You wouldn’t quite know it from the attention put on MBB, but two other State sports are going for national glory this week. And on top of that, the outcome will decide who is State’s best current coach.
The Best of the Rest
I’m not saying there aren’t more than two great coaches at State. Rollie Geiger is the king of Track and Field. Laurie Henes just lead State’s Women’s Cross Country squad to a #2 finish at Nationals. Holloway has been everything for the Swim program. In the moment, right now, the climb that Wrestling and WBB have made are unmatched. They’ve entered another region’s domain or crashed through the ceiling of another sport’s penthouse. Popolizio and Moore have separated themselves and placed their programs on the verge of something BIG.
Wrestling’s Pat Popolizio
Pat Popolizio has been nothing short of brilliant since taking the helm of Pack Wrestling in early 2012. Twice ACC Coach of the Year (2018 and 2020) and National Coach/Co-Coach of the Year (2016 and 2018). Over his career at State, Popolizio has lead State to 4 ACC team championships, with another 20 individual champions.
Those accolades only tell half the story.
Wrestling has forever been a Great Plains and Midwest sport. Since it’s addition to the NCAA in 1928, 83 of the 88 national champion teams have come from four states; Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Minnesota. Thank about that for a second…Beyond a random push from a Cornell or Arizona State, it ultimately comes down to a handful of schools. That means that when trying to build a program, it’s hard to even get your foot in the door. But Popolizio is putting State on the map.
Stud recruits are finding their way to State from Pennsylvania (where three just dominated their state championships). The Pack has placed in the top-17 at the NCAA Championships each of the last five seasons and should make it six this year. In those last six seasons, 52 of 60 starters qualified for nationals (87%?!?). The tides have changed and wrestling is growing in Oak City.
Coach Popolizio is one of State’s best coaches right now.
WBB’s Wes Moore
Wes Moore is so damn underrated. I just want to highlight this last five year stretch;
2017 – 23-9 – NCAAT
2018 – 26-8 – NCAAT
2019 – 28-6 – NCAAT
2020 – 28-4 – ACC Champs, would have been NCAAT
2021 – 20-2 – ACC Champs, NCAAT as a #1 Seed (First-time ever)
You see a trend there? Every. Single. Year. This team has improved, won more and advanced further (trust me, they would have made it to at least Elite Eight last year and I just broke my desk knocking on wood so hard for this year.) In Division 1 Women’s sports, you could argue that Basketball has the most top-heavy competition. In order to win a conference championship and subsequently make deep runs in the NCAAT, you have to be a legit contender. Nobody outside the top-ten makes it.
Here’s the fun and interesting part. Moore has started to take over recruiting.
In 2017 and 2018, State wasn’t even a top-20 recruiting class. Then he got 4-Star Cunane. The next year saw 5-stars Brown-Turner and Boyd, with a class ranking of #8 in the nation. Moore is growing the program and attracting more 4 and 5-star recruits than ever before. He almost is getting to the point that he has too much talent to put on the floor (just imagine if Crutchfield and/or Jones return again?).
In a sport that is all big name-based, Moore is breaking through the static. A run to the Final Four would mean that his name, should at the very least, be mentioned with Yow as State Women’s Basketball coaching greats. He loves State and State loves him.
Coach Moore is one of State’s best coaches right now.
So What Now?
As Pack Wrestling heads to the NCAA Championships in St. Louis and the Women’s Basketball team in Texas, the debate will be settled in a matter of days. Can Wrestling beat their all-time finish of 4th at Nationals? Can WBB make it to the Final Four? We’ll have to wait and see.
All I know, NC State couldn’t be lead by any better coaches.
LOVED IT, HATED IT: From NC State’s embarrassing 72-52 loss to Ole Miss
These late games are starting to wear on me. So forgive me if I’m not my usual rosey self today, but I’m not going to beat around the bush on this one. The Pack looked downright apathetic, undisciplined, and unprepared in their 72-52 loss at Ole Miss.
Let’s jump right in.
Ben Middlebrooks showed NC State fans his value, notching 13 points and 12 boards.
It was nice to see someone come to play. Middlebrooks played a season-high 22 minutes, thanks in part to DJ Burns showing up soft for some reason against a 7’5″ twig that he’d usually bury underneath the basket (but I’ll get to that later). Middlebrooks matched the Ole Miss energy and physicality, and if the rest of the team had followed his lead, we would have had a ball game. For Middlebrooks, this was his coming out party for the Pack. NC State is going to need a bruiser this year at times, and Big Ben showed us he’s willing to be that guy.
LJ Thomas, nice to see you!
Tonight we saw signs that DJ Horne doesn’t have the intangibles of a true point guard (nor should he, he’s always been a SG) and Mike O’Connell is going to struggle all year against aggressive, athletic defenders (again, we’ll get to this later), so Keatts finally gave his sophomore PG some run.
LJ Thomas played his first meaningful minutes of the season, and while he didn’t light the world on fire, he provided some physicality and stability at the lead guard position. He played 22 minutes, scored 7 points, dished out 4 assists, and only turned the ball over 1 time (he also hit the only 3 he took).
It’s obvious this team is going to need a PG, so why LJ Thomas hasn’t been worked into the mix is beyond me. He’s in his second season, he has a good frame, decent vision, nice shot, and honestly has been pretty effective in the limited minutes he’s played in his career. How does anyone suppose the kid will reach his potential when he barely sees the floor? I know Keatts is in ‘win-now’ mode, but slowly working in Thomas when it’s clear you have no true PG is probably the real ‘win-now’ move if we’re being honest.
(Kids, close your eyes this isn’t going to be pretty)
Ok, I’ll admit it. It’s time to start pointing the finger at Kevin Keatts
I’ve been a Keatts apologist for a long time. I like Kevin Keatts. I think he gets player to buy-in. I think he’s a good talent evaluator. I think his teams are always in shape and always giving a ton of effort. I think NC State could be in a much worse spot coaching-wise, but we’re 7 years in now and there are a few patterns that we’ve all seen that we’ve hoped would work themselves out. However, it’s looking like that’s not happening yet again.
Yes, this was one game, but I can’t make excuses for this any longer. Keatts teams lack discipline in a lot of places.
Sure, they play hard as heck, but they are constantly gambling on passes, trying to get deflections and they are always out of position on defense. Watch NC State play defense against a disciplined team that moves the basketball and understands spacing. They always look like they’re playing catch-up. They’re always a step late, having to rely on constant communication for switches, constantly late on rotations, and always in panic mode on the close-outs. Keatts may look at that type of ‘chaos’ on defense as a feature, not a bug. But it’s been 7 years and guys, it’s a bug. A well-laid-out and executed game plan against NC State almost always throws us for a loop.
Look, this type of defense isn’t bad. In fact, there are a lot of matchups where this defense is going to rattle your opponent, fluster opposing guards and win you basketball games. But there are also matchups where you can learn pretty fast that this type of defense is going to get chewed up by your opponent, and you HAVE to read that early before things get out of hand. Your team has got to be disciplined enough to be able to turn it off and on over the course of a basketball game.
Meanwhile, when real defensive pressure is applied to NC State, Keatts’ teams never seem to step back, collect themselves, and focus on running their offense. Instead, they revert to one-on-one isolation.
It happens EVERY SINGLE YEAR and it doesn’t seem like anyone does anything to stop it. That is not how you consistently win basketball games. It happened with Al Freeman in Keatts’ first season, it happened with CJ Bryce, Torin Dorn, Terquavion Smith, and Jarkel Joiner. Every year there is a guy that Keatts’ relies on to bail out his team with isolation and one-on-one basketball. ENOUGH!
The State fans blame the players for being selfish, but the pattern suggests it’s not the players, but the lack of an offensive system they trust. They just want to win so they’re doing it the best way they know how. And with the way the last 3 halves have gone, it looks like Casey Morsell is going to be forced into this year’s volume-scoring iso guy…and that’s not how you get the best out of Casey Morsell.
Hey NC State, your lack of a point guard is showing!
We all knew when NC State didn’t land a PG in the portal that things might be dicey this season. Sure, DJ Horne can bring the ball up the floor and has a real nice handle, and while you did land Mike O’Connell and brought back Breon Pass and LJ Thomas, none of those guys are ready to be an elite PG at the ACC level.
Horne is a scoring guard (style-wise), O’Connell is a PG, but doesn’t have the athleticism needed to be the main guy for a top tier ACC team. Breon Pass, despite his size, is more of a scoring guard (style-wise), and LJ Thomas looks like a scoring guard but is actually the one guy who resembles a PG out there (however, he certainly lacks experience).
Last night, NC State got punched in the mouth, right out of the gate. And instead of collecting themselves and steadying themselves, they short-circuited, panicked, and fell apart.
If you think that a PG is only good for dribbling up the floor or for piling up assists, then that right there will be. your fatal flaw as you put together a basketball team. A PG’s main role is pace control, emotional stability in the face of adversity and situational awareness. People put all those things in the bucket and call it “leadership” or “coach on the floor”, but it’s a set of skills that make an elite PG, which in turn, can help make an elite basketball team.
NC State doesn’t have that. They haven’t had nor prioritized a player like that in years, and that is one reason you see games like this take place year after year.
What was up with DJ Burns?
DJ is one of my favorite State players in years, but no one gets a pass in these articles. Burns turned in one of those rare performances we haven’t seen since his outing against Creighton in the NCAA tournament, which coincidentally was against another skilled 7-footer.
I know DJ is undersized in matchups like this, but the 7’5″ Jamarion Sharpe is kind of a twig. Burns at times buried him under the hoop, but missed the shot. I’m not really sure what was going on here. Burns was in pass-first mode, in a matchup I felt he would try to exploit.
I was expecting NC State to clear out, and let Burns back down Sharpe (Burns has a 40lb advantage). Once he’s down deep enough, I felt like he’d have to throw a few pump fakes and get creative due to Sharpe’s reach. Burns is a great passer, and certainly more dangerous when he gets deep since he has more options, but it just seemed like DJ didn’t want any part of Sharpe last night. This team is going to need the offense to run through him if they’re going to be successful. Again, void of a PG, Burns is going to have to play that role for this squad and last night he didn’t.
Diarra, our 6’10” stretch-forward, only getting 4 minutes?
I know Diarra has been getting out of position a lot on defense and it’s bothering Keatts, but the guy is 6’10”, probably your best rebounder and you really needed to match Ole Miss’ ability to be big, agile, and physical. I was hoping to see a front court of Middlebrooks and Diarra for a bit, but never really got that chance.
Now look, Dennis Parker Jr. deserved the start. The kid has been playing great, but in the 2nd half of the BYU game and all last night, he looked a little shaken. And that’s fine for a Freshman, but 16 minutes, no points, and only 2 boards from your 4 man just ain’t gonna cut it. Especially, when your former starting PF logs just 4 minutes.
I know Keatts probably saw something different, but you were down 20 most of the night. I think a little more tinkering with your 6’10” guy might have been worth a shot, unless he’s still hurt, in which case all of this is moot.
We could keep going here and dive into the details, but I think we’re better off moving on. This was only one game, and I’m going to get criticized for overreacting, but that’s what this column is all about. And to be honest, I don’t feel like I’m overreacting. I feel like I’m witnessing this team, with all new players, fall into the same pattern that all of Keatts’ teams have fallen into over the years and I’m terrified of that. I want Keatts to succeed. I think he has the coaching intangibles that could make him a very successful coach here at NC State, but things need to change. Foundational, core principles need to be adjusted or we’ll see another NC State team that is streaky, matchup-reliant, and limps into the post-season.
I’d love to be proven wrong. I’d love for this team and this coach to make me eat these words. But these patterns I’ve glossed over or ignored over the Keatts era aren’t going away and it’s making me pretty nervous.
Wolferetti: Will the new NIL landscape hurt NC State’s ability to upgrade their facilities & hire new coaches? Does it matter?
I’m going to go ahead and address the elephant in the room.
NIL is causing a problem for schools like NC State.
There’s only so much money to go around and donors are having to choose between donating to their alma mater for facility upgrades, coach salaries, and scholarships, or donating to these NIL Collectives which pool money to eventually pay players in hopes they can be convinced to come or stay.
This is the reality now. The time for being an old man and arguing against the concept is over. It’s time to figure out how to operate in this landscape.
Let’s take KC Concepcion for example.
He’s the best freshman receiver NC State has had in a long, long time. Heck, he’s the best receiver NC State has had in a long, long time. But this isn’t 2018 anymore. Concepcion is about to have some options. He’s going to have schools knocking down his door, offering him life-changing money to switch schools. If that’s the path he wants to take, he won’t even have to sit out a year. So how does a school like NC State compete?
Well, first off, they need to match the money. It’s a bidding game in almost every case. So, they need to pay him close to the going rate. And how will they get that money? Well, they’re going to be relying on donors…the same donors that NC State’s Athletic Department has been relying on for coaches salaries and facility upgrades for years and years.
But the economy isn’t exactly thriving right now, and these donors don’t seem all that willing to simply keep their university donations AND add on NIL donations, so there is a choice to be made.
Just yesterday, Dave Doeren took some (unwarranted) heat from the editor-in-chief of ‘The Athletic’ for asking donors to pitch into the NIL collectives before the portal opens this week.
But what do you want the guy to do? His job depends on winning, and the only way to win is to get-and-keep good players, and today, the only way to get-and-keep good players is to pay them.
So without many other options, that is what NC State Football is going to be forced to do.
That said, I personally know a few big donors who aren’t too thrilled with having to weigh these options. One of them refuses to donate to the NIL because he doesn’t believe players should be paid. While the other is pulling his funding from the university and sending money solely to NIL Collectives.
The latter is what NC State is bracing for behind the scenes.
If NIL continues as it is going, the player asks are only going to rise and to stay competitive, donors are going to have to foot that bill. Like I said, there is only so much money floating around in Raleigh. For schools like Texas or UK this might not be an issue, but if we’re going to be honest, in Raleigh (and most of the ACC) it will be.
Meanwhile, NC State needs a major upgrade to the Murphy Center and its weight room. It was a state-of-the-art facility when it was built, but it’s 20 years old now and needs an upgrade. At the same time, the university has been dying to get enough funding to extend the upper decks at Carter-Finley and close in the horseshoe.
And while the football team’s practice facility is just about 9 years old, it’s not long until they’ll want a pro-level, all-encompassing facility, like the mega-programs are building. Here is what Texas is about to build…
Once you understand this scenario played out over years and years, you start to understand why it looks like these schools and conferences are panicking. They need to find a reliable source of money going forward, and right now the focus is to increase these TV deals and milk every cent they can out of them (that TV deal money can’t be touched by NIL).
But how sustainable is that? I don’t know, and by the looks of the way it’s playing out across the NCAA, they don’t know either.
So either the NCAA gets some kind of control of the NIL situation, or schools like NC State are going to have to get creative.
And that might mean a host of things, but in the end, they’re going to have to start operating a lot more like a true business, leveraging assets and land that they may have, to create revenue that, right now, they aren’t accessing.
Meanwhile, us fans, we’re going to have to understand this, because decisions will have to be made that change things from the stats-quo we’ve grown accustomed to over the years.
It’s adapt or die right now in college sports and schools like NC State are the ones who are walking a razor-thin line. There is a way for them to flourish, take advantage of the system, and come out on top. But because there is not an unlimited pool of money here, there is also a way for them to mismanage this situation and fail.
The coming years will go a long way in letting us know which side of that coin NC State ends up on. But for the time being, there isn’t a clear message coming from the university on where a donor with a fixed budget should allocate their money.
The best we have right now is the football coach, Dave Doeren, letting the fans know that the NIL Collectives needs it the most right now, and fans and donors seem to be listening.
The past 24 hours we have had more NEW members / donors to @packofwolvesnil than any other day in my (almost) 12 months here.
Let’s keep up the momentum!!
🐺 🐺 🐺
Tax deductible donations: https://t.co/1ZyrZcuXqj
Membership options: https://t.co/y180PdHT8W
GO PACK! 🐺🐺 pic.twitter.com/3bJpZqUlMM
— Chris Vurnakes (@Vurnakes12) November 27, 2023
Wolferetti: NC State Basketball Off-Season Predictions
NC State’s season is over, but you don’t have to wait until November to get excited about basketball again. With the new NIL rules and the transfer portal open, college basketball’s off-season is a season all in itself. Let’s just right in and talk about what I see NC State focusing on this offseason (Note that Jarkell Joiner is definitely gone, having used up all his eligability.
DJ Burns: I predict the big man comes back. He’s hinted at wanting to come back, I’m sure the NIL money is going to be nice, and he’s likely going to be NC State’s go-to guy on offense. If Burns wants to play in the NBA one day he needs to come into next season below 300 lbs. I think that’s important because he’s got a skill set that can make him some money to play professionally, but he needs to expand his range and get a little more nimble in his face-up game. He’s quick and has good footwork, but he’s lugging around 30 extra pounds with every move he makes. If Burns can shed fat and build some serious muscle this offseason, he’ll have the opportunity to be an ACC POY candidate.
Dusan Mahorcic: The big man missed most of this season (over 70%) with a knee injury, which means he’s very likely going to be awarded a medical waiver to play another season. I’m hearing that Mahorcic is interested in playing another season at NC State, but his knee has yet to bounce back to playing shape. I think this is something to monitor this off-season. If he’s healthy, it seems like he’ll be back, logging some minutes with or behind Burns. If he’s not 100% by season time then I’m not sure how the staff will play it. I think it’s safe to say that Mahorcic’s best bet is trying to play next year at NC State, and if he can get back to full strength, I think that happens one way or another.
Casey Morsell: Morsell has another season and I’m hearing different things about Morsell. Most expect him to return, get a nice NIL payout and try to have a successful season where he’s a little more involved offensively. That said, he wants to showcase that he can be a much more capable scorer and with Smith and Joiner dominating the shots this year, he only got a small taste of that. I think Morsell comes back, however, I think before he makes his final decision he wants to see how the roster plays out. Say Terquavion Smith comes back and Keatts adds another ball-dominant PG. There’s a chance Morsell stays, but I’d actually guess that he looks elsewhere, be it transfer or pro ball. I don’t think Morsell wants to come back and be the 3rd option again. I think he wants to come back and be option 2A or 2B and I think he can. Morsell is a key piece to this team’s success. An elite defender who can shoot 40%+ from long range is very, very hard to find and it would be smart for Keatts to focus on bringing in a PG who is more interested in getting his teammates involved. That said, I am nearly certain Morsell will stay another season.
Terquavion Smith: I’m 85% sure Smith is gone. The way he ended the season is fresh in the minds of NBA scouts. He showcased what he’s capable of and in a class with pretty weak guard play, Smith is one of the best all-around 2 guards out there. Now, sure, there is a chance that scouts drop him down to 2nd round status because of his lower shooting percentages this year, and it might make Smith question whether coming back and improving on those gets him the big bonus of the first round picks, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Smith escaped having his career ended with that foul against UNC, and he improved on almost all his numbers outside of shooting percentage. I think his shooting and scoring is the least of scout’s worries, so I think he’ll be a late 1st rounder and I think he’ll be gone. If I was him, I’d be cashing in while I could for sure.
Jack Clark: I’d assume Jack Clark comes back, but you never know. He’s got a lot to prove and with the injuries this season, he never really got into a rhythm. I also think one more year to hone his 3 would be good for him. He’s got the skill set to really be a factor in a Keatts offense, and I think he’d play a key role if he returned. That said, I’ve heard that of some teams (one in particular) that Clark might leave for. I’m taking that with a grain of salt because Clark has a secure starting role next season. But crazier things have happened, that said, when all is said and done, I’d expect Clark back.
Greg Gantt: Gantt was a quality add by Keatts and this year we finally got to see how important he was. He was the muscle at the 4. Clark, while I really like him, can get soft at times. Gantt was a great matchup for opposing 4s who were more physical. In the ACC you need both of these guys. Sometimes you get a versatile 4 and sometimes you get a beefy, strong 4. Gantt allowed NC State to at least compete with the beefy 4s. However, I’m not so sure Keatts won’t go out and get a big, strong 4 with a little more offense than Gantt. With Gantt’s injury past and coming off a knee injury, I don’t think the staff will leave it up to chance. I’m not sure what happens to Gantt. I think he’ll probably return, get healthy, and try to work his way into minutes next season regardless of who Keatts brings in.
Ernest Ross: I think Ross’ future depends mostly on who Keatts brings in with the portal. If he does go out and bring in another 4 man and Clark stays, then I’d assume the logjam entices Ross or Gantt or Ross and Gantt to look around at other options. However, if Keatts feels secure with the frontcourt and focuses more on guards (or if Clark or Gantt were to leave) then I’d bet on Ross staying. Ross has an upside that we haven’t seen yet. You saw it in spurts this year. When his confidence gets going, he becomes a real factor. Is that sustainable for him? I don’t know, I hope. But I’d say Ross is inclined to stay, but I’ll have to see what plays out at the log jammed 4 spot.
Breon Pass / LJ Thomas: There is no doubt that Keatts is going to be looking for guards in the portal this season. Pass provided some good minutes late, and honestly, LJ Thomas impressed nearly every time he was on the floor. But Pass hasn’t really shown that he can be a lead guard at the ACC level just yet and I’m afraid that if Keatts brings in a seasoned veteran at the point, Pass won’t be all that interested in playing backup during his junior year. As for Thomas, it’s interesting to me that Keatts didn’t give him more opportunities. He showed the ability to score it and was a pretty physical defender. I’m really hoping Thomas sticks around for another season, as I can see him being a factor at this level with more minutes under his belt. Thomas is a sophomore, so I think he’ll be more apt to play a role coming off the bench for Keatts, so if Keatts brings in a seasoned 2 guard, I’m going to bet Thomas sticks it out and plays behind him, pushing him and potentially breaking in to get more minutes as the season progresses.
Ebe Dowuona: As you’ve likely heard, Dowuona is leaving. He entered the portal, meaning that it was likely Burns and Mahorcic are coming back and Dowuona would be 3rd string yet again. As much as I liked Ebe’s passion and energy, I think NC State can find an upgrade in the portal if they want to get some depth behind Burns and Mahrocic. In fact, this is why I think they’ll be focusing on a 4/5 guy. What I mean by that is, a guy who can play both the 4 or the 5. A more versatile center with some meat on his bones. Someone physical, but also able to stretch the defense to the perimeter at times. This gives you that guy who can bang with bigger teams, and it also gives you depth at the center if the unthinkable happens.
Isaiah Miranda: The 7-foot forward joined the Wolfpack mid-season and some believed he would immediately get playing time seeing as he was a potential to jump straight to the NBA. Turns out, he had a lot of work to do. He needed to mature physically and he needed to get used to a lot more contact in the college game. He never saw the floor this year, so I’m not sure what to expect next season. Will he be ready? If the answer is yes, then State will be super deep at the 4 spot. If not, then I’m not sure what the move is going to be. In today’s game you can’t just wait around for guys to get it. Heck if you do, they might leave when they finally are ready, and you need every spot you can get for depth purposes. I don’t know how to look at this situation with Miranda. I’m guessing he’ll be here next season, but that is pure speculation.
What will State look to add: If Smith is gone (which I think he is), and Ebe is gone (he is), they’ll be super focused on bringing in both a PG, a volume-scoring SG and a 4/5 guytrue. The guard positions are actually 2 positions that I don’t think they’ll have trouble filling with Keatts’s style of play. All these guys would have to look at is how Joiner or Smith was used and the fact that they have an elite big man and a really great spot-up shooter on the wing, and what more could you want? Plus you’re in the ACC playing for a team coming off an NCAA Tourny bid.
The question is, if you have a good group to choose from, what do you prioritize? I think you go out and find the best scoring guard you can find that can play on or off the ball. That’s your replacement for Terquavion Smith. However, I think at the PG spot you need to be a bit pickier. Joiner was great, but he and Smith’s games were just too similar. If you’re going to have a volume shooting 2 guard, then you need a PG who is a willing distributor. Joiner wasn’t really great at that. In fact, I think Markell Johnson would have been the perfect fit for this past years’ team. Keatts almost had to force Markell to become a scorer, He was a guy who could score when he needed to but was more comfortable finding an open man and making a play for his teammates. Thats the kind of player I think would fit best with this team and I think that’s a skill set that will be out there to be had.
If I’m Keatts I’m targeting a PG with a high 3pt %, someone who can read the pick and roll and make plays off of it, not necessarily be the #1 scoring option off of it. I think a kid that is more of a disrupter on offense would fit great in this offense. A one-dimensional scoring PG, IMO, isn’t ideal and is really what makes the offense so stagnant at times.
So my thought is that you get a volume-scoring SG with range who can give you 12-15 ppg, a PG who can average 8-1o ppg and 4-5 assists per game, and a big, physical 4 man who can give you 7 ppg and 5 rebounds per game.
Who is out there?
This is a good question and one we’ll be updating here shortly. We’ll start focusing in on guys who fit this mold and have some sort of NC State connection. Obviously, those would be the first calls since there are prior relationships, but there’s also a possibility to bring in guys who have no connection and simply see NC State as their best opportunity…which is something that is easier to envision this year than it was last year.
What about the incoming freshmen?
NC State has 2 incoming freshmen in Trey Parker (SG) and Dennis Parker Jr (SF). Trey is a kid who I can see coming in and playing a role for NC State. The guy really is an elite athlete who can score at all 3 levels. He reminds me a lot of Terquavion Smith. He’s not a shy shooter and can get red hot from long-range. He’s had some HS games this season where he hit 5 or 6 3s and he’s also had a few where he went 2-9 or 0-5. So yeah, think Terquavion Smith. Now he’s not as slippery as Smith on the drive, but he’s more physical and is probably the best dunker in HS basketball. He’ll play next season and may even force his way into getting major minutes if he acclimates to ACC play fast enough.
As for Dennis Parker, he’s a guy who is super versatile. He’s a tweener at 6-6 but he’s a guy who can slot in at the 3, play a little 2 if needed but also the 4 in a pinch. He’s a kid that plays with no fear. He’s a good shooter, but he’s even better at driving to the rim. He’s physical, invites contact, and is a pretty nasty dunker as well. He’s a great defender and he’s super smart. He’s kind of like Casey Morsell, except that I’d say Morsell is more of a guard as a 3 man and Parker would be more of forward at the 3 position. Dennis Parker Jr may have more competition for minutes, but I expect him to get some playing time this season as well.
At the end of the day, a lot of this is going to be fluid. Maybe more guys leave than expected, maybe less. Those decisions will dictate what the roster needs and what Keatts prioritizes. We’ll be keep tabs on the portal over the next few weeks/months and will keep you updated.
Wolferetti: 3 reasons why NC State is going to win today
God bless these guys over here at PI. I submitted this article to them this morning and got this back.
“Joey, this is a good piece, but are you sure you want to come out and say that NC State is going to win? Why not just do a ‘keys to the game.’ or something? Hedge your bets. Why are you always wanting to put your reputation on the line?”
To that I say, “Nah, I’m good. I want my reputation on the line. What fun is this if I’m not callin’ it like I see it?”
Look, they’ve been worried about me stating outlandish opinions before. Like when I said after game #1, after I first laid eye on this team, that it was going to be a team that will flirt with or get into the Top 25? I got hammered for that, but was I right? And today I’m back on my prediction tip, telling you that NC State will survive and advance. And here are my 3 reasons why.
1. Creighton hasn’t fared well against teams with great Turnover Margins.
If Creighton has a glaring weakness, it’s turnover margin.
NC State’s turnover margin ranks 16th in the NCAA. Creighton’s is a miserable 291st. This means Creighton turns the ball over a lot and doesn’t create many turnovers. Meanwhile, NC State is the exact opposite. They create a lot of turnovers and really protect the basketball. This statistic right here is going to play a major role. The Creighton guards, especially Nembhard, can get sped up, and when they do, they can get sloppy and out of control. Meanwhile, Joiner and Smith flourish at top speed.
Let’s look at the one team that Creighton lost to every time they played them (and played them multiple times). That team is Marquette.
What do Marquette and NC State have in common? Well, they are both Top 20 in the nation in Turnover Margin. Marquette ranks #3 in the NCAA while the Pack is 16th. Creighton turned it over 18 times in their first meeting at Marquette. The second time these two teams met, Creighton turned it over 15 times.
The other teams they faced in the Top 50 of Turnover Margin in the nation?
#39 Arizona State
That’s it. And guess what, Creighton lost every single one of those games. They have yet to beat a team in the Top 50 in Turnover Margin.
Reminder. NC State ranks 16th.
2. Large, back-to-the-basket bigs have fared well against Creighton
6’9, 245lb, Adama Sanogo from UConn dropped 17 against them in a win.
6’9, 215lb, Oso Ighodaro from Marquette dropped 16 on them in their first meeting, and then 18 in their second.
6’7, 220lb, Bryce Hopkins from Providence scored 20 on them in both meetings. One of which was a win.
All of these guys are big, strong, back-to-the-basket bigs and all of them bullied their way to huge games again Creighton.
In all 3 instances, Creighton refused to double-team on most possessions and the big men ate. So how will they deal with a big that is bigger than any of these guys?
DJ Burns is 6’9, 275lbs and he’s going to be a focal point for NC State in this game. If Creighton opts to play Burns straight up, history says they are going to have a long night and Burn is going to have a big game.
3. Creighton hasn’t seen guards like Joiner and Smith
Sure Creighton has quick guards. Nembhard, the 6’0 PG rarely gets a matchup where he doesn’t have a quickness advantage. Today, against Joiner, he won’t have one. There is so much talk about Creighton’s guards bottling up their opponents, but watch them play and you’ll see that they simply haven’t had to face guys like Joiner or Smith. Creighton will allow the floor to be spread and will not fight against playing this game at a fast pace, and those are the types of games we’ve seen the NC State guards feast.
Creighton is a very good team. They have some very good pieces, but I just think they’ve found themselves in a matchup that isn’t very good for them despite being data-darlings. I could be wrong, but to me, this looks like a game where people are reading off statistics and making assumptions without watching film. Without looking at each team’s Achilles heel. And without really breaking down the matchups.
I think this is a really good matchup for the Pack and I think I’ll be back talking to you in about 24 hours looking at who the guys will play on Sunday.