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OUR TAKE: On NC State’s focused, gritty NIT win over Davidson

NC State Basketball

OUR TAKE: On NC State’s focused, gritty NIT win over Davidson

OUR TAKE: On NC State’s focused, gritty NIT win over Davidson

NC State was picked to lose by 1.5 in the game against Davidson on Thursday night. Instead, NC State ended the game with their reserves on the court playing garbage time and leading by 14. Who woulda thought!?

How did this happen? Wasn’t Davidson supposed to be an elite offense?  Wasn’t NC State supposed to come out uninterested and demoralized after their Syracuse loss? Wasn’t the NIT supposed to be a bad idea to begin with?

I get that people are mad that the Pack didn’t make the NCAA tournament and believe me when I say I’m an ‘excuses are for the weak, ‘Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” kind of guy, but I’m telling you, what Keatts is bu9ilding is worth. paying close attention to.

This NC State team won 5 in a row (one of those was a top-15 UVA team) and 5 road wins in a row. Then they ran into a buzzsaw in Syracuse. But that game shouldn’t change your mind. That was a personnel loss. NC State played hard, but honestly didn’t have the horses. Syracuse slows you down with the zone and they have huge, athletic shooters. Those are this specific NC State team’s kryptonite. But take that game away and you can see the trend. This team is confident, they are focused and they are just plain good.

Here’s our take on how State was able to go from 1.5 point underdogs to winning by 14 against Davidson


Keatts game plan was near-perfect, so was the player’s execution

Watch the game as a fan who is just rooting for your team, and you’ll come away saying “NC State’s defense looked good!’ or “The guys came out with a lot of passion on defense!.’ Both of those statements are true, but it’s the HOW that really matters.

How did NC State shut down the 17th ranked most efficient offense in the country?

Well, first, you have to know what Davidson wants to do, then you have to know how to stop it.

Davidson runs a motion offense with a few different looks and inside those looks the players get to read the defense and make decisions. Their 2 go-to motions to get buckets are the down screen and curl across the lane and the backdoor cut.  These are two of the hardest plays to guard, and having players understand how to go off screens shoulder to shoulder, or read the overplay and go backdoor are what makes Davidson’s head coach Bob McKillop a likely future hall of famer.

Countering McKillop however was no slouch. It was Kevin Keatts. All night you watched a cat and mouse game between the two coaches, but Keatts was always a step ahead and had the horses. Let’s look at how they defended Davidson.

Davidson uses a down screen and cross-lane curl to get easy buckets. If guarded normally, the guy guarding the screener needs to decide. Go OVER the screen and follow. This means the curl to the basket is open and it forces the SCREENER’S defender to sink down and help out. This leaves the screener open for the pick and pop. With Davidson’s shooters, that’s an easy 2.

The defender could also go UNDER the screen, this cuts off the curl but it allows his guy to get him trapped underneath, flair out, and knock down an open shot. With Davidson’s shooters, this again is a great option.

NC State didn’t play Davidson’s game, however. They switched almost every screen (as they usually do). This really. frustrated Davidson and it essentially neutralized some of their most relied upon sets.

Davidson even tried to use some double screens to free up shooters, but NC State kept switching, forcing the Wildcats to think twice on simple point-to-point passes that are essential to their offense.

Watch this clip. Hayes is guarding Lee and Hellems is on one of their bigs. They send Lee over the double screen, but Hellems is switching with Hayes and taking Lee when he gets around that screen. Davidson doesn’t expect this, makes the pass, and Hellems is in the process of jumping it.

When the screens weren’t getting their shooters open, they were forced to focus a little more on exploiting the overplays by going back door on their cuts. NC State again was ready…

Watch Beverly. He’s in denial (in the point-to-point passing lane). This signals his man to go backdoor. Beverly reacts quickly, but a good pass has him beat.

Now focus on Funderburk. His man is leading him away to the 3 point line, however, he has his head on a swivel and he knows that type of pass is an option when the lane starts to clear. Funderburk just simply shows himself with a small hedge and then retreats.

That the difference between an easy bucket and Davidson having to continue to fight for an open shot, however, I don’t think a lot of fans are focused on these types of intricacies. And let me tell you, this type of thing, that type of instinct does not come with kids from high school. These are taught by Keatts and his staff, and it’s these below the surface small things that are making this NC State team successful.

Funderburk was a nightmare for Davidson

Ok, two things here.

One: This was a good matchup for DJ. Lumbering, low-athleticism bigs vs a sneaky-quick, versatile guy their same size. So yeah, you had that but…

Two: Funderburk played amazing. He played with confidence and he showcased his full skill set. He knocked down the jumper, he faced up and beat his man, and he won battles in the post. The guy was everywhere, dropping 21 points (8-10 shooting) and grabbing 7 rebounds.

So why didn’t we see this sharp-shooting version of DJ all season? Well, I think DJ is a real team guy and I think early in his career NC State needed him on the blocks. If he wasn’t down low to rebound, nobody was. But now that he’s moved to the 4, with Bates on the floor, it opens a whole new game for him. I think this year he was transitioning to that role and felt hesitant to shoot from the outside.

But it’s not like he can’t shoot. The guy is an 80% free throw shooter.

I think, what we’re seeing, is the DJ Funderburk coming out party. And while it’s great to see, you have to wonder how good this guy could have been, had he really showcased this part of his game earlier. Would he have been a bigger NBA prospect?

Well, we may never know….OR, he could come back to NC State (due to COVID rules) play one more season, play this more versatile swing forward role and turn himself into a draft pick. (We’ll have more on that option for seniors at a later date.)

When Funderburk can stretch the D from the 4 spot, this team is deadly on offense. Davidson wasn’t game-planning for Funderburk the stretch 4, but that’s just what they got and it ended their season.

Bates was fantastic

Manny Bates is another guy coming into his own.

NC State had the athletic advantage in the paint, and Bates went right at them from the get-go. He’s improved so much with his hook shot and is able to attack you with both hands.

I mean, just think of where this guy was 2 years ago. He was coming out of high school as a shot-blocker who couldn’t score. He had no post moves, his shot was awful, and he wasn’t part of any offensive plan. Now, he’s a legitimate post scorer, he hits his FTs and he’s a big problem for opposing teams on the blocks.

Defensively, well, we don’t even need to take time on this. We know he’s one of the best defensive bigs in the ACC and Davidson found out why. Their guards abandoned drive after drive when Bates started creeping over to help.

Overall great win

We didn’t even hit on Beverly or Hellems, both of whom played major roles in this win, but. it was really just an all-out team effort. Great job from the players, great game planning from the coaches.  The debate on whether to play in the NIT was answered. It was worth it, even if just for the freshmen to get another game and the seniors to get another shot.

NC State takes on the winner of #1 Colorado State vs. #4 Buffalo, a game that takes place tonight at 7pm on ESPN2. Whoever wins takes on the Pack on March 27th (they get a week off).  We’ll have a full preview of that game, and more on this game later on.

A pasta eatin', Wolfpack lovin' loudmouth from Raleigh by way of New Jersey. Jimmy V and Chuck Amato fanboy. All opinions are my own and you're gonna hear'em.

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1 month ago

Forgot to say, I really enjoy the breakdown and associated clips. I admit, I have watched NCSU basketball for over 50 years and never truly appreciated the intricacies of the the play the way you describe it. THANKS!

1 month ago

Would love to see DJ play another year, but the man will be 24 years old in April. I hope he “blossoms” in the pros, hopefully in the US.

1 month ago

Hellems had a slightly off night offensively, but as usual, he was absolutely great on defense… we are really going to miss him when he leaves. He does the little things on defense and rebounding.

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