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Kevin Keatts has been late too often this season and it’s costing NC State.

Opinion

Kevin Keatts has been late too often this season and it’s costing NC State.

You know I hate to write this.

I’m a Keatts guy. I’ve written article after article defending him. I believe in the culture he’s building. I believe he’s a great motivator and that guys will run through walls for him. I believe, now that the fear of NCAA sanctions is gone, you’re finally going to see that he’s an elite recruiter. I believe he’s eventually going to make NC State into an ACC contender.

But sometimes you just gotta call it like it is.

I know, I know. Manny Bates is hurt. Ross is hurt. Morsell was down for a while. Cam Hayes is struggling, etc. The guy has excuses he can pull, but he doesn’t want to use those (respect that!), and neither should you.

NC State has 10 losses. 5 of those have been by 6 points or less. I’ll say it another way. 5 of their losses have been 2 possession games. Another one, against the best team in the country at the time, was tied at the end of regulation (or just a one-possession game).

That’s 6 games that came down to just a couple possessions. 6 very winnable games. And winnable games should be won.

This is why I’m pointing the finger at Kevin Keatts. It’s time for him to be accountable. I’ve sat back and watched this team and they are not a bad team. In fact, you have to first credit Keatts for getting this team to play so hungry and with so much ‘want-to’ before you can criticize him for his in-game mistakes.

I’m just going to be blunt. Keatts is coaching reactively and that alone is costing NC State a few points here and there, which this season, is the difference between a 9-10 team and a 14-5 team.

Let me give you some examples.

Late on moving Seabron to primary ball handler

I told you that to get this team to its full potential they needed to move Seabron to the point. Cam Hayes has struggled all year, the offense was stagnant and it was costing this team games. I didn’t want to write that article. You never want to write an article that recommends sitting a kid down. You never want to dig into the stats that show why that recommendation holds merit. These kids are 18 years old. I had the stats. I saw that it was necessary, and it’s likely a lot of you did too. But nothing was changing. State was dropping games. So I wrote the piece. The next game, Seabron was at point. And it’s not because of any article, it’s because it was becoming all too obvious.

But why did it take that long?

I started to note that maybe Cam needed a role change after the Nebraska game. We hinted at it again after the Louisville game. I noted it again after the Purdue loss. Finally, after the Miami game, I had seen enough. I put out a clear and concise argument for moving Hayes off the ball and moving Seabron to the point.

Look, hindsight is 20/20, but I’m going out of my way and putting my a#* on the line in these columns. If Hayes turns it around or Seabron falls apart as the PG, I look like an idiot. People lose trust in this site. This site makes less money. And the guys that run the site fire me. That’s why you don’t see many sportswriters write these types of articles. You can’t be wrong if you don’t have a strong opinion!

But why live like that? No one wants to read the same old regurgitated synopsis. They want to know how to fix a problem. Is there something there that the staff is missing? Is there a way that a few decisions or adjustments could fix our team?

Usually, the answer is no. Usually, the answer is you just don’t have the talent.

However, in this case, during this season, I think the answer is yes. And that, folks, is why I’m writing THIS article.

Late on increasing minutes for Ernest Ross

Let’s move on to the Ernest Ross example, which at this point is moot, but worth noting.

The kid is done for the year with an ankle fracture, just as he was about to break out.. But Ernest Ross had been showing signs of being ready to contribute. All while Dowuona and Gibson were building a track record of struggling against bigger, more athletic bigs. There was a noticeable difference in Ross during the Miami loss. I noted that and suggested it was time he start to see more playing time in my post-game recap.

However, he then didn’t see a single minute vs. Florida State, a 2 point loss in which Dowuona and Gibson combined for 39 minutes, zero points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. Would it have made a difference? We’ll never know.

Then came the first Virginia Tech game where Ross played 15 minutes, had 4 points and 3 rebounds. I again hinted that it was time to start getting Ross more minutes and figured the staff was seeing the same thing. But again was dumbfounded as he only saw 4 minutes vs. Clemson (a game NC State lost by 5.) In that one, Dowuona and Gibson combined for 35 minutes, 2 points, 2 rebounds, and one block, all while allowing PJ Hall to drop 20 points, almost all from the paint.

What was going on? Why, while Ross was showing promise in his small amount of minutes, was he seeing games where he barely got off the bench? Was I seeing things? The stats were showing that Ross was being more productive, but they really weren’t convincing enough to come out and really question anything publically.

Then came the Louisville game. NC State won on the road in blowout fashion. I analyzed the game from a number of different perspectives and the most obvious difference was the impact Ross had on the game. He played a season-high 18 minutes, had 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. But the stats didn’t tell the whole story. The game was different when Ross was in. He was altering shots inside and this was forcing the Louisville guards to play a little more hesitant on their drives. It changed the game. I went back and manually tracked his minutes.

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.

This tracked with what we had started to see vs. Miami and what we saw in the Virginia Tech game. Just his presence was creating a net positive for NC State. This seemed clear 4 games prior, but you still had the 2 games in there where he barely played. What gives?

That’s why I put out the “The numbers don’t lie. It’s time to hand Ernest Ross the starting role.” Again, I didn’t want to write that piece and a lot of you criticized me calling for him as a starter. It seems risky to sit down your starting big and bench your other big for a freshman that was just emerging, but it had become too clear. The numbers were telling the story and low and behold, Keatts, in last night’s press conference said “If Ernest Ross was going to playing this one, he was going to fight for starter minutes.”

Keatts is making the right moves, he’s just making them too late. Your current bigs provided a clear and large data set. They weren’t producing. Ross was trending in the right direction, and you were losing games where he wasn’t seeing significant time.

Now, would major minutes for Ross have changed anything against Duke or Virginia Tech? We’ll never know since Ross was lost to an ankle injury right after that piece. But that question should have been answered during the FSU-VT-Clemson-Louisville stretch.

Now, NC State has lost two in a row. And I’m back to pointing out another trend.

Late on moving Casey Morsell back into the starting role

Casey Morsell is a guy I’ve loved since Keatts landed him as a transfer from UVA. After watching his high school highlights and his games at Virginia, it was clear to me that Morsell would be the team’s best defender and would likely become a pretty good scoring option in this offense. He started strong. Keatts was starting him and he was averaging 12 ppg, then he went down with an ankle injury.

I thought Keatts did a good job at trying to get him back in the mix, but he just didn’t look the same. He wasn’t defending at the same level and he couldn’t buy a shot. He wasn’t right, which eventually led Keatts to turn to Thomas Allen.

This worked out well as Allen went through a stretch of being red-hot. He had a great game vs. Miami, a good game vs FSU, an ok game vs. VT and then a good game against Clemson. He was helping NC State on offense, but they lost 3 of those 4 games and their defense was struggling.

During that Clemson game, Casey Morsell logged 22 minutes and seemed to look like his old self. He was defending well, and 2 of his 4 3s fell. I expected Morsell to start carving out his role again, but one game wasn’t enough to provide real confidence. The next game vs. Louisville Morsell only logged 12 minutes and didn’t score. Smith was hitting everything so he wasn’t coming out and Allen was 4-10 and had 4 assists with no turnovers. I get it, but Hayes was 1-7 and got 19 minutes (although he did have 4 assist). Morsell is your best defender and looked like he was starting to get things back on track, why wasn’t Keatts getting him more run? Still, NC State won and the offense was buzzing, so it glossed over any problems that were lingering under the surface.

The Duke game is where it became clear for me. Morsell logged just 11 minutes and only hit 1 of 4 shots (another 3), but he had 2 steals and a rebound in his time. But it was how he looked in that game that made things obvious. Morsell was locked in defensively. He was moving so well, badgering the Duke guards, and was the only guy keeping his man out of the paint. He was playing physical, and never gave up, barking at his team to play harder, even as the game had surely slipped away.

Meanwhile, Allen played 18 minutes, scored 5 points and had 3 assists. Hayes played 8 minutes, had 4 points, but turned it over 3 times. And Breon Pass got some run, logging 10 quality offensive minutes, scored 5 points, 2 assists, but was overmatched on defense (fouling 4 times in those 10 mins).

Morsell was obviously back to 100% physically and was easily the best on-ball defender that NC State had against Duke. He was also starting to hit some shots. So I wondered why he wasn’t beating these other guys out for minutes? He can provide the same amount of offense, he gives you good size, more physicality and he’s easily a huge upgrade on defense. In fact, when I looked, sure enough, Morsell was NC State’s 3rd best 3-point shooter on the season. It was time that Keatts stopped playing around and started committing more to Morsell. Why wasn’t it in the process of happening?

Well, I gave him benefit of the doubt. He was probably going to commit to him against Virginia Tech. I was so sure that Morsell was going to break out that it was one of the keys to the game I wrote up in my pregame piece

Fast forward to last night’s game and what do you know. Morsell gets 26 minutes, scores 11 on 4-7 shooting, hits 3-4 3s, grabs 4 rebounds, and nets 3 steals (should have been 4 steals and 13 points but the refs called him for a phantom reach on his pick-pocket at half court).

Morsell broke out. It wasn’t a lucky guess. It was trending data and observations. It was clear Morsell was about to do this. So again, why did Kevin Keatts keep him out of the starting lineup? Did he not see this? Did his staff not present this?

What’s the big deal, you might ask? Morsell did get 26 minutes to Allen and Hayes’ combined 19.

Well, remember, NC State lost this game by 2 points. 5 of their 10 losses have been 2 possession games. Morsell didn’t get into this game until it was 13-0. When your season is riding on such a thin margin, you can’t keep missing like this. Every minute counts. Every substitution matters. You can’t keep being reactive. You need to see these trends and make changes before the situation forces you to.

NC State lost this Virginia Tech game by 2 points.

When Casey Morsell was on the floor (26 minutes). NC State won by 13.

When Casey Morsell was not on the floor (14 minutes). NC State lost by 15.

Would starting Morsell have won this game for you? Based on the trends and stats of this game, yeah, probably.

This isn’t just me saying these. Log onto Twitter. Look on Facebook. There are a handful of real basketball heads who are analyzing what we’re seeing and are pointing out these adjustments. Sure they’re small. A few minutes more for this guy, a few minutes less for that guy. But when you’re margins are this razor thin, they matter.

Look, I’m a Keatts guy. I believe in what he’s doing here. I want him here. I don’t think there should even be conversations about replacing him at any point in the near future… but for this issue, I gotta call it like it is. The players are responsible for their play, but the coaches are responsible for having the right guys on the court to make those plays. Keatts has made adjustments, he’s just simply been too slow to make them in a season where the difference between an NCAA Tournament appearance and going home after the ACC Tourny is just a possession or two per game.

That, folks, is another visible trend. One that, this time, we hope is dealt with proactively instead of reactively.

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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Papajohn
Papajohn(@papajohn)
3 months ago

Interesting take. Not sure I agree with it as a whole, but I do agree change is good. Seabron – When asked about moving Seabron to primary ballhandler Keatts said that Seabron had been playing some PG since the beginning of the season, but Seabron had not been involving other players – as a PG should. He coached him up, and now Seabron is leading the team in assists and minutes at PG. Ross – Ross is a forward, not a center. So he has to learn a new position. Early in the season, Ross was terrible at defense. Even… Read more »

Rev
Rev(@rev)
3 months ago

Here is another, very difficult item that needs to be addressed. Keatts is a young coach. He prides himself in his relationship with his players. He wants to be loved. Afterglow was headed in the right direction when alluded to personnel issues at work. YOU CANT BE BUDDIES WITH YOUR PLAYERS (or employees). To now paraphrase what Joey is saying, “You shouldn’t hesitate so long before making decisions that look contrary to your loyalty to your players.”

brad58
brad58(@brad58)
3 months ago

I think Kevin is also developing as a coach, just like the players. I think we need to remain patient as he checks most of the other boxes. I would like to see him demonstrate that he can sign some top ranked players consistently. This helps with winning because you don’t have guys not showing up from game to game.

Afterglow
Afterglow(@afterglow)
3 months ago
Reply to  brad58

I like this idea, especially in the proactive approach to games instead of a reactive approach. I work at a job where being proactive is the difference between dealing with choir boys or a reenactment of Lord of the Flies. Every little move throughout the day dictates how well things will go. And developing that Spidey sense is possible. But I wonder if as a coach, to develop that, Keatts needs to hire some guys that can see the forest for the trees for him, whether it’s a stat guy (doubtful), or assistant coaching changes, like an offensive and defensive… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Afterglow

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