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OUR TAKE: On NC State season opening win over Mt. Saint Mary’s

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The was quite the roller coaster of a season opener for NC State.

It had the excitement of getting to see all these new guys playing together in a real game for the first time. It had early struggles that made you wonder if this team isn’t as good as you first thought. It had the veterans stepping up when the team needed a bucket. And it had a mega-run to end the game that made it clear that this team is going to be pretty darn good. Let’s talk specifics.

First game jitters happen every year
While the fans are keyed in to watching the game and sizing up the team immediately, you have to remember to give these guys a little time to settle in. They’re excited, most of them are they’re playing their first meaningful game in front of State fans at the PNC and they all want to show what they can do. You saw all of that early on in this one. There were a lot of overplays defensively, a lot of quick, poor shots on offense and just a lot of guys forcing the issue. But again, these were all byproducts of this being the first half of game one. In the second half the team really settled in and you saw what they can do when they’re clicking.

The veterans (Dorn and Johnson) are going to be huge for NC State
Coming into this season, most of the discussion has been around the newcomers, but don’t let that fool you. It’s the veterans Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn who are going to be the engines that make this thing go. The duo finished with 45 points on 17-28 shooting (61%) and even hit went 7-11 from 3.

I think Dorn looked like Dorn. He did all the things you’d expect and got hot from 3 in the second half. He’s physical, he’s versatile, he’s a smart player, and he goes 100% all the time. If he’s going to add a decent 3 ball to the mix then team’s aren’t going to know what to do with him.

Meanwhile, Markell Johnson seemed a bit more aggressive offensively. He hunted his shot a bit in this one and all the work on his 3-ball this off-season seems to have paid off. So did anything change to help him start feeling comfortable scoring more? (That’s our segway to the next section…)

Blake Harris is the spark plug
There was a question of where Missouri transfer Blake Harris would fit in with this team. They already have one of the best PGs in the nation and he’s being backed up by Braxton Beverly, who led the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio. So where does a PG like Harris fit?

He showed us all tonight.

NC State couldn’t pull away from Mt. Saint Mary’s, and it was partly because NC State’s on-ball defense wasn’t great and they just couldn’t get their offense going against the zone. That’s when Harris checked in. At around the 15-minute mark, Harris entered and kind of took over PG duties. He started bringing the ball up and pushing Markell to the wing. The led to Johnson playing more of a scorer’s role. He knocked down some 3’s and drove with intentions to score. All while Harris was playing the distributor.

Harris didn’t only change the game on offense, he also stepped up the pressure on D. His ability to pester the Mt Saint Mary’s ball handlers led to a ton of quick shots on their end and helped NC State really start pulling away. His stat line might night jump out at you, but Harris was a major catalyst in NC State’s 51-14 run they used to finish off the game.

 

Funderburk is better than we all thought
I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect from Funderburk. The 6’9 sophomore is getting his first D-1 action after getting dismissed from OSU and playing a year of junior college.

What we are seeing is a versatile, long, hard-working big who plays within the offense and doesn’t try to do too much. That’s a recipe for success right there. Funderburk went 7-7 in the exhibition game (20 pts) and kept up the perfection in this one, going 4-4 for 9 points. He also added 6 boards and 2 blocks in his 21 minutes of play.

One of the big questions about this team was how they were going to replace a guy like Yurtseven. Well, Funderburk definitely showed that he’s going to play a major role in this team. His ability to make plays on both ends in transition, as well as his patience on offense and willingness to share the basketball, make it clear that he’s a perfect fit for this basketball team

We haven’t seen the real Devon Daniels…yet
After the game, Keatts remarked that he didn’t think Daniels ever hit his stride. We agree. Daniels is probably the best built to lead this team in scoring. He’s got that Al Freeman-esque 3-level scoring capability that you can’t teach. In this game, however, Daniels was just forcing it a bit too much. Quick, off-balance shots and not enough ball movement made it clear that he was pressing to get things going. Keatts also talked about how Al Freeman really settled in last season when he focused on sharing the ball and started understanding what a good shot was. He said Daniels will likely be in the same boat.

Beverly will complete this team
Watching this game, I couldn’t help but feel that getting Beverly back would be a big moment for this basketball team. What this group lacked at times was the ability to shoot it from deep and a guy who can really settle them down and control the pace for a bit.

Beverly is this team’s best shooter and also a smart, controlled PG who can slow things down if things start getting too crazy. When teams go zone Beverly will become even more important. He’s the perfect compliment to this group of uber-athletic guards.

 

You’ll see more Steere
We keep hearing it, Freshman Ian Steere will eventually be good. He needs more polish. He needs some time. Well, he only logged a few minutes at the end of this one, but it was enough to convince me that he’ll be playing a bigger role for this team sooner rather than later.

This team is going to get in situations where they just don’t have enough muscle in the middle. That’s where Ian Steere will carve out his role. If Funderburk is getting pushed around and Walker isn’t getting it done on the boards, Steere will get his chance. I believe when he gets his chance, as he did last night, it will become apparent that this team has a true need a big with some nasty, and that’s what Ian Steere brings to the table.

NC State Basketball

WatchStadium: NC State Has Picked Up 2 of the Top-50 Transfers

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Jeff Goodman of Watch Stadium ranked the Top-50 Graduate Transfers this offseason, and NC State has already inked two of them in Guard Thomas Allen and Forward Pat Andree.

21) Thomas Allen, 6-1, 185, SG, Soph., Nebraska
Stats: 8.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.0 apg
Scout’s take: “2-guard who shoots it well. Crafty off the bounce. Average defender.”
SchoolsCOMMITTED TO NC STATE

27) Pat Andree, 6-8, 225, F, Lehigh
Stats: 12.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 42% 3-pointers
Scout’s take: “Elite catch and shoot with deep range at a legit 6-foot-7. Good passer if a team values passing, limited off the bounce. Can stretch the defense, but limited on defense.”
SchoolsCOMMITTED TO NC STATE

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They are also still in the mix for a few of the other Graduate Transfers in Goodman’s rankings.

Charleston Southern Graduate Transfer Christian Keeling will be taking an official visit to NC State on May 3rd.

9) Christian Keeling, 6-4, 175, G, Charleston Southern
Stats: 18.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 38% 3-pointers
Scout’s take: “Elite scorer from 3 and mid-range. Very, very good shooter off the catch-and-bounce. Creative to get his spots. Long and good athlete for his size. Good finisher at the rim, but trusts his jump shot more. Defends.”
Schools: Purdue, NC State (5-3), Clemson (4-19), Georgia Tech, North Carolina (4-23)

Watch Stadium

Valparaiso Center Derrik Smits took an official visit to Raleigh this past weekend.

28) Derrik Smits, 7-1, 240, C, Valparaiso
Stats: 12.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg
Scout’s take: “Huge, very skilled, posts hard. Scores with his back to the basket. Good passer when doubled. Rebounds at both ends. Needs to improve defensively.”
Schools: Arizona State, NC State, Butler

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PI EXCLUSIVE: NC State’s Kiara Leslie Talks About Going 10th in WNBA Draft

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Two weeks ago, NC State Graduate Senior Kiara Leslie was selected 10th overall in the 2019 WNBA Draft by the Washington Mystics. I caught up with her, and she gave her thoughts:

Leslie started her collegiate career at Maryland, so she is excited to be heading to familiar territory.

I’m going back to an area I’m am familiar with, and I know a few of their players.

Kiara Leslie

Even though some were shocked Leslie went so high, it wasn’t a complete shock to her.

I knew it was possible. I had a few teams with picks in the 1st round that I had been communicating with. They didn’t confirm where they would take me, but I knew it was possible. It’s been a blessing. Nobody but God made this happen.

Kiara Leslie

Wolfpack head coach Wes Moore, who came in 2nd in the voting for National Coach of the Year, made a tremendous impact on Leslie’s game over the past two seasons.

This year I had to play a bigger role on the team. He helped me broaden my game and become more comfortable doing things I wasn’t used to doing before.

Kiara Leslie

As a current resident of Holly Springs, North Carolina, it’s awesome to see a native of the Springs make it as a professional athlete.

Not a lot of people from a small town make it to the big stages and play professionally. I am really happy to represent Holly Springs and be a role model for the youth who desire to play professionally as well.

Kiara Leslie

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Cincinnati’s Nysier Brooks Receiving Interest from NC State

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According to CBSSports’ Jon Rotstein, Cincinnati Transfer Nysier Brooks (6’11″/240) is receiving interest from NC State.

Brooks isn’t a graduate transfer, so he would have to sit one year to play one year.

It honestly is an odd move that Brooks submitted his name to the Transfer Portal. He started all 35 games last year for the Bearcats, averaging 8.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He was named Cincinnati’s Defensive Player of the Year.

He’s already 22 years old, and would be 24 by the time he left college if he does in fact transfer.

The reason seems to be stemming from Mike Cronin being hired as UCLA’s coach, as well as a lack of relationship with new coach John Brannen. His Guardian expressed frustration on Twitter that Brannen hadn’t reached out to them yet, and they were leaving Cincinnati as a family.

While it would be huge to add someone of Brooks size and athletic ability, he would suck up 2 years of a scholarship, and only play one. That’s not a big deal if you don’t have anyone already sitting out a year, but Thomas Allen is already doing so. That would leave the Wolfpack with only 11 scholarship players next season.

With that being said, there is some speculation that Brooks could graduate in June, and become a Graduate Transfer.

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NC State is Recruiting Oakland Graduate Transfer Jaevin Cumberland

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According to Joe Giglio of the News & Observer, NC State is actively recruiting Oakland Graduate Transfer Jaevin Cumberland (6’3″/185).

On April 11th, news broke that Jaevin Cumberland would be transferring out of Oakland for his final year of eligibility.

To say that 2018-19 was a breakout season for Cumberland would be an understatement. After playing minimal minutes as a reserve his first two seasons, and redshirting his 3rd year on campus due to a chronic ankle injury, Cumberland started all 33 games for the Golden Grizzlies.

Sports Reference

Cumberland averaged 17.2 points and 3.5 assists this past season, shooting 40% from three-point land.

He took an official visit to Oregon this weekend.

With the exodus of Graduate Wyatt Walker this week, NC State now has 1 scholarship available for next season. Valparaiso Graduate Transfer Derrik Smits is on an official visit in Raleigh this weekend.

Senior Point Guard Markell Johnson is going through the NBA Draft process, and 2019 signee Jalen Lecque officially declared for the NBA Draft yesterday, with today’s deadline looming. Both Johnson and Lecque can end up in Raleigh next year if they go through the process and deem that to be their best situation. Obviously if they go pro, more scholarships will become available.

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