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

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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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Papajohn
Papajohn
6 months 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 »

Dof87
Dof87
6 months 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 6 months ago by Dof87

NC State Basketball

Kevin Keatts Postgame Press Conference After Coppin State: BULLETED

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NC State Head Coach Kevin Keatts met with the media after the Wolfpack’s 94-72 victory over Coppin State tonight. You can watch the press conference here, or check out a BULLETED breakdown below.

  • First of all we’re going to continue to pray for Dusan Mahorcic.
    • I do not have an update at this point. He’s with our medical doctors and our trainers and I will know more hopefully in the next 24 hours.
    • We will  give you some type of an update when we get one.
    • I just wanted to keep him calm. It’s tough and you guys look at them as my players. I look at them as my  kids.
    • It is hard to see any of your kids or any of those guys in that situation.
    • I was there just to calm him down and let him know we are with him. I am obviously praying for him.
  • Our guards were really special  tonight.
    • There were 3 great guards on the floor because Sam Sessoms [of Coppin State] was pretty good  also.
    • It was really good to see Jarkel Joiner bounce back after not having a great game against Pitt.
    • Terquavion Smith was a pro’s pro tonight.
      • He did a little bit of everything, he defended, he scored  the basketball, he passed the basketball.
  • We didn’t feel like we played well in the Pitt game and we wanted to come in here, have a better showing, and play both ends of the floor.
  • I’ll get a thousand  questions about Reynolds Coliseum and we should play every game in here, but don’t send those  questions to me, send them to somebody else, but it’s a great venue and it was a great night.
    • I’m really appreciative of our fans for showing up.
    • It was an electric night. I thought the energy was great. We had a lot of fun.
  • The ‘STATE’ jerseys looked great, I thought they were  outstanding.
    • Hopefully we can see them again, maybe they’re not just a 1-game deal.
  • During the game, I thought we had a good 1st half, but we didn’t close the 1st half the way I wanted to.
  • We came out, and I  thought we were playing a lot better in the 2nd half, and then unfortunately with Dusan Mahorcic’s  situation it took the air out of us a bit, but we closed the game.
  • I’m happy the way Ernest Ross played today.
  • They [Coppin State] did a good job getting back in transition.
    • A lot of Casey Morsell’s shots have come when he was running the floor and getting out in transition.
    • They stayed at home.
    • The reason we got so many open looks to our post guys when we rolled was because they stayed with our shooters a lot.
  • I’ll take them [Joiner & Smith]. I don’t want to trade them, so I’ve got to say I’ll take them. I’m keeping them. I’m not  throwing them in, so I’m keeping those guys.
    • They are good and tonight they were electric. They were really good.
    • Every run that Coppin made they were there to answer it.
    • Here is what we do in practice with those guys.
      • I need them to play against each other because they challenge each other to become  better, but I also have to develop some type of chemistry with them.
      • So early on in the season, it was those 2 guarding each other, and they made each other better.
      • In the end, I have now switched it so they have to play together, so they have a better understanding and feel on how to play together.
  • Coppin is a team that is really dangerous. People from the other side won’t have name recognition, but you look at the Power Five and the bigger schools they have played, that is what has been great.
    • Georgetown was an overtime game, maybe multiple overtime games, and the Maryland game was tough.
    • He [Juan Dixon] has done that against all competition. I am happy for Juan.
      • I remember him back when I was at Hargrave. I sent Lonnie Baxter to Maryland who played with Juan and I have seen him since he was a really young kid.
  • One of the best kids I could have ever recruited [Joiner], especially the point guard position.
    • He didn’t have to tell me. I don’t know if he went  home that night [After Pitt].
    • Obviously, he probably went in and took 2,000 shots that night or more.
  • The #1 thing these kids are here for is their education.
    • Today was the last day of class, meaning we are going into exams, so we have to figure out a good balance of when to practice.
    • Right now our priorities shifted to make sure the guys finish out the semester strong, and take care of their academics. It is a great balancing act.
  • You gotta let me get past tonight, they’re [Miami] good, very talented.
    • I haven’t watched Miami at all, but I do know name recognition.
      • I know Isaiah Wong seems like he’s been around for 7 years, and he’s played great.
      • I’ll get a chance to watch them starting late tonight and early tomorrow.
      • They’re  talented.
      • Jim Larrañaga has done a great job with his team, it’ll be a tough road game for us, as all of them are.
  • Our guards did a great job of controlling the game, thats the maturity that I’m looking for.
    • I’ve got a Senior that’s been around a long time, in Jarkel.
    • I’ve also got a guy that is an elite scorer, who a lot of the conversations I’ve had with him are: ‘control the game, finish the game, be efficient down the  stretch, and don’t settle.’
      • He did a great job of not just taking deep 3’s, even though he took the last one.
      • He drove the basketball and we got to the free throw line.
  • Amazing. It’s not just NC State, you could almost make an argument that it’s America’s team, the ‘83 run was great.
    • It feels like every time you see something about them, I have to stop what I am doing just to read. It gets your heart beating a little bit.
    • It’s a great team with great folks, it was a great coach.
    • We’re excited…we’re gonna bring them back.
      • I don’t know if I’m supposed to tell you that, but I think they’re supposed to come back in February to honor those guys and I think that’s the right thing to do…and if we can bring them back every week we should.
      • I think there were a few here tonight, and I’m glad our guys played well enough where our guys respect what those guys did.
  • You know he’s played so well and other people will say, you know, well he’s only averaged 16 points per game, you know the NBA scouts, they know he can score the basketball.
    • They wanted to see him pass the basketball, so I think he’s doing a really good job.
      • He’s either 1st or 2nd in the ACC in assists.
      • We’re seeing a young man grow up, and by the way, he’s saying to you guys: ‘Hey I can score if I need to, I just wanna show you I got a little bit more in my bag.’
      • But he’s really matured, you know he’s a kid.
        • And you know one of the reasons why he’s back is because he’s a kid and he enjoys his teammates.
      • You know when you saw Dusan go down, you know, I think he was affected more than anybody.

         

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NC State Basketball

NC State’s Dusan Mahorcic Suffers Knee Injury vs. Coppin State

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NC State Center Dusan Mahorcic suffered a gruesome looking knee injury tonight in the Wolfpack’s 94-72 victory over Coppin State in Reynolds Coliseum.

From what I’ve heard, Mahorcic suffered an injury to his kneecap, but the severity of his injury is unknown at this time. A kneecap injury can visually be a disturbing sight, and the NC State squad, especially Terquavion Smith, who had a good look at it, were emotionally moved in concern.

We will have to wait to see how long Mahorcic is out, but the need for DJ Burns to be able to play more minutes just became much more important. Also, Ernest Ross, who has always had a high ceiling, is going to need to grow up fast if Mahorcic is out for an extended period of time.

We are praying for you Dusan! Get well soon Big Fella!

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NC State Basketball

Men’s Basketball’s: NC State 94 Coppin State 72: Highlight Reel & Condensed Game

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NC State defeated Coppin State 94-72 in Reynolds Coliseum tonight. You can check out the Box Score here. Below is the Highlight Reel & Condensed Game from the ACC Digital Network.

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NC State Basketball

Men’s Basketball: NC State 94 Coppin State 72: BOX SCORE

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NC State improved to 8-2 on the year, defeating Coppin State 94-72 tonight in Reynolds Coliseum.

Only 2 Wolfpack players scored in double figures, and it was none other than the dangerous tandem of Terquavion Smith and Jarkel Joiner.

Smith led the team in points and assists, with 33 & 7 respectively. Smith wax clicking tonight, shooting 12-21 from the field, and 6 of 12 from three.

Joiner bounced back from a poor shooting performance against Pitt, scoring 29 points, shooting 11-21 from the field, and a blazing 5-7 from three.

Jack Clark had a poor shooting night, hitting only 1 of 7, but he managed to impact the game in every other way. Clark had 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals.

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