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WOLFERETTI: Kevin Keatts’ off-season moves signal an end to his small-ball dreams

NC State Basketball

WOLFERETTI: Kevin Keatts’ off-season moves signal an end to his small-ball dreams

WOLFERETTI: Kevin Keatts’ off-season moves signal an end to his small-ball dreams

Kevin Keatts coached 3 years at UNCW. He finished in 1st place every season.

You know the old saying, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ So when Keatts was hired at NC State, it was pretty clear that he was going to try to replicate what he did at UNCW with bigger, faster, stronger, and more talented players in the ACC.

How can you blame him?

Kevin Keatts was coming into the ACC as the ‘players era’ was in full swing. Kids wanted to run and gun, and they were choosing schools where suddenly coaches were telling them to ‘go ahead and let it fly’. So here comes a brand new coach to NC State, with no ACC experience, recruiting against the best of the best.

Keatts wasn’t going to get anywhere with some stringent system, and he’d had seen success at the lower levels with a more freelance-type offensive strategy. So, the question really was, how can you give them that run and gun style, while still keeping organization and control as a coach?

Keatts thought he had that answer.

The flaws of the ‘old’ Keatts System

His system had worked at Wilmington. He’d get a bunch of interchangeable guys who could switch every screen. That would simplify the defensive system. He would incentivize players with more minutes if they had more success on the defensive end, and he would measure this by charting ‘deflections’ (a stat that many coaches weren’t paying attention to.)

On offense, he’d run almost all of his action off a high pick and roll. And he’d give most of his guys the green light, making it a high possession track meet. Meanwhile, he would have his team built to thrive in these conditions.

He’d get big guards. That was the priority. Dribbling, shooting? That was secondary to having the size needed to run this interchangeable, ‘switch-everything’ defense. Because, if this theory proved correct, the defense would create the offense, as it generated steals, blocks, and turnovers.

Inside he’d need a shot blocker. By incentivizing deflections and steals to get minutes, players would certainly be gambling out top by reaching for pass fakes and attempting to jump point to point passes.

Get the steal? Great! Gamble and miss? Well, that’s fine too because they’ll be driving right into a shot blocker!

Seems like a strategy that can’t lose, right?

Wrong. This isn’t the Colonial conference. This is the ACC. Those guys attacking the shot blocker? They’re some of the country’s most elite athletes. They’re big, they’re strong, and they can fly. So unless you have one of the nation’s best shot blockers, you’re losing this battle more than you’re winning it.

This is what you’ve been seeing out of Keatts’ teams. Whether you’ve noticed it or not. They are constantly out of position on the perimeter and it’s putting pressure on the bigs, it’s creating havoc on the help side, and it’s just a flat-out mess on defense most of the time.

Last year NC State allowed the most average points per game (75) and allowed the highest opponent FG % (47%).

When you’re basing your entire roster makeup on being able to run a certain type of defense, and that certain type of defense is giving you this type of outcome, then guess what? It doesn’t work.

Keatts bet it all on this system, and this system wasn’t working consistently in the ACC. So it was either time to adjust or go down with the ship. Based on this off-season, Keatts seems to be adjusting.

The birth of the ‘new’ Keatts system

Instead of targeting more shot-blocking bigs whose main role on offense was to be a pick and roll guy (mostly a decoy when you run this in the ACC), he has opted for two very different types of bigs.

DJ Burns, 6’9, who committed yesterday, is an offensive force. He’s a back-to-the-basket big, who has great footwork and soft hands. He’s got a nice midrange game and a ton of crafty moves around the rim. He’s big at 250lbs, and defensively, he hasn’t been a big factor. In fact, he only had 12 blocks over the entire season last year.

Then you have 6’10 Dusan Mahorcic, who committed in early May. He’s another below-the-basket type big man. He’s a more physical presence. A guy who is going to bang, husle, and throw some weight around. He’s also a pretty decent scorer on the block, and actually a pretty good passer as well.

The point is, neither of these guys is in the traditional Keatts mold. They aren’t shot-blockers. They aren’t going to be catching lobs off the pick and roll. They aren’t going to be dominant in running the floor. They are going to be big bodies on the block who bang, take up space, score or get to the foul line when shots aren’t falling from outside.

What does this mean?

It means Keatts is moving away from the system that failed him and starting fresh. He’s still going tall and long on the wings, but he’s more stationary in the middle. NC State will certainly be more physical on the blocks, but without a shot-blocker patrolling the paint, they’ll need to sure up their position defense and get away from gambling so much.

What you’re going to watch is a more generic style of basketball. Slower, less pressing, fewer deflections, maybe a little less guard-oriented. To some, it’ll be boring. To others, it’ll be a breath of fresh air. Perspective on this is likely going to depend on if we’re winning or we’re losing with it.


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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3 days ago

Yea, have to agree with Dof87 on this one, seems you are trying to make an argument based on a couple of false premises. First, Keatts has tried to have two bigs regularly in the lineup every season. He does elect to play small quite a bit too, but that’s not uncommon in college or pros. Year 1: Freeman, Abu, Yurtseven Year 2 – 4: Funderburk and Bates, Walker was the 3rd in year 2, Dixon the 3rd in year 3, Dowuona and Gibson in year 4. Year 5: He had Bates, Gibson, Dowuona, Ross, and Gantt – but obviously… Read more »

4 days ago

KK has always wanted big men on the court, and when they were productive like DJF, he went inside to them often. He greatly expanded Yursteven’s usage compared to the year before. He pursued big man recruits from the start at State. The problem was keeping big men committed and healthy. One man deep doesn’t cut it. Guys like Bey were committed but went to NBA instead. Steere was a head case. Manny was injured. Gant was a inside player injured as well. Etc. KK’s teams were small not entirely by design.

Last edited 4 days ago by Dof87

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