NC State athletics has been on a roll with their content recently. Over the past few weeks, they’ve been releasing a series called ‘Thundercats’ which is an interview series where Wolfpack Football’s strength coach, Dantonio ‘Thunder’ Burnette’s kids sit down for a Q&A session with some of the football team’s biggest stars.
And it’s not just football. Now, they’ve started releasing a series titled ‘Get to know the Wolfpack’ where they ask a series of personal questions to some of the basketball players.
Get to know your Wolfpack! 📝 pic.twitter.com/KiTaOfoDfb
— NC State Men’s Bball (@PackMensBball) August 30, 2022
Again, this is great content. The goal here is to create interest in the players and by doing that, fans create a closer relationship with the team. Humanizing players (and marketing them) at the college level is something that teams have started doing a lot more of in the past few years and NC State has been one of the programs really capitalizing on that lately.
With that aside, let’s take a look at a few of the tidbits we found interesting.
Casey Morsell: His season motto of “The Journey is the Reward” is rather fitting. This is a guy who started his career at Virginia, started as a freshman, but slumped and was forced to the bench. With transfer rules loosened two years ago, Morsell decided to change course and head to NC State where it seems he’s revitalized his career. He’s now a major piece to this year’s NC State squad and is being looked to for his leadership skills and his defensive prowess.
Another interesting takeaway is that Morsell lists his hidden talent as ‘computer programming’ and in his off-time enjoys doing puzzles and playing tennis. Pretty darn well-rounded if you ask me!
Breon Pass: His season motto is “one day at a time” which again, makes sense. This is a kid who was a 4-star recruit and struggled a bit last season to transition to the ACC level. He had some really bright moments, but it was clear that he’d need an off-season of building up his body and improving his craft before we really got to see what he’s capable of.
Meanwhile, in his free time, Breon says he’s a skilled cook and wants to remind everyone that he’s still good at football. (Note that he was a highly recruited football prospect as well!)
LJ Thomas: The freshman hasn’t even played a game at NC State yet, and he isn’t someone people are talking much about, but the kid is good. He was the #4 ranked player in NC last year and he’s got a college-ready body, a nice jump shot, and a solid handle. He too says his hidden talent is cooking, and like most kids his age, he likes to spend his downtime playing NBA 2k (video game) and hanging out.
Ebe Dowuona– The narrative lately has been that NC State has recruited over Ebe Dowuona after a season where the Pack was beaten pretty bad in the paint all season long. However, it’s good to note that Ebe barely played as a freshman and was thrust into a starting role last year when Bates went down. I don’t think it’s safe to write off Dowuona. This is a guy who could see things click soon. He’s a talented shot blocker and has built up his body this off-season. It will be interesting to see if his back-to-the-basket play advances with an off-season of work. That seems to be the thought process of Dowuona himself, who isn’t looking to give up his minutes in the paint that easily. His season motto of “My Turn” suggests that he’s ready now and wants to show Wolfpack nation what he’s capable of. He lists God in his “things he loves” section and says his hidden talent is soccer. His favorite quote is “Rule your mind or it will rule you” which suggests that this is a kid who is focused, driven, and understands that this is the season for him to take control of his destiny.
We’re looking forward to more of these, and will make sure to share them when they’re posted.
Kevin Keatts says NC State will play 100% zone defense this year. Is he lying?
Fresh off an offseason of roster re-building, Keatts said all the right things in his media day presser. He talked about taking full responsibility, he talked about tweaking his system, he talked about adapting to the new landscape and how it alters coaching.
Oh, he also talked about ditching his signature man-to-man and playing 100% zone this season.
“It was different last year. We had the leading shot blocker in the country that we thought was coming back, so our philosophy on how we tried to guard the ball was a little bit different because, in the past, we could really pressure, and even when we flushed guards to the hole, Manny was back there to clean it up. I think we’re going to play 100 percent zone this year. I’ve been looking at a lot of tape of Syracuse, and if you’re going to play a zone, Coach [Jim] Boeheim’s got a tremendous zone, so I think I’m going to play a lot of zone this year. Write that down. You don’t believe me, but write that down. I’m not saying that our zone is going to be as good as theirs, but…”
Now, Keatts said this with a smile on his face and at first, it seemed like he might be kidding. But his points were valid and to did tell the reporters to write it down…
So is Keatts baiting the media or could we see NC State turn into a zone team?
Well, note that at the beginning of the question,
Keatts explained that last year’s defensive strategy was based on the fact that they had Manny Bates, one of the nation’s top shot blockers in the middle. This is 100% true and it’s something I’ve said over and over again last season. NC State’s system of ‘charting deflections’ wasn’t great with Manny Bates, but it was awful without him.
Keatts charts deflections and has made it known that it’s a state he pays attention to. And when you think about it, it’s not crazy. If you are looking for a stat that can capture how hard you’re playing, deflections is a good one. You don’t need to end up with the steal, but you need to get your hand on the ball to get a tally in the deflection column.
This works in high school and probably worked at UNCW, but at the ACC level, it hasn’t.
NC State has been very bad when it comes to opponent FG%. Last year they finished dead last, allowing teams to shoot over 47% from the field. It’s the second time in five years that they’ve finished last in that stat. The other time was Keatts’ first season in which they allowed teams to shoot over 46% from the floor.
In fact, since Kevin Keatts arrived, the Pack has finished no better than 11th in ‘Opponent FG %’. Meaning, other teams were pretty much scoring at will the past 5 seasons. However, on the same token, until last season, NC State has finished 5th or better every year in Team FG%, shooting 45% or better each season.
Basketball is simple math. Score more than your opponent. If NC State wants to improve, it’s got to come on the defensive end. Their offense (aside from last season) has been top 5 in the ACC.
So something needs to change on defense. But what?
NC State is not undermanned. They have tall, long, athletic guards, they play hard, and most of them are pretty physical. It’s not a problem with your roster. It’s a problem with your system. Bates or no Bates, this team has consistently had trouble stopping other teams from scoring. So it’s time Keatts tweaked the system.
Just look at the roster moves. With the addition of DJ Burns and Mohorcic, Keatts making it clear that NC State is not relying on shot-blockers in the paint. If you missed it, I broke it all down right here in early May. Keatts has to make sure his guards stay down in a stance and in front of their man. No more out-of-control close-outs. No more jumping passes or overplaying for the deflection. NC State needs to focus on playing old-school, hand-in-your-face, sound defense.
Or, you could just play zone.
Now, the part about Keatts playing zone 100% of the time. That is a lie. But the more you think about it, the more you realize that zone might be their only option on some nights.
Keatts’s best option in the middle is going to be DJ Burns, and with today’s game, defenses are going to use ball screen to force a switch and get Burns in a mismatch all day long. Same goes for Mahorcic.
So how do you stop teams from take advantage of a group of less athletic centers? You play zone.
Look, we’ll see how it shakes out, because Keatts likes playing with pace, and one reason their offense has been so good during his 5 years is partly because of pace. Going zone will slow things down considerably, but it’s about finding that right balance where you tip the scales just enough to have an advantage.
I don’t know if NC State is going to be a ‘zone team’, but I do know that zone is going to be a real option for them this season and it wouldn’t surprise me if Keatt’s was hinting that out of the gates, the goal is for it to be used a lot more than us NC State fans are used to seeing.
Wolfpack Men’s Basketball Player Interviews at NC State Media Day
NC State’s Men’s Basketball Team had their Media Day yesterday. Check out the videos of individual players being interviewed.
TRANSCRIPT: Kevin Keatts Press Conference at NC State Media Day
NC State Head Men’s Basketball Coach Kevin Keatts spoke with the media yesterday for Media Day. You can watch the full thing here, or check out what he had to say below.
So many different new players and new assistant coaches. It was a really, really rewarding trip for us for a lot of different reasons. A lot of the times, when you take a trip, people concentrate a lot on the basketball part of it, but for us, it was really about each other. My coaches get the chance to see me, and I’m taking feedback from those guys as we go through the games, and our guys learn from each other. When you look at who we have, we have so many guys that transferred in. The 3 guys that played the most last year were Terquavion Smith, Casey Morsell, and Ebe Dowuona. Everybody else, even the ones who are returning, are new. Having the chance to find out a little bit more about each other and understanding how we want to play, it was good for us because we were able to get 10 practices in, and I think that was important, especially with a new team. I vote to take these trips every year. You don’t know what your roster is going to look like from year to year. I think it was good for us to get a little advantage in learning each other.
Jack did a great job in the Bahamas. It’s the new breed of forward. Jack will play some Small Forward for us, but I guess you could say “small ball,” but he’s not really small because he’s 6’8″. We will play him some at Power Forward. I like him as a Torin Dorn type of guy, but a little bit better shooter. Torin Dorn was really special for us my 1st year because he could drive it, he could shoot it, and he could guard multiple positions. We’ll use Jack in that way.
Terquavion Smith as a Leader
He’s done a good job. He always brings the most energy to our team, and he’s still that way. That’s what I love about him. One of the reasons he wanted to come back to school…obviously, he wanted to play his way to a higher pick next year…but he loves school. He loves his teammates. He loves it. If you’ve ever seen him at the football games, he’s jumping up and down. He loves the tailgating. He loves everything about NC State. His leadership is because he cares about everybody that’s around him. He’s done a great job of embracing that. He’s done a great job as the guy who’s the leading scorer returning, embracing the new guys that are coming in also.
Jarkel Joiner leading as well
If you made me pick a guy who’s going to be a leader this year, I’d say it’s probably going to be Jarkel Joiner. I think Terquavion will lead in several different ways as he plays, and he’ll certainly have a voice, but if you made me pick a guy right now, I’d say it’d probably be Jarkel. He’s older. He’s the point guard on the team. He’s been through it a little bit, and I think he’s stepped up so far. It’s hard for transfers to come into any program because they’re still trying to figure their way out and if they can or can’t say this or that. He’s one of those guys who’s found his niche, and people listen to him.
Smith & Joiner’s Chemistry
It’s good. I haven’t played them together a lot because they’re both so competitive, so I kind of want them on the other team so they both can lift the other team up. The times they’ve played together in the Bahamas, when they were on the floor together, they seemed to work well. We’ve got enough shots in this program to go around, so I don’t think there’s ever going to be an issue.
Casey Morsell and Breon Pass Playing Different Positions
Yeah, you’ll see Casey Morsell play some Shooting Guard and Small Forward. I think you’ll see Breon as a Point at times and off the ball at times. I look at Casey as a guy that could possibly be one of the top defenders in our league. He’s strong. He’s physical. He’s also shooting the ball very well. We saw a little bit of what Breon Pass could do last year, and I think you’ll see more of him, because he’ll have opportunities. You’ll see, at times, with Terquavion and times with Jarkel on the floor, even with Casey.
How difficult last season was for him as a coach
You know I’m a competitor. I think every coach in the country pours his energy, time, and effort into the job that they do. You certainly want to be rewarded at the end. For me, it was tough. I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you it was one of the toughest seasons, if not the toughest season, that I’ve ever been through in basketball. It was a very humbling season for me. As a head coach here at NC State, no matter what the situation was, I take full responsibility of the season that we had, and it’s my job to go out and correct it. I think we’ve done some great things and identified some of the issues that we had last year, and we’ve done it through recruiting and bringing the right guys in.
His energy for this season
I’m energized all the time. I’m just as excited about this year as I was going into last year, and I don’t need a losing season to get me that way, but it certainly helps. I wouldn’t lie about that part of it. I’m as focused as ever. My attitude’s been great. I’m pushing. I’ve got great people around me that I listen to, that are helping. A lot of times, when you go through a season like that, you want to turn your back and look at just you. I try to surround myself with some players and coaches that want to help us get back on the right track, and I think that’s important.
New Assistant Coaches
They’re doing great. All 3 of those guys are fabulous. I wanted to go out and get 3 guys with tremendous energy and also guys that I felt wouldn’t be here long. I know people don’t want to hear that, but in order to get a great staff, you want guys who can be head coaches. When you look at when I first started, I had A.W. Hamilton and Takayo Siddle, and both of those guys are really doing good jobs as Division I head coaches. I love our staff. I love our chemistry. They’re working well together. They’re bringing tremendous ideas to the table. That’s nothing against our old staff. I thought our old staff did some really good things also, but it’s good to have some different ideas as we go through this process.
No NCAA Investigation Looming
That’s a great question. This is the 1st year that we’re going into a year without having that over our head. I know it’s weird because a lot of people look at it that we didn’t get hit with postseason play; they kind of figured that it didn’t matter to us or it didn’t hurt our program. For 5 years, it’s been a really tough struggle. I feel for those who are still going through it. We’re blessed that we’ve moved past it other than the last thing we have which is a scholarship reduction. It’s good not to have the investigation.That bothered us. That hurt us through recruiting over the years, and a lot of it was negative recruiting. Now, people don’t have that, and we can certainly move on without that hanging over our head. It was a big cloud.
Health of Greg Gannt & Ernest Ross
Both are full-fledged going. Both are full-fledged practicing. Both are healthy right now. Both guys are doing great. I wouldn’t say that they’re in great shape right now, but both guys have been in practice full-time, and both are doing good jobs.
Frontcourt questions being addressed
We went out and got veteran guys. If you look at the stats, D.J. Burns’ stats are incredible for 20 minutes of play, to average 15 points a game and to be Player of the Year in the Big South. Dusan Mahorcic has been around for a long time, and he’s done a great job at every stop, and he’s a really good basketball player. Let’s not forget the experience Ebe Dowuona was able to get last year by playing and being thrown into the fire. Both he and Jaylon Gibson were guys who I didn’t think were going to be able to touch the floor until their junior year, and then all of a sudden they had to play. You add Ernest and Greg, and there were a lot of pieces that we did not have. I like the fact that we have great competition. My teams have always done well when we have 10, 11, or 12 guys, the practices are so good, and they’re so competitive where the games become a little bit easier.
D.J. Burns Playing Time
I told him, if he gets in great shape, he’ll play 40 minutes a game. He should be excited about that. No, he’s working extremely hard. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but he may have been the most efficient post player, maybe even overall player, in college basketball last year. He’s working hard to get in great shape, and great shape is different for everybody. It comes down to what’s great shape for him, and he’s certainly effective. One of the things that I’ve learned over the last month or so is that he’s a very underrated passer, too. He’s a willing passer. He can score the ball, but he’s willing to make the right play.
Bigs working with Levi Watkins
I think it’s good. Levi can get out there and mix it up a little bit. I’m not saying he’s in Levi Watkins shape from back in the day, but he’ll give them a good, hard two minutes and get out there a little bit. These guys are different; they’re bigger, stronger, faster, and everything else. I’m so excited to have Levi on our staff, to get a former player who’s been through it and who’s won. Then you also look at Kareem Richardson’s track record of being a head coach, and Joel Justus has come from great programs. Those guys are going to bring a lot to our program.
More intense recruiting transfers or high school players
Everything. Whatever you covered in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th years, scratch it. It’s different. When you talk about transfers, immediate eligibility, and NIL, recruitment has completely changed from what it used to be. All of them become a challenge. It’s 365-day, 7 days a week that I’m recruiting. I don’t say that because I’m disappointed about it. You have to adjust to whatever the environment is at the time. I’m certainly a guy who loves to recruit anyway. We’ve had to make adjustments to everything.
Difficulty filling 12 scholarships
Not difficult. I filled 12. I needed 14. I wanted 15 or 16. One of the things people don’t understand over the last couple of years is that, when you’re down a scholarship — everyone says, “It’s just a scholarship. It doesn’t mean anything”…that’s not right. You’re down a scholarship, and then you get a couple of guys injured. We went through this thing called Covid, and some guys were out for a little bit. All of a sudden, you’ve got 12, then you may be down to 8 or 9 scholarship guys, and it’s hard to practice. It’s hard to compete. At 1 point last year, I became one of the best 4-on-4 guys in the country trying to practice with some guys. That was another thing I’d never had to do in my life because we’d have more players than less. It was the 1st time I was faced with that. If I could get as many guys as we can in an NC State unfiorm to practice, I think it helps. When it got down to those 8 or 9 guys in practice, you were trying how to figure out how not to wear them down, so you really couldn’t get good chemistry because you couldn’t go as hard as you wanted to.
Relationship with walk-ons
I’ve got one parent that’s just crushing me, and her name is Georgette. She’s crushing me. I’ll tell you one thing: it’s hard. K.J. Keattsand I have a tremendous relationship, and my wife and I are strong in 22 years of marriage, but this is the first time where she’s got a chance to be a parent, and she’s going to talk trash to me about her son which is different. I don’t know what she’s going to say if I yell at K.J. and he comes home and say, “Daddy just yelled at me”…he may say “Coach.” It’s different. I’m having fun. I’m excited just having my son around me, and being able to see him everyday, that means a lot. I’m excited that he’s with us. We had a choice as a family whether he was going to come to NC State and be a part of our team or whether we’re going to send him to prep school. He missed his first year with a torn labrum, and then he went through the Covid years. The decision was that it was really on him, and he loved our team and loved being around our team, so we decided to get there. Our walk-ons are going to help. I know I can’t get rid of 1 of them.
What’s in his control and what he can improve on.
You know what I did? After a while — I’m tougher on myself than anybody — I go back on the season and spend 2 or 3 weeks and listen to everything, think back, replay, and watch a lot of film. After I got to that stage, I decided, “You know what? I’m going to turn the page. I’m going to go out there and recruit as hard as I can. I’m going to address the needs that I think we need to have.” Manny Bates was a tough loss for us because we thought we were going to have a veteran guy. Then we never thought that we wouldn’t have Greg Gantt, and then Ernest Ross went through his deal. All of that being said, are there things that I could have done better from a coaching standpoint? Possibly, but I didn’t think we had the pieces, and a lot of times, we were trying to survive and stay in a lot of those games just because we didn’t. At the end of the day, I hope and trust my instincts, and my instincts were to go out and fix some of those issues. Nobody takes the blame more than me. No matter how it looks, I take it on the chin, and I don’t try to put it on anybody. I thought the kids were fabulous. They gave me everything they could ever give, and it’s up to me to fix it. It was the 1st ever losing season in my career. That was tough. I didn’t like it, so I had to make some adjustments.
Changing rules in College Basketball
I probably speak for a lot of coaches, but if you can’t adapt to what’s going on right now, it’s probably time for you to look at a different career because it’s completely changed. The way you guys have to cover has changed. It’s completely different. We have 28 visits in two years. With the ability to bring young kids on a visit and with the ability for so many guys to transfer, I wish we would go to the NCAA and say, “Hey, there should be unlimited visits to use how we may.” Another thing I’d love to see at some point is that three assistant coaches and I could go and recruit. I wish we could get to the point where you’ve got a staff where you can send anybody out that you want to. I think we’ll get to some of thoe rules at this point. I don’t know if we’re there right now, but it becomes a challenge because you have to figure out who you bring in and if you have a chance to get those guys right away or if you’re wasting visits doing those things. It’s a good mixture, and we have a unique place here. I love NC State, but we also have to find guys who fit what we’re trying to do and fit the culture of the school. It’s a complete balancing out.
Personal changes he made
If we would’ve won every game we played last year, I would’ve done the same thing. When you lose, you go back and look at a little bit more. I don’t think I could point to one thing, but there were a lot of things where I said, “Hey, you know what? Maybe I could have done this. Maybe I could have brought a little more energy.” I’m an energy guy, so for me to say that, that’s tough. At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s any one thing. My job as the CEO of NC State basketball is to look at the entire program and see where I can help make sure our kids are in the best situation that they can be in. One of the biggest things is identifying and getting more players and having more depth at each position. Coaches are creatures of habit. Could I have switched defense? Could I have run another play? 100 percent, but we’re creatures of habit. We can get better at what our system is, and obviously, I always go back to our system and say, “Can I figure out how to make our system better or tweak it a little bit?”
What he took away from Bahamas trip
I learned that our veteran guys can help us. I’ve said this a long time: in the ACC — I got caught with it last year…it’s really hard to win with a lot of freshmen and sophomores. When you look back at last year’s team, all of our guards were freshmen and sophomores. It was good because we’ve been able to accelerate a lot of the stuff we’d do because we have some older guys who’ve been in college, been away from home, and have been coached by some really good coaches. We had 3 of the 4 because Dusan didn’t make the trip, but it was great seeing those guys and where they can bring value. Last year, we really struggled because of our young posts, and there was so much pressure on Terquavion Smith and Dereon Smith to be able to score from outside because we couldn’t get the easy baskets because our bigs were so young and inexperienced. Now, when you go to practice, you can throw the ball in, and those guys can make plays. They can make plays for themselves, or they can find other guys. That gives us an added dimension that we didn’t have. To go back to the original question, having the veterans mix in with the young guys and seeing our guys having fun were the biggest things for me.
L.J. is going to be fine. Even though he didn’t play last year, he was one of those guys who worked out all the time. He’s like every freshman: he’s a sponge. He’s picking up on stuff. He’s getting better in a lot of areas. He’s another guy that I like, that can play multiple positions. We’ll see him play some 1 and 2 this year.
It was different last year. We had the leading shot blocker in the country that we thought was coming back, so our philosophy on how we tried to guard the ball was a little bit different because, in the past, we could really pressure, and even when we flushed guards to the hole, Manny was back there to clean it up. I think we’re going to play 100 percent zone this year. I’ve been looking at a lot of tape of Syracuse, and if you’re going to play a zone, Coach [Jim] Boeheim’s got a tremendous zone, so I think I’m going to play a lot of zone this year. Write that down. You don’t believe me, but write that down. I’m not saying that our zone is going to be as good as theirs, but…
Projecting the ACC
I’m not good at it this year. I need rosters. When I go to ACC Media Day, I hope each team brings 2 guys that I know so I can introduce myself. You don’t know. It’s not just the ACC; it’s everywhere, and that’s the norm. A lot of people will get mad when you say it’s going to be hard to get guys who start at a school as a freshman and actually graduate. It’s even harder at the Power 5 level because they’re either going to be a pro, or they’re going to transfer if they don’t play a lot. It’s tough just to get a 4-year guy. I may have had my last 4-year guy with Jericole Hellems. I don’t know that. I hope that’s not the case, but there’s a big possibility that that will be the case.
NC State set to play Duke twice during regular season for only 3rd time in 10 years
Tobacco Road is the mecca of college basketball. I don’t even think anyone could argue that.
So why is it that NC State doesn’t play a rival school that’s just 20 minutes down the road, twice per season, every season?
Well, that was the dumb decision made in 2004 when the ACC added Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech.
NC State was paired as partners with UNC and Wake, meaning they’d play those school twice every season. However, they were not paired with Duke, meaning they would only play them twice per season every few years.
To me, this is awful for the game. And honestly, there are so many other ways to reconcile this. If NC State and Duke could play twice per year, every year. you’d be strengthening the brand of Tobacco Road, and thus strengthening the brand of the ACC.
But, we don’t get a say, so you’re stuck hoping that this year is the year we get to play Duke twice.
Let’s take a look at history…
2019-20: NC State last played UNC, Duke, and Wake twice in the same season during the 2019-20 season. NC State went 3-3 against their in-state rivals that season. Beating Duke once, and Wake twice.
2015-2016: Prior to the 2019 season, this was the last time the Pack played all three in-state rivals twice. In this season NC State went 3-3 again, beating UNC once and Wake twice.
2012-13: During this season, NC State also went 3-3 again their in-state rivals. They beat each team once, and lost to each team once.
The point is, you have NC State who is playing .500 ball against their in-state rivals over the past 10 years, two of which are usually ranked in the Top-25. This is what college basketball is all about. This is why people watch it. So why do we have to wait year on end to see NC State matchup with all 3 schools twice in the same season?
(Prior to the 2012-13 season NC State only played Duke twice in the 2010-11, 2007-08 and 2006-07 seasons, post 2004 expansion).
I could rant all day, but the good news is, NC State is playing Duke twice this season (along with UNC and Wake). Set your calendars.
Duke: January 4th (home) & February 28th
UNC: January 21st & February 19th (home)
Wake: January 28th & February 22nd (home)