A win is a win.
Ok, I’m not gonna beat around the bush here. That phrase is a phrase that really means ‘We won, but we stunk.’
NC State took out the Wildcats 65-48 in the annual Heritage game in Reynolds, and while there’s not a ton here to hang our hat on here, it wasn’t all bad. So lemme get right into it.
3 Things I LOVED
1. Ebe Dowuona keeps on getting better and better
NC State’s loss of Manny Bates turned NC State from a legit competitor into a team that needs to be world-beaters. But what we’re seeing is certain guys starting to step up as they get more playing time. One of those guys is Ebe Dowuona. The 6’11 big man is coming into his own. He’s now strung together five good games.
The streak started on November 21st when he had 7 rebounds. Then he had a game where he didn’t rebound as well, but put up 10 points and 6 blocks. He followed that with a 8 block and 7 rebound performance. Then it was a 7 point, 2 block, 3 rebound game, followed by this 8 point, 8 rebounds, 4 block, his most well-rounded so far.
If NC State is going to compete, they’re going to need this to continue for Ebe, and I think it’s time to start rewarding him with block touches. As his confidence rises, he’s going to start showing flashes offensively, but he needs the guards to pass him the rock if he’s going to have that chance.
2. Hellems coming out of his funk?
Over the previous 7 games, Jericole Hellems has shot an abysmal 33% from the floor. That’s coming from a guy who shot over 45% just a year ago and was being relied upon to be the leading scorer for this team, coming into the season. His offensive struggles have been a big reason that this team has failed to really gel offensively to this point. However, maybe, just maybe we just witnessed him break out of his funk.
And honestly, JUST IN TIME! Hellems was hot and scored 13 points in 32 minutes, on 5-7 shooting and 2-3 from 3pt range. They need a consistent 1-2 punch from him and Seabron on offense. And with Terquavion Smith starting to find his footing, they would have 3 quality scorers on the court. This will be needed this weekend when they face off against #1 Purdue on Sunday.
3. Terquavion Smith is becoming a reliable scorer
I told you early in the season, Smith’s biggest hurdle in reaching his potential during his freshman season was going to be shot selection. And was I right? Or was I right?
Obviously, the kid is starting to figure it out. He’s taking better shots and making better decisions daily. His play and confidence have seemingly boosted since being placed in the starting lineup (something Keatts should note going forward). He scored 14 points in this one, and that was coming off 17 point game vs Louisville. He’s shooting 39% from the floor and 35% from 3 point range on the season, and I think he should be shooting for about 41% from the floor and 40% from 3 point range. Shot selection will get him there, but there is no doubt we have a superstar on our hands with Smith. He’s going to be key this season, but if he gets serious about adding bulk in the offseason, we’re looking at an All-ACC level talent.
Honorable mention: Seabron with another double-double. Obviously this is always the most impressive thing each game, and his play has been other-worldly this season, but there’s only so many times I can say the same things about this kid. He’s amazing and he’s the reason this team is 7-2.
3 Things I HATED
1, 2 & 3. The bench needs to STEP UP and MAN UP!
Don’t get me started on these guys. What is going on? Over the past 2 games, the bench has only scored 8 points? (By the way, all 8 were in this game vs. a low-quality opponent, after scoring NONE vs. Louisville). Now, Keatts isn’t giving these guys a ton of minutes, but when they get minutes, they aren’t doing much with them. I’m lookin’ at you, Thomas Allen. Look, I went to bat for you when you didn’t play much vs. Nebraska. I thought Keatts was doing the kid wrong and needed to give him more looks. And now he has been. However, Allen, a senior, is not making much of an impact on either end of the floor, making me look like an idiot for the suggestion.
And Jaylen Gibson… Look, my whole schtick here is to be an angry Italian and to call it like it is, but even I have my limits. I can’t say what I want to, because I don’t think this kid can take it. But I’ll just refer him to the Julius Hodge quote from 2002 “If you’re scared, get a dog.”
Ross and Pass, they’re freshmen, but with the loss of Bates and the PG struggles of Cam Hayes, they are in a unique position to earn minutes. Unfortunately, they look nervous and unsettled in their roles. This will come, but it’s a shame they aren’t capitalizing when the teams is dying for a little help.
Th the end of the day, the Wolfpack bench is soft. Period. Hate me for saying it. Tell me it’s too harsh to say to 19-year-olds in 2021. Cancel me on social media. I don’t give a #*&%. This is a man’s game and if you’re not willing to play with a chip on your shoulder and compete like a man, then you’re going to have to keep walking back to your dorm room wondering why coach won’t put you in, or why the whole B-group can’t muster more than 8 points in 2 games. The answer is simple. You’re playing soft and weak and that doesn’t work at the highest level of college basketball.
There is Reason to be Frustrated
If you are an NC State fan, it’s only reasonable that you’re frustrated with the state of the Men’s Basketball program.
Under Kevin Keatts, NC State has gone to the NCAA Tournament twice in 7 seasons. The Wolfpack didn’t win a game in the Big Dance in either of those appearances.
Keatts has led NC State to a 3-5 record in the ACC Tournament, failing to reach the semifinals a single time.
You could make an argument that his first season in Raleigh was his best (I don’t think it was), because the Wolfpack finished 5th in the ACC, which is the highest the team has finished in the conference under his watch.
2017-18 – 5th
2018-19 – 8th
2019-20 – 6th
2020-21 – 9th
2021-22 – 15th
2022-23 – 6th
2023-23 – 9th (currently)
Average finish: 8.3
(For context, in 6 seasons, Mark Gottfried’s average finish was 8.7.)
Over the past 7 seasons, NC State has been ranked in the Top-25 in only 8 polls (2 separate seasons), with the highest being on January 7th, 2019, when the Wolfpack were ranked 15th.
Under Gottfried, NC State was ranked in 13 polls (all one season). With Herb Sendek at the helm, the Wolfpack were ranked in the Top-25 in 5 different seasons, in a total of 35 polls.
Do I think Kevin Keatts is the worst coach at NC State in recent memory? No, that award goes to Sydney Lowe. In all reality, NC State’s record overall and in conference play is nearly identical under Keatts, as it was under Mark Gottfried and Herb Sendek.
Kevin Keatts – 58.3/48.3
Mark Gottfried – 58.9/45.3
Herb Sendek – 59.1/45.0
What’s the difference between Keatts and the other two?
A couple of observations.
Sendek finished his time at NC State with 5 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and Gottfried started off his tenure with 4 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. The Wolfpack advanced to the 2nd round 3 times, and the Sweet 16 once under Sendek. Under Gottfried, they advanced to the 2nd round twice.
Sendek led NC State to the ACC Championship game 3 times (in 10 years), and the semifinals 4 times. Gottfried led the Wolfpack to the semifinals on 3 occasions. Heck, Sidney Lowe led NC State to the ACC Championship game once, and the semifinals on another occasion.
Is the NC State Men’s Basketball program worse off under Keatts than it was under the previous coaches? If you simply look at total wins and losses, that’s not necessarily the case, but when you look at the Wolfpack’s production in postseason play, there is no other answer besides ‘yes.’
Every now and then you have to be willing to eat crow. Years ago, I was of the opinion that Herb Sendek needed to go. Do I think that Sendek would have brought NC State back to where it was in the 80’s? I didn’t think it then, and I’m not certain my opinion on that has changed, but the past 20 years has proven to me that the grass isn’t always greener.
Call me nostalgic, but from a historical perspective, I believe NC State fans have right to expect their Men’s Basketball program to be successful…to consistently be ranked in the Top-25…to finish in the top half of the ACC…compete for conference championships…and go to the Big Dance on a regular basis.
There is reason to be frustrated.
Madison Hayes Will Be Returning for Her Final Year of Eligibility in 2024-25
Last night NC State Guard Madison Hayes was honored on Senior Night, but she also announced that she would be returning in 2024-25 for her final year of eligibility. She was honored alongside Center River Baldwin and Forward Mimi Collins, who are both out of eligibility after this season.
Hayes is in the midst of a breakout season this year, averaging 11.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, which are both career highs. She ranks 3rd on the team in scoring, behind the other two Guards in the starting lineup, Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers, who will also be back in 2024-25. Even though she is a Guard, Hayes leads the Wolfpack in rebounding. Her 44.1% Field Goal Percentage is the best of any of the Wolfpack Guards, and her Three Point Percentage of 41.7% is the best on the squad.
As a Senior in high school, Hayes was named a McDonald’s All-American in 2020, and she earned a spot on the All SEC Freshman team in 2021 as a member of Mississippi St. In 2021-22, she transferred to NC State, and played in 26 games off the bench, but earned a spot in the starting lineup last season.
Big news for the Wolfpack Women’s Basketball program!