(image from Ernest Ross (@ykbpoppa) Instagram)
Ernest Ross looked really raw at the start of the season, and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. I figured that he was too thin and too young to compete with Dowuona for minutes in conference play, and he wasn’t polished enough at the 4 to take minutes away from the senior Hellems. So it was pretty hard to figure out where the freshman forward would slot in.
However, over the past few weeks, Ross has looked like a new man. He’s played with confidence, and he seems to be picking up the team defense pretty well. With Dowuona struggling to stop opposing bigs on the block, and Jalen Gibson not having much luck either, Keatts has started to tinker with Ross at the 5. Neither sophomores were producing anything offensively either, so what the heck, why not start getting Ross acclimated now? It can’t hurt anything.
Fast forward to now, and it’s starting to become pretty clear. Ernest Ross can make a difference on this team and he can do it on both ends of the floor.
Offensively, he’s been surprisingly efficient. He hasn’t shot much, but when he has, he’s putting it in the hoop. In fact, during ACC play, Ross is shooting 6-8 from the floor, good for 75%. He also gives State another guy who can run the floor and really finish on the break. (Remember that huge slam on the run-out against VT?)
Ladies and Gentlemen, ERNEST ROSS
📺: ACC Network pic.twitter.com/FB5D7akGpn
— NC State Men’s Bball (@PackMensBball) January 5, 2022
Obviously, the Pack would love to have a big man on offense they could trust with the high screen and roll. Ross can really rise, so he’s an option for the lob, and while I want to not trust him with his back to the basket, he actually bodied up with a Louisville big and put in a nice baby hook in this one. Oh, and he hasn’t really shown it yet at his level, but the kid can actually shoot it from outside, giving State (eventually) a pick and pop option. Giving Ross more minutes, gives a new little wrinkle to the offense and I think that’s starting to be apparent. But the big thing Kevin Keatts likley had been worried about is defense.
NC State’s team was built to play aggressively out top on D. This leads to guards being out of position at times, but they get funneled into the middle where they would have Manny Bates (the league’s best shot-blocker) waiting. Bates’ injury really hurt, because suddenly you were putting a sophomore big in a position where he’s being asked to really block shots and protect the rim. Early on it seemed as if Dowuona wouldn’t be a devastating drop-off from Bates. However, as competition has gotten better, and as conference play has started up, Dowuona looks pretty overmatched.
Enter Ernest Ross.
If you read our pregame preview of this game, we saw this coming. In fact, we said, “It’s time for Ernest Ross.” Go ahead, go back and read it. Personally, I didn’t expect Ross to have a HUGE impact on the game. I just felt like, hey, what can you lose? Dowuona and Gibson aren’t giving you anything on offense. They are being overmatched on defense. Meanwhile, you have an elite athlete (although raw and young) sitting on your bench. Throw’em in there. You’re 1-4 in the ACC with a tough stretch coming up. If not now, then when?
Keatts did go with Ross, in fact, he played him a career-high 18 minutes, and to be honest, he should have played him more in the second half. Ross was everywhere. He was blocking shots, altering shots, knocking away passes and finishing when he had the chance down low.
He changed the game. Suddenly, when guards were getting in the lane, they were being challenged at the rim. Ross showed natural anticipation and timing on his challenges. This is something you really can’t teach. Either guys have it or they don’t. Ross seems to have it, meaning he knows when to go up and block a shot and when to stay home. This is what elite shot blockers are able to do. They aren’t falling for pump fakes or jumping early, taking themself out of position. To do this, you have to be a quick riser, and Ross is just that.
If you are doubting Ross’s impact on the game, look no further than this split from last night….
When Ernest Ross was on the floor (18 minutes). NC State won 47-21.
When Ernest Ross was not on the floor (22 minutes). NC State lost 32-42.
Sure, this is just one game, but it’s another observation that should have this coaching staff carving out more and more minutes for this kid.
On top of last night’s performance, he’s actually been out-performing the bigs since ACC play started, however, it’s tough to compare since their minutes are so skewed. Ebe Dowuona has played 151 minutes in ACC play, while Ross has played just 51. But let’s take their stats and break them down by minute. Let’s see their true per minute efficiency.
Dowuona has played 151 ACC minutes. He has scored 21 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and blocked 9 shots in the 6 conference games.
Ross has played 51 ACC minutes. He has scored 13 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and blocked 3 shots in the 6 conference games.
Points Per Minute
Rebounds Per Minute
Blocks Per Minute:
During ACC play, Ross has out-produced Dowuona both in points and in rebounding. The two are tied in blocks. Now, couple that with what you saw last night with your eyes, and add in the fact that NC State murdered Louisville with Ross on the court.
This is mounting evidence that Ernest Ross is ready and at this moment is Keatts best option in the middle.
But is he REALLY ready? Will he keep this up? Who knows. The point is, it’s clear that Ross is giving you better interior minutes defensively during conference play, he’s giving you another scoring option, and he’s a freshman with a very high ceiling who needs to start gaining experience. He’s not a 5, but with Bates out, with this roster, in this situation, he’s the best 5 you’ve got. Next year, when Hellems leaves, Ross will likely be the one filling that role.
There’s no better time to get him acclimated to ACC play than right now. It’s Ernest Ross time.