NC State will take on Duke this Saturday in what has quickly become a must-win for the Wolfpack. The COVID pauses and the loss of Devon Daniels has thrown this season off the rails, but the more this team starts to get comfortable in their new roles, the more dangerous they’ll become. They still have the pieces to make a run, but time is running out and a win at Duke is important if they want to have any postseason hopes. Here are the 5 things we think are the most important in making that happen…
1. TURN. THEM. OVER.
This is not your usual Duke team. They have less experience and less talent in their backcourt than we’ve seen in years. They are usually one of the best in the ACC at protecting the basketball, but not this year. They are vulnerable, they are young and they are careless at times. This is an area NC State can certainly exploit. The Pack is 2nd in the ACC in creating turnovers and Duke has been careless as of late. Against UNC they turned it over 15 times and are giving it up over 13 times per game. Not an atrocious number by any means, but when Duke is bad they are being careless and NC State is good at creating full-court pressure on opposing guards.
2. PLAY INSIDE-OUT.
This Duke team is not good defensively and it’s driving Coach K crazy. I mean, think about it. With COVID Duke’s freshmen weren’t able to get as much practice. Usually, the guys Duke gets are great offensive players who get coached up on defense in the off-season and early in the regular season before looking like lockdown defenders later in the season. Add that with the home-court advantage they always have, and you have a recipe for success. This year, however, you didn’t get that pre-season coaching, you had stops and starts early in the season and you have no fans in the stands. This hurts all teams, but especially a team like Duke who was relying on their young guys to carry them.
The Blue Devils are 12th in the ACC in points allowed, they’re 9th in creating turnovers, 13th in defensive rebounding, and 10th in blocked shots. For the Wolfpack, it’s clear. Attack, attack, attack. Duke is weak inside, so running the offense through Bates and Funderburk is important, especially when you don’t have a guy on the perimeter who is a consistent playmaker. Playing inside out will make Duke make choices. Do they double down and leave shooters open, or do they let the Wolfpack bigs dominate in the paint. It’s time for the Pack to start playing to their advantage. With Daniels out, their strength is in the post. I know that isn’t Keatts ideal situation, but it’s the hand he’s been dealt. If they keep on allowing Beverly and Allen to run the show and attempt to create, things aren’t going to change. But if they run nearly all. possessions through their bigs, they have a shot at making a little noise.
3. TRANSITION TO YOUR YOUTH
You can tell Keatts loves Braxton Beverly. In fact, we all love the grit and determination that Beverly has shown in his NC State career. The guy has played his heart out. He’s played hurt, and he’s done everything that’s ever been asked of him. But with Daniels out and NC State lacking a perimeter playmaker, it may be time to start the transition to a more athletic, longer lineup.
It’s a hard move to make because it’s not just a question of attributes or size, it’s understanding you’d be trading off leadership and ball security for athleticism and length. Is it a trade worth making? If this was early in the season and NC State was sitting higher in the standings, I’d say no way. But with the season winding down, your best scorer out for the year, and your back against the wall, I would say leaning on Hayes, Moore, and Seabron may be the move to make. You’ll get some bonehead plays and some dumb turnovers, but you’ll also a stronger defensive team that doesn’t require as much help and recover and one that can create a lot more turnovers. Even if it doesn’t work out you are at least throwing these guys into the fire and giving them a taste of what they’ll be experiencing next year, when they’ll be relied upon to lead the backcourt. To me it’s time and it’s a low-risk move to start shifting minutes to these freshman guards.