the dunk contest. Graduate Senior Pat Andree won the three-point contest. Sophomore Jericole Hellems won the skills competition.

The Men’s Basketball team have a “secret” scrimmage against East Carolina tomorrow, and their first Exhibition Game is next Sunday, October 27th, against Mount Olive. The season opener at home against Georgia Tech is on November 5th.

The Women’s Basketball team have an Exhibition Game against Anderson in Reynolds Coliseum on October 31st, and their season opener is on November 6th against North Carolina A&T at home.

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Andy Katz Ranks NC State’s Markell Johnson as the #4 Player in the ACC

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NCAA.com’s Andy Katz released a podcast two days ago previewing the 2019-20 ACC Men’s Basketball season, and he thinks that NC State Senior Point Guard Markell Johnson is the 4th best player in the conference.

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Here’s what Katz had to say about Johnson in the Top-10 breakdown on the podcast.

“He’s a stat stuffer. If NC State goes to the NCAA Tournament, Markell Johnson will lead them. At ACC Media Day told me that he needs to come more out of his shell. He knows that. To be much more demonstrative. Kevin Keatts is putting it on him to become a player like that.” (Katz)

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NC State Being Sued by N&O, WRAL, ABC11 & NY Times

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According to Will Doran of the N&O, the News & Observer, WRAL, ABC11, and the New York Times have filed a lawsuit against NC State for refusing to turn over records related to Dennis Smith Jr. and the NCAA’s investigation into the Men’s Basketball program.

The article claims that for the past two years, the university has been “knowingly and intentionally violating the law by refusing to turn over public records.” Specifically, documentation of electronic communication and phone records have been denied according to the report.

After the release of the article, a spokesperson of the university reached out to Doran last night to inform him that they had “not seen or been served with the lawsuit and would wait to comment until officials have reviewed it.” The spokesperson also had this to say in a statement:

“N.C. State has released thousands of pages of documents and has acted in good faith and transparency throughout the federal and NCAA investigations,” the spokesperson said. “In addition, the university was prepared to release extensive phone records, but that release has been blocked by a temporary court order.” (N&O)

You can read Doran’s article in full here.

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