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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.

NC State Basketball

OUR TAKE: NC State’s season still alive after 88-66 upset over #6 Duke

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A few days later and this game is still fresh in the mind of Pack fans.

This game really was a must-win for NC State and it showed. It’s been a roller coaster ride of a season that honestly had started to get a bit perplexing.The roster is just too good to be sitting in the middle of the pack of an ACC that isn’t at full strength. With a senior point guard (Johnson), a senior forward (Bryce) and an emerging star in the font court (Funderburk), you’d think NC State would be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. However, in true NC State fashion here we are in February facing an uphill climb to make the dance.

After the Boston College game, most NC State fans were down. It seemed as though with the Pack falling towards the middle of the standings and #6 Duke coming in, followed by #8 FSU, the odds of a late-season run were diminishing. However, if you’ve followed NC State long enough, you knew something that no data or no basketball analyst could predict. You knew NC State was going to win this game. You knew that it’s only when all hope is seemingly lost, does NC State rise from the ashes and do the unthinkable.

The Wolfpack came out against Duke as confident as we’ve seen all year. There was zero fear. They played as if their season depended on this game,..and it really did. They were physical, they were hungry, and they looked like the top-10 team, not the #6 ranked Blue Devils. So what happened? What was the difference? Who was this team?

Markell Johnson decided to dominate
The keyword there is ‘decided.’ There was no luck involved in Markell’s 28 point, 9 rebound, 4 assist effort. That was Markell simply being locked in, playing without fear and dominating a basketball game. I won’t lie and say I know what’s been going on in Johnson’s head this season. He has had moments, but hasn’t really captured that form he showed at the end of games last season. Against Duke, he finally did and he sustained it for an entire game. Whatever Keatts told him, whatever pre-game ritual he did or motivation he used to get up for this game, I hope it’s repeatable. With Markell playing at that level, NC State is not only a tournament team, but they are a tough out for ANY (yes, ANY) team in the nation.

Funderburk’s versatility is a problem
Funderburk’s 21 points was a season-high in conference play. His 15 shots was also a season-high. See the correlation? DJ Funderburk is one of NC State’s best players and he needs to get shots if they are going to win. He was matched up against one of the best frontcourts in the country and he did work. He had 9 rebounds, 4 of which were offensive and also pitched in 3 steals and a 3 pointer. This guy is a stud and the faster his teammates realize he needs his touches, the faster the Wolfpack will be able to reach their full offensive potential.

Devon Daniels set the tone.
Say what you want about Daniels, the guy has been the most consistent energy guy on this team for the past month. Yes he takes some crazy floaters, and sometimes forces shots you’d rather see go to Markell or DJ, but maybe just maybe he’s starting to come into his own. Daniels was a good scorer coming out of high school and showed a lot of flashes at Utah as a freshman. But since coming to NC State he has struggled to find his role. That’s no longer the case. He came out of the gate hot against Duke and put pressure on them from the get-go. It helped that his floaters and running layups were falling, but you can credit that to his focus. He too was locked in for this game. He finished with 25 points and 9 rebounds and it seemed like Duke wanted no part in getting in front of him. Daniels is strong, physical and cocky on the court. While it may have taken him some time to learn to play within this system, he might actually be the one starting to give this Wolfpack team an identity.

Less 3s, more attacking
In Keatts presser, he said he challenged his team to attack more and settle for 3s less. The outcome was State only taking 13 3s and hitting 8 of them. That is who this team needs to be. Markell, Bryce, Daniels, Hellems, and Funderburk are all good shooters, but none are great 3 point shooters. Beverly could be a great shooter, but he’s struggled the past 2 seasons to find his stroke. With this being the case, you need your team to make their money attacking the basket. This team has floated around and settled for a lot of lazy 3s. Keatts may finally be putting his foot down and making them play to their strength. It worked well against Duke, let’s see if they can keep focused and apply that type of attack vs FSU.

A huge win
This win wasn’t just big, it was huge. NC State needed this for so many reasons. Had they lost, the season was probably over (in terms of NCAA chances). They would limp into a game against FSU with no clear path to the tournament other than a big ACC Tourny run. Instead, they have knocked off the #6 team in the nation by 22 points. I outright slaughtering. Now, with confidence riding high, they welcome #8 FSU to Raleigh on Saturday. Back to back wins over Top-10 teams would put NC State in a position to get into the NCAA Tournament without being on the bubble.

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NC State Basketball

PRESS CONFERENCE: Kevin Keatts talks after win over Duke

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Kevin Keatts talks about his team’s win over #6 ranked Duke. He applauded the energy of his entire team, but specifically the play of Devon Daniels, Markell Johnson, and DJ Funderburk. See the full comments above.

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NC State Basketball

Game Preview: NC State faces a must win vs. #6 Duke

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NC State Wolfpack Vs. #6 Duke Blue Devils
Time:
9pm (2/19)
Location: 
Raleigh, NC
TV: 
ESPN
Line: Duke -5.5

If NC State wants to play in the NCAA Tournament their ticket will be either punched or ruined in the next four days. With #6 Duke and #8 FSU coming to Raleigh, After devastating losses to Georgia Tech (twice), UNC and now Boston College, the Wolfpack has their share of bad losses. Now they need to start stacking up some good wins. That starts tonight vs. Duke.

Duke has won 7 in a row. NC State has lost 4 of their last 6. Momentum is with Duke, but NC State is playing for their life. Will that make a difference?

What you’ll need to see for NC State to win

– NC State will need to shoot the ball well. The Pack shot an embarrassing 10% from 3pt range against Boston College. If they want to beat Duke they’ll need to sit at over 40%.

– They will have to play GREAT interior defense and out-rebound Duke. Manny Bates and Funderburk have been bright spots, but against Duke these guys will need to bring their A games. Vernon Carey Jr is a monster inside. Stopping him could throw Duke off kilter. However, many teams have tried and few have succeeded.

– They need Markell to hit shots. In a perfect world, Markell Johnson would be slicing and dicing up defenses, getting in the lane and creating havoc for opposing defenses. He’d be picking his spots to score, knocking down 3’s and making the defense pick their poison. Instead, Markell has looked a bit lost. At times he’s been timid. Scared to shoot. Scared to turn the ball over. Unsure of when to turn on ‘score mode.’ What NC State is a confident, assured Markell. One that understands that this team is going to live by him and die by him. No use in playing it safe. Without a dominant Markell Johnson, NC State isn’t going anywhere.

And really, is it even fair to ask more or Markell? If NC State is going to make noise in the NCAA the answer has to be yes, but his shooting sruggles have dampened what actually has been a pretty good season for him. His shooting percentages are down across the board, but he is averaging a career-high (tied) 12.6 ppg, career-high 6.5 assists per game, a career-high 4.5 rebounds, and a career-high 1.9 steals per game. Aside from shooting, this is the senior’s best season of his career offensively. Fix the shooting and you fix NC State? Possibly yes.

By the numbers…

PPG
Duke; 83
NC State: 74.3

FG %
Duke; 48.4
NC State: 44.7

3-pt%
Duke; 35.5
NC State: 31.7

Rebounds
Duke; 39.8
NC State: 35.8

Assists:
Duke; 16.3
NC State: 13.4

Turnovers
Duke: 13.5
NC State: 12

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NC State Basketball

FULL HIGHLIGHTS: NC State takes down Syracuse 79-74

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NC State moved to 16-8 and 7-6 in the conference (5th place) with last night’s road win over Syracuse. Check out the full condensed game here, thanks to ACCDN.


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