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Clemson 81 NC State 70: OUR TAKE

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NC State Head Coach Kevin Keatts said that his team didn’t “play great” against Clemson this afternoon, in their 81-70 loss to the Tigers.

That was an understatement.

Sometimes I wish a coach would come out and say the truth

The Wolfpack played terrible down in South Carolina.

Clemson outshot NC State in every category.

FG/3PT/FT

Clemson – 46.9/32.1/83.9
NC State – 44.1/23.8/68.4

The Tigers out rebounded the Wolfpack by 4. They had more second chance points (+2) and more points off turnovers (+6).

Clemson shot 12 more free throws.

They shared the ball better, netting 5 more assists.

The stats weren’t in their favor to walk away with the victory, but maybe what was most disappointing was the overall lack of effort.

Senior Markell Johnson still hasn’t figured out how to play consistent basketball, in production or effort, and we are half way through year 4.

The coaches ability to adjust has to be called into question after today’s performance. Clemson abused the Wolfpack with backdoor cuts and slipping screens for 40 straight minutes. Also, I’m all for aggressive defense, but failing to put the hand in the face of wide open three-point shooters is inexcusable.

NC State was without Redshirt Senior Guard C.J. Bryce, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding. Obviously, his presence was missed, and the game could have been different with him on the court.

This loss doesn’t ruin a season, and obviously the team can rebound from it, but the deja vu of losses like these become exhausting.

 

 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Afterglow

    January 5, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    I think it comes down to a lack of focus, plain and simple. The mental errors committed on the floor are inexcusable. MK needs to, as a senior play smarter, and I wonder if it is as simple as that. Maybe if he plays smarter, the team plays smarter. We are not playing smart and we are not playing focused, and then you can add to that, that we are not playing disciplined. With good focus more shots will fall, less turnovers will be committed and better defense will be played.

  2. next year hell why not this year

    January 5, 2020 at 1:27 am

    Thank you for your honest assessment of our (lack of) play against Clemson. Nothing against Coach KK, but I do not like how his team is playing this year. Last year’s team was better than this one. Something is not right and it’s KK’s responsibility to fix it. If not soon, it will be too late to save this season. It’s not who’s not playing; it’s how the ones that are playing are playing so poorly.

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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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Gameday Preview: Pack preparing for huge showdown with UVA (7pm, ESPN)

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NC State @ Virginia
Time: 7PM
TV: ESPN
Line: UVA -4.5

NC State is starting to hit its stride while Virginia is trying to fully right their ship.

Both teams come into this game with a 4-3 record in the ACC. Whoever wins this one will sit alone in 4th place in the conference. For a mid-January game, the stakes are actually pretty high.

The ACC is all over the place right now. You do have Duke, Florida State and Louisville in the Top-25, all with multiple wins over Top-25 teams. But after that, what’s the pecking order in the ACC? There is a logjam of 4 teams with 4-3 records, all of whom are trying to break out and move into the upper tier of the standings. Tonight, one team will do that.

Keys to the Game

  • Smothering halfcourt defense
    Virginia likes to slow it down and play at a grind-it-out pace that makes you sit down and defend for 24 seconds. Luckily, this matchup is coming at a time where we’re seeing the Pack play some of their most aggressive (and disciplined) half-court defense.

    There are a lot of factors that play into this. For one, Bryce is back and he’s one of NC State’s best defenders. He’s physical, long and versatile and he also is a beast on the boards. You also have Manny Bates getting accustomed to ACC play. In the past, if you gambled on passes or really got up and pressured the ball handler, you’d have to worry about the rest of the guy playing some elite-level help and recover defense to stop a blowby. Not anymore. Now you have an eraser in the middle and while the usual narrative is that “it covers a lot of defensive flaws.”, what it also does is allow your guards to really pester the ball handlers, which makes disrupts rhythm and frustrates the flow of an offense.

  • A healthy frontcourt
    Like it or not, a lot is going to ride on whether or not Manny Bates is able to play tonight. He went down with a head/neck injury against Clemson and never returned. However, while Keatts said he had no update on the injury in his post-game presser, he did say “I decided to hold Manny out after he got injured because I thought we had a good handle on the game.” That leads us to believe that Bates could have returned if they really needed him and if that’s the case then it’s almost certain you’ll see him tonight vs. Virginia. At the same time, there were signs that we’d see CJ Bryce a lot sooner than we did after his head injury, so I guess we have to just wait and see.

    The reason Bates return would be so important is that Virginia is a team that is struggling to score it and the only two guys that could really give the Pack trouble are Diakite (6’9, 225lbs – 13ppg) and Jay Huff (7’1, 243lbs). Both are big, long, and athletic and both are guys Virginia has been relying on. NC State could certainly match up with those guys if Funderburk and Bates are available, but if Bates is out, NC State would have to be very careful to keep Funderburk out of foul trouble.

  • Good ball movement and smart shots
    Virginia is a good defensive team. They like to body up ball handlers, push around the post and throw around their weight on the boards.

    Actually, while we’re on the topic, let me walk that back just a bit.

    I think it’s funny how fine the line is between a “good defensive team” and a team that fouls a lot. Really, it ends up being that Virginia doesn’t reach. They don’t get a lot of slap fouls (or lazy fouls). Instead, they chest bump the ball handler or use their shoulders to clear out the lane…both of which are fouls, but instead of calling those, ACC refs seem to just chalk it up to “a good defensive team being physical.”

    Anyways, Virginia is going to be physical and they are going to bump you if you’re the ball handler. They are going to close our on you and drive you back with a box out if you’re a shooter. They’re going to do all the things that make an offense uncomfortable and they’re not going to get called for much of it. So NC State needs to man up, get physical, and execute. Too often the bumping in the post gets in the offenses head. They get bumped and hit, and when they get the ball they feel they need to get physical back. This usually leads to an offensive foul or an ill-advised shot. NC State needs to move the ball fast, find flashers and make sure they are getting good, open looks.

    This may be tough. NC State likes to play up-tempo and doesn’t really run any true motion offense. With Virginia able to sit down and stay in front of Markell, he’s going to have to rely on his teammates to move, cut and flash to initiate the offense.

  • Embrace the physicality
    As mentioned above, Virginia’s entire game is about physicality. They play great position defense, but they also have a full roster of guys who like to mix it up. NC State needs to be ready and be disciplined. Devon Daniels and CJ Bryce, who are both extremely physical players in their own right, can’t get into a macho-match with Virginia’s guards. They are going to try to bait him often and they’re going to have to stay focused, play through contact and make the smart plays.

    Inside they’re going to need Bates healthy and Funderburk playing with the intensity he’s been playing with over the past couple weeks. Virginia will get after the offensive glass, so team rebounding will be big. I think this is another game where you’ll see Devon Daniel play a big role. They’ll need his size, strength and rebounding ability if they are going to match up well with the Cavs.

  • Knockdown shots.
    It’s simple, but with Virginia’s size and discipline on the closeout, it’s easier said than done. If the Pack wants to walk out of Charlottesville with a win, they’ll need Markell to hit his 3s, they’ll need Bryce on from the mid-range and they’ll need Beverly to find his stroke and spread the defense when he’s in there. They’ll also need Devon Daniels to continue playing team basketball. Virginia is going to try to get in his head, and we’re either going to see the Devon Daniels that has been focused, level-headed and looking to pass when he’s in trouble, or we’ll see the Daniels who when in doubt just throws up a floater. Every possession is going to vital in this one as Virginia is going to slow the pace and limit those possessions. The decisions that NC State makes under pressure will be the difference in a win and a loss.

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ACCDN HIGHLIGHTS: NC State’s 60-54 win over Clemson

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Here are the highlights from the ACC Digital Network.

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OUR TAKE: On NC State’s tough 60-54 win over Clemson

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After dropping road games to Clemson and Virginia Tech, NC State entered a stretch of must-win home games that included a matchup with Miami and a rematch with Clemson.

Luckily these would be the first two conference games that the Pack would be at full strength. Markell Johnson, DJ Funderburk, and CJ Bryce were all finally healthy, and Keatts could get a glimpse of what his team is really capable of.  After taking care of Miami (80-63) State faced a Clemson team that had just swept the entire Triangle. After their home win over NC State, they went on to beat UNC in the Dean Dome, and then upset #3 Duke in Littlejohn.

Here is OUR TAKE on the Pack’s big 60-54 win over Clemson…

Defense, Defense, Defense
Since getting Bryce back, NC State is now at full strength and suddenly looks like one of the most potent defensive teams in the ACC. Keatts is deploying a large, yet versatile, lineup of Johnson, Daniels, Bryce, Funderburk, and Bates. This group isn’t just finding success because of size, they’re also really getting after it and showing the type of physicality and high-energy that State fans have expected from a Keatts group since his arrival in 2017.

So what’s changed?

Well, Funderburk and Bates are starting to get more comfortable playing together. Funderburk is learning to play alongside another big. He’s learning how to defend from the 4 spot and is showing what he’s capable of when he sustains his focus and energy throughout an entire game. Meanwhile, Bates is getting more and more accustomed to ACC play and the physicality that comes along with it.

However, against Clemson, Bates exited early with a head injury, so we had to see if they could keep up that type of physicality and intensity without him. The good news is, they did just that. Funderburk moved to the 5 and Hellems and Andree manned the 4. Andree got the minutes when State needed a little extra length and Hellems was in when they needed more energy and muscle. Against Clemson, it seemed like the biggest factor was State’s ability to really bother the guards. Markell, Bryce, and Daniels were relentless out top. Their combo of quickness, length, and strength can’t be matched by many teams in this conference and it really showed in this one. After shooting 34% from 3 point range and racking up 18 assists in their first meeting, the State guards only allowed them to shoot 24% from 3 and get 12 assists. The difference was the guard pressure, the lack of blowbys and length that Keatts had on the court at all times. Part of that is thanks to…

The emergence of Devon Daniels
Braxton Beverly’s prolonged shooting slump has opened the door for Daniels and it seems that it’s exactly what he needed to finally find his footing at NC State.

Daniels was a 4-star recruit who had a very impressive and efficient freshman year at Utah. However, since coming to NC State, he has struggled to really find his role. With his playing time being split up between him Beverly and Hellems, Daniels seemed to really press when he got his minutes. He rushed shots, forced passes, gambled on steals and just overall seemed out of rhythm trying to make a big play.

Over the past few weeks, as his playing time has increased, so has his confidence. Lately, Pack fans have just seen it in spurts, but things really started coming together against Miami where he went 7-11, scoring 15 points in the win. That carried over to Saturday where we saw what I believe was his most complete performance of the season. He didn’t shoot it exceptionally well (4-12), but his 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 block, and 2 steals were huge. Offensively, he also played within the system and didn’t force too many shots, mostly taking what the defense gave him.

This is the Devon Daniels this team needs. He doesn’t need to be a go-to scorer or a primary ball-handler. They need a physical, energy-guy who can rebound, defend and score if the opportunity presents itself.  The more Daniels buys into the team concept, the further this team is going to go.

DJ Funderburk is an elite big
Last year Funderburk showed a lot of promise. He has good footwork, soft hands, and a nice stroke. The problem was that he was a little thin and a little soft. Fast-forward to this year and you’re seeing a different kid. Funderburk has bulked up,  is playing physical and has recently started to show prolonged energy on the court.

Turning into a ‘high-motor’ player is not easy and is usually takes a combination of constant coaching and high player motivation. Credit both Funderburk and Keatts here, because we are seeing a whole new player. In 5 of the past 6 games, DJ has gone for at least 13 points and 8 boards. He’s really been the most consistent player on the court and has bailed the Pack out numerous times thanks to his relentlessness on the offensive glass.

If this new Funderburk is here to stay,  and the Pack can stay healthy, then NC State is going to be a contender in the ACC without a doubt.

Beverly continues to struggle, starting to lose minutes
Braxton Beverly is going to work his way out of his slump. I don’t doubt that. But meanwhile, Keatts has been forced to shuffle things up a bit. That has allowed us to learn a few things.

For one, NC State’s defense looks a lot stronger without Beverly in there. Now, that’s no surprise knock. We always knew his defensive efficiency numbers were low, but he often made up for that with his ability to stretch the defense with his 3 point shooting and handle the ball when Markell needed a breather.

But Beverly has struggled lately. He’s in the midst of an 8 game shooting slump (9 for his last 37 = 24%). He’s only averaging 1.6 assists per game this year (after averaging 3.9 as a freshman), and he’s made a few glaringly bad decisions the last few games (fouling 3 point shooters in back to back games). During that time Keatts has had no choice but to run him out there because of the Bryce injury. However, since his return, they can now use CJ at the point when Markell goes out, allowing the Pack to keep a strong defensive lineup on the court.

Against Clemson, Beverly didn’t start and then got  2 quick fouls, putting him on the bench for an extended period. During that time State put together what looked like one of their best defensive games all season.

Surely Beverly is going to work his way back into this lineup, that’s just his makeup, but his role maybe a little more defined and his leash not quite as long as it once was. Beverly produces the most value for this team when he’s taking (and making) open 3s and is playing mistake-free basketball at the point. Once he gets back to that, he’ll start earning those minutes back.  At the same time, I think it’s obvious that there are going to be times when NC State needs to focus on locking down their opponents, and when that’s the case, Daniels seems to be giving Keatts an option to make that possible without giving up a lot offensively.

Markell is starting to look comfortable
At times last year, Markell Johnson single-handedly took over basketball games for NC State. But was that ever really natural for him?

Sure, at times it may have seemed that way, but Markell has always been hesitant as a scorer. He can get anywhere he wants on the court and he’s a capable shooter, but Markell Johnson, by nature, is a distributor and he always will be. Now that NC State has Bryce back, Funderburk emerging and Daniels starting to pitch in as a scorer, he is finally starting to look comfortable again.

Markell is the type of PG who prides himself on his vision and he knows that the team is better when he creating for others. He’s not built to be a volume scorer. Part of it is that he’s wired to get the team good, open looks. But Markell himself can use his quickness and ball-handling skills to get good open looks at any point. So when should he do that?

That’s the hesitation Markell has struggled with the last two seasons under Keatts.

He’s a streaky scorer who wants to be able to play within the offense until he gets hot or until the team has no other option, then he’s willing to go into ‘take-over’ mode with confidence.

With Beverly struggling with his shot, Bryce/Funderbuerk/Hellems or someone else out almost every game, he was being asked to sore more. This meant forcing shots, dribbling down and immediately going into iso for himself and it just was not something he feels confident doing.

Against Miami and now Clemson, Johnson was able to play with fully health group. This has seemingly allowed him to play a lot freer. He’s not forcing shots, he’s picking his spots and he’s relying on his teammates. This is creating a Markell that is more consistent over the course of a game and not one that  has so many ‘ups and downs.” I attribute this to him being more in his comfort zone.

When he’s in that zone, NC State is at it’s best. Johnson’s shot attempts are down (just a bit) these past two games, and while his assists are also down, so are his turnovers. Johnson will still have games where he gets hot and fills up the stat sheets, but I think you’re seeing him get back to his roots of relying on his teammates and creating for others first. Llike it or not, that’s the Wolfpack’s (and Markell Johnson’s) sweet-spot.

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