NC State played their only preseason game on Wednesday against Lees-McRae (a D-2 school) and walked away 107-59 winners.
A lot of people are going to say that there wasn’t much you could learn from beating down a school like Lees-McRae. Their talent level is nowhere near what the Pack will face when the regular season stars. However, I tend to disagree.
This was the first time we all got to see the Pack play a real game since last season. It was the first eye test. You got to see how conditioned the guys were, their tendencies, and how they move. You got your first glimpse of how Keatts may view certain guys and how he plans on using them.
That being said, here our my 5 takeaways from the game.
1) Jarkel Joiner is a game changer
If you’ve read my pieces from last year, you know that I couldn’t stop talking about our lack of a true point guard being one of the biggest problems the team was facing. Sure, they had Cam Hayes, but to me, he was a natural 2 guard trying to fit in the PG role. Then it was the freshman Breon Pass (who wasn’t quite ready early on) and Dereon Seabron, who filled the role with scoring, but wasn’t great at getting his teammates involved.
Joiner is a breath of fresh air for me. The 5th year senior transfer from Ole Miss looked great in this one, filling the stat sheet in 27 minutes with 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. His on-the-ball defense was stellar and pressured Lees-McRae guards into mistake after mistake. He is obviously the leader of this team and his presence and style of play are going to absolutely change the way this team plays. That 1 on 1 isolation style of basketball will be gone and fans will enjoy the ball being whipped around to find the open man.
Keatts is going to love having Joiner. It gives him a coach on the floor and a guy that catches the ball and looks up the floor immediately. He had a number of long passes down the court, rewarding guys for beating their man down the floor on the break. This encourages front-court players to hustle down, knowing there is a guard looking for them after every defensive rebound.
2) Ernest Ross (and Gregg Gant) are going to allow NC State to compete against almost anyone
You’re going to be scared of this take. The easy thing to do is to throw shade at this take and tell me to pump the breaks. That’s fine. I might be early on this, but I’m not wrong.
The key for this NC State team isn’t talent. Almost everyone on the roster was a 4-star recruit or has already proven themselves at the college level. The key for NC State is going to be versatility. There are teams that they are going to out-talent, and then there are going to be a lot of teams that will be more about ‘who can exploit the mismatches better” type matchups.
NC State will likely start with Joiner, Smith, Morsell, Clark and Burns. But my fear was that Clark would get overmatched by certain opponents. Teams with those bigger, stronger 4s may give him trouble. Clark is 6’8, but he’s more of a wing than a post. Keatts likes having a 4 like this, but there are times that this small ball lineup gets overmatched with size and strength. The question was, do we have a 4 who can step up?
Ross really stood out to me the most. He was everywhere. In 12 minutes he scored 13 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. Ross was a guy who I thought was about to move into the starting lineup last season as a freshman. But then he got hurt and his season was lost.
Now he’s back and we got to see that he seems to be 100%. This is huge. This will allow NC State to go big and protect the basket against bigger opponents. Ross is going to be an elite shot blocker. You saw it last year. He has great timing, he’s quick off the floor and he has great anticipation. When you have those skills, you by default become a very good shot blocker. But he also can run the floor, score on the block, hit 3s, and guard a number of positions. He’s a star in the making and it’s great to see him recovered.
Ross playing this way allows NC State to go big, with Joiner, Smith, Clark at the 3, Ross at the 4 and Burns/Mahorcic/Dowuona at the 5. You wont lose much shooting, but you gain a lot of size and athleticism. This type of versatility will keep you in almost every game this season.
Oh and Gantt is another guy that looked good. Not as good as Ross in my opinion, but he looks like he’s going to be able to eat minutes and provide great defense at the 4 if you need to go big and Ross needs a breather.
3. You finally have a scoring center in DJ Burns
NC State had a lot of times last season when the shots weren’t falling, and they had no way to stop the bleeding. With no frontcourt player who had reliable back to the basket skills, they were forced to isolate and drive the ball at the rim, hoping for something good to happen. That’s a great way to lose basketball games.
On Wednesday you saw a new layer for NC State. Efficient scoring from the block. Burns only played 12 minutes (and his conditioning may be a concern) but he was 4-6 from the field for 8 points. He’s got great footwork, great touch and can score from the free throw line or below. Oh, and he’s a good passer too. In the Keatts era we haven’t seen a guy like Burns before, so I’m excited. I think the addition of a solid PG and a solid offensive center is going to really change the way fans view this team.
4. Breon Pass is ready
Pass was a 4-star PG coming in last year, but he just wasn’t really college-ready out the gate. He looked fine at times, but PG is a tough position to come in a master as a true freshman. However, this is a new player this year. He’s bulked up to take contact on drives, he looks aggressive and kept the pressure on the defense the whole time he was in. Keatts is going to use him too. He played 20 minutes, scored 10 points, grabbed 4 boards, and had an assist. He’s certainly going to play a big role on this team.
5. Keatts still wants to play fast
Keatts talked a lot this offseason about playing zone. I wondered if he was bluffing, but with slower centers now in the mix, it made sense. Was he going to slow things down? Nah. If this game was any indication, he is still going to reward deflections, push for steals and for getting out and running. As for defense, it looks like he’s going to trust his guys with man-to-man.
Now this is the one that really might be more based on matchup. State could go man to man against a D2 team and out-man them at every position. Will that work in the ACC or will we see him go to zone? Who knows at this point, but the “We might be play all zone” comment seems like it was a joke. This team obviously has been playing a lot of man to man defense. They looked good, getting steals, pressuring the ball and getting out into transition. Let’s see if that translates when they open the season on Monday?
It’s Not Over Till It’s Over
Look…I know the odds of NC State’s Men’s Basketball team going to the NCAA Tournament is next to zero percent.
In fact, according to Bart Torvik, the Wolfpack have a 1.1% chance of making the Dance as an at-large bid.
Don’t accuse me of wearing rose colored glasses, because I’m not. The fact remains, it’s not over until it is over.
What would have to happen for NC State to make the NCAA Tournament?
More than likely, NC State would have to win out the rest of the way, in games against Boston College, @ FSU, @ UNC, Duke and @ Pitt.
Maybe there’s a scenario where the Wolfpack beats BC, FSU, Pitt and beats either Duke or UNC. In order for that to play out, I imagine the Wolfpack would have to make a splash in the ACC Tournament as well.
Or maybe NC State could earn a bid winning 4 of 5 if they all of a sudden put together astronomical offensive and defensive efficiency numbers, which thus far has killed their position in the NET Rankings.
Either way, you would need some legit Cardiac Pack vibes for this team to make the Dance.
Call me unrealistic, but I think NC State should be in the NCAA Tournament every single season. Historically speaking, heading into this season, NC State ranked 27th for the most wins in college basketball history. If I lowered the standard a bit to 75%, accounting for an off year every now and then, the program is still way off the mark.
Read into this what you will, but if the Wolfpack doesn’t go to the Big Dance this year, that means they will have only gone twice in the past 7 years, and in my opinion, that’s unacceptable.
With that being said…GO PACK!
#6 NC State 70 UNC 80: BOX SCORE (with notes)
#6 NC State was defeated by their rival UNC this evening, falling 70-80 to the Tar Heels. Below is the Box Score with notes underneath.
- This game came down to shooting.
- UNC shot 50.8% from the field and NC State shot 35.2%.
- The Tar Heels shot an insane 52.4% from three, hitting 11 from beyond the arc.
- The Wolfpack shot 9 of 27 from deep.
- Junior Guard Aziaha James led the Pack with 24 points (10-24), and also grabbed 9 rebounds.
- Senior Forward Mimi Collins had a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
- The Pack needed to feed Collins. She was 3 of 6 from the field.
- Junior Guard Saniya Rivers had 13 points (4-13), and knocked down 4 three pointers (3-6).
- Senior Guard Madison Hayes had 11 points (4-12) and 9 boards.
- Senior Center River Baldwin struggled, hitting 2 of her 9 shots.
- The Wolfpack did manage to score 17 second chance points, compared to UNC’s 7.
- They also made 11 free throws, compared to UNC’s 5.
- UNC played extremely good defense, but NC State missed an obscene amount of shots around the rim.
- The Tar Heels looked like the better team tonight, leading for 3/4th of the game.
The Wolfpack will play at Duke on Sunday at 5:30pm on ACC Network.
#6 NC State Looks to Sweep Rival UNC This Evening
The 6th ranked NC State Women’s Basketball team is looking to sweep their rival UNC this evening at 8pm on ACC Network. Back on February 1st, the Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels 63-59. At the time NC State was ranked 5th, and UNC was ranked 24th.
Since arriving in Raleigh, Wolfpack Head Coach Wes Moore has led NC State to a 13-9 overall record against the Tar Heels, but they are 4-6 in Chapel Hill under his watch.
NC State lost to UNC the last time the game was played in enemy territory, falling 46-57 loss in Carmichael Arena on January 15th of last year. In that contest, the Wolfpack were ranked 11th and the Tar Heels were ranked 22nd.
If NC State wins tonight, it will mark the 4th time that Moore has led the Wolfpack to sweep UNC in the regular season.
Historically, NC State holds a 63-54 advantage in the series against UNC, but they are 20-30 on the road.
NC State’s Wes Moore is 1 of 15 on the Late Season Watchlist for the Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year Award
NC State Women’s Basketball Head Coach Wes Moore is 1 of 15 on the Naismith Late Season Watchlist for the Coach of the Year Award.
The leader of our Pack 🐺🐺
— NC State WBB 🐺🏀 (@PackWomensBball) February 21, 2024
Currently, Moore has led NC State from being unranked in the preseason polls, to #6 currently. The Wolfpack are 23-3, and numerous publications project them to be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Moore was a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year Award in 2020-21 and a Semifinalist in 2015-16.