Just when the fan base seems to be slipping into apathy, NC State pulls you back in!
In all seriousness though, it was only a matter of time before NC State put together a game like this. They’ve been so close, so often this season, but continuously have come up short. At some point, they are either just going to wither and give up or decide to stop letting games even get close. Looks like they chose the latter against Virginia.
This was an extremely impressive game. I don’t think many will really understand just HOW impressive it was.
NC State shot 60% against Virginia. During Tony Bennett’s tenure (13 years), do you know how many other teams shot 60% or above vs. Virginia?
The answer is one. It was last year, and it was #1 Gonzaga, who shot 60.4%. Do you remember that team? The one that went 31-1. The one that people debated about being the best college team of all time? Yeah, it was them.
The Keatts-deniers are going to say this win was luck. Just some hot shooting. I’m going to tell you that you’re wrong. Sure, this team was hot, but that’s not why NC State was so dominant in this game. They were dominant because they played completely focused and completely fearless on both ends of the floor. They met Virginia’s physicality with physicality of their own. They disrupted Virginia’s offense by communicating on defense and using their length to challenge almost every shot.
Here are the other keys that we saw in the NC State’s win…
A change in minute distribution by Keatts
Keatts finally decided to trim his rotation down and we think this was a big key. Seabron, Smith, Hellems, Morsell, and Dowuona played 82% of the minutes. This is NC State’s best 5 and it was good to finally see him really push them to play most of the minutes. Thomas Allen played just 5 minutes and Cam Hayes tied a season-low with 8 minutes. Both guys will still get their moments, but as of now, Keatts is leaning heavily on the guys who are giving him the most efficient minutes on both ends of the floor. For a team that has been losing games by just a couple of possession, every substitution matters, and Keatts seems to be accepting that.
Morsell back to logging major minutes
Honestly, the biggest change was Morsell getting the start and getting back to the type of minutes he was getting early in the season, prior to injury. He’s looked ready for a couple of games now, but this was the first one where Keatts fully committed to him starting and playing a majority of the game.
Morsell rewarded him with 12 points, 2 steals and tied a season-high with 7 rebounds. He shot 5-7 from the floor and 2-3 from 3. Morsell is now shooting 38.9% from 3. That’s second-best on the team behind Jericole Hellems elite 41.5%. On top of that Morsell is providing elite-level defense, he’s a strong attacker off the bounce, and he’s good in transition. Morsell is an absolute key to NC State’s success, and while Hellems and Smith will get a lot of the hype here, Morsell playing major minutes was a needle mover for this team.
Hellems quietly rounding into final form
Jericole Hellems was supposed to be NC State’s most consistent scorer. He was their leading returning scorer but struggled early on with his shooting. Lately, that’s all in the past. Hellems is shooting 41.5% from 3 point range on the season (That’s 5th overall in the ACC for guys who have 80 or more attempts). He’s shooting a blistering 62% from the floor over the past 4 games, and he’s making some insanely tough shots. This is the level they need Hellems to play if they want to really make a late-season run.
He finished with a team-high 21 points on 8-12 shooting and 5-9 from beyond the arc.
I don’t think you understand how good Terquavion Smith is
Terquavion Smith is a freshman, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him. Everyone focuses on his high-level confidence, but what I see is more a lack of fear. He’s a kid who, yes, is very confident in his ability. But he’s a guy who isn’t scared of anyone. He isn’t scared of any moment and he isn’t scared of failure.
Meanwhile, all of that is equating into one heck of a freshman season. In this one, Smith single-handedly kept the Pack in the game early as he hit 3 early 3s and had a great drive to the hoop for a layup. The team fed off of him and the rest is history.
Smith finished with 20 points on 8-13 shooting and was 4-7 from 3.
Now, let’s look at just how good of a freshman season he’s having.
Smith is 2nd in the ACC in scoring for freshmen. He’s shooting the highest percentage from 3 of any freshman and has attempted and hit more 3s than ANYONE in the ACC. That’s right, no one has hit more 3s than Terquavion Smith. He leads the ACC with 55.
Breon Pass providing big value in small sample sizes
Pass is in the midst of working his way into being the first guy off the bench for Kevin Keatts. The freshman PG played 9 minutes in this one and played nearly perfect. He defended well, he protected the ball as the lead guard, he scored on a contested drive at the rim, and he knocked down an open 3.
What more can you ask for from a backup PG? The kid is giving Keatts the option of moving Seabron off the ball for spurts which is important, especially now since teams are opting to guard him with smaller guards in hopes to keep him out of the lane.
Pass played 9 minutes, finished with 5 points on 2-2 shooting. He had one rebound, one assist and zero turnovers. He is making his case to be the first guy off the bench for NC State.
It’s all about defense going forward
Keatts lineup adjustments has the NC State offense humming. Hellems is one of the ACCs best shooters. Terquavion Smith is one of the ACCs best shooters. Dereon Seabron is one of the ACCs best all-around offensive players. And Casey Morsell is rounding into form (and the 2nd best 3pt shooter in terms of %).
NC State doesn’t have an offense problem. That narrative from early in the season was eliminated when Seabron moved to the point and the ball started moving move.
NC State’s key moving forward is defense. And with Casey Morsell now logging major minutes, NC State doesn’t really have a weak link defensively, and they are in fact, led on defesnse by Morsell.
Sure, Dowuona is still going to struggle with certain bigs, and losing Manny Bates will always hurt, but you’re seeing the best version possible of this NC State team.
…and it wouldn’t surprise us if this was the beginning of a big late-season run.