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With Bates likely out, NC State needs to adjust their defensive strategy on the fly

NC State Basketball

With Bates likely out, NC State needs to adjust their defensive strategy on the fly

With Bates likely out, NC State needs to adjust their defensive strategy on the fly

We’ve all heard NC State head coach Kevin Keatts talk about it. We’ve heard his players echo it. We’ve heard announcers mention it.

Deflections. Defelections. Defelctions.

Defensive deflections have been a stat that Keatts and his staff prioritize. It’s been this way since he got to NC State, and there have been times we’ve seen it bear fruit, however, without a true rim protector like Bates manning the middle, it’s time for things to change.

NC State is at a crossroads and we’re only one game into the season. Manny Bates exited the game this week with a shoulder injury, just 1 minute into the contest. This was the one thing the Pack couldn’t afford to happen. But here we are.

Counting deflections and rewarding your team for getting their hands on passes forces them to play pressure defense. That’s the idea at least. However, if you’ve watched NC State, you realize that despite having quick, tall, long guards, they are constantly letting their guys into the lane off the dribble.

How is that possible?

What you’re seeing is defenders who are capable of keeping their man in front of them are often overplaying, and pushing up on the ball handler. They are attempting to do this by cheating up and attempting to get their hands on the pass they are about to make. This is putting them out of position, just for a second. However, if that pass isn’t made, the ball handler now a window to get on their defender’s shoulder and get to the lane.

This was good and fine since Manny Bates, the league’s best shot blocker, was waiting for them in the paint. But with Bates out, you are now funneling them into Ebe Dowuona, who is a fine defender and decent shot blocker, but by no means is he Manny Bates.

Even with Bates in, it’s a risky strategy. It puts your center in a position where they have to leave their man to stop the drive. With Bates, you had the ball handler having to make a decision. Attack Bates, or dish it off in traffic. That’s a situation Keatts was ok with. It would lead to blocked shots or turnovers a lot of the time. Without Bates, that changes. Now the ball handler isn’t as worried about attacking the rim, and Dowuona isn’t ready yet to constantly be making split-second decisions on the drive.

So, it’s time for a change.

NC State has the size and the speed to have their on-ball defenders sag off just a bit and focus more on cutting off the drive. They are long enough to challenge any shot over the top and the off-ball defenders can still play up in the passing lanes and go for deflections. This may take away from some of the absolute chaos Keatts is trying to produce on defense, but it also will put less pressure on the bigs, who won’t have to step up and make decisions quite as often. Plus, with a limited amount of depth at center, you’ll help your bigs stay out of foul trouble.

Virginia’s pack-line defense does this very well, and while that hasn’t been Keatts style over the years, it’s now time for him to adjust and play to his personnel. We’re not saying that State has to play back and pack the lane, but we are saying that on the ball defenders need to stop gambling for the deflection all the time. It’s time to get the guards to learn to get down in a stance, move their feet, and focus on cutting off driving lanes.

If State can keep opposing guards out of the middle, they’ll be able to limit the pressure on their young bigs and eliminate all of the open kick-out threes that we’ve seen over the past couple of years. With off-ball defenders not forced to hedge to the middle to squeeze off drives, they’ll be able to stay home and challenge the kick-out shots, making it harder for opponents to get open looks.

It will be interesting to see how Keatts plays this. He has a lot of pride in his defensive strategy and he’s been building a team of guys who can execute it well. However, things change and if you want to be successful in the ACC, you have to be flexible and adjust. With Bates likely out for an extended period (if not the season), now is the time for that adjustment.

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