NC State Basketball
Nitpicking the negatives from NC State’s 49 point season-opening win over Austin Peay
I just slobbed all over this team in my last piece, going so far as to predict that they make or flirt with the Top 25 this season. But any good coach knows no game is perfect, and there are always things to work on.
Look, this was a 49-point win over a team that is going to be middle of the pack in the ASUN conference. But NC State hadn’t beaten a team by 50 since 2018-19 when they smoked St. Mary’s in the season opener 105-55.
That year they started off 13-1, but soon lost Markell Johnson to injury. The wheels fell off there for a bit as they were forced to rely on Braxton Beverly at the point with the only true backup being Blake Harris. They also had a thin front court with Funderburk and Wyatt Walker as the only two true bigs. Meanwhile, Devon Daniels hadn’t really figured it out yet, so they were forced to rely on CJ Bryce and Torin Dorn as their go-to scorer.
That team finished 22-11, 9-9 in the ACC, and in my opinion, was snubbed from the NCAA Tournament. They went on to win 2 games in the NIT before dropping a 1 point heartbreaker to Lipscomb.
This year’s Wolfpack is deeper, has more talent, has better guards, has better bigs, has more height, and has more athleticism. So I think any excitement you’re feeling is warranted and pointing out negatives in win this huge may seem petty, but real competition is right around the corner and there a few things I think can be cleaned up before then.
Jarkel Joiner got a little dribble happy at times
Joiner filled up the state sheet. The guy looked absolutely dominant and his skill set is going to play well even against the top guards in the conference. That said, there were times last night when he was pounding the ball a little too much.
This is likely a habit for him because he played on an Ole Miss team where he was asked to shoulder most of the scoring load. He didn’t have a ton of talent around him, but it’s different now. You have 4 other guys on the floor who can put it in the bucket.
That said, I’d like to see these dribble-happy possessions go away. He had so much success finding the open man (he had 8 assists) and even when he did isolate and attack one on one, most of the time positive things happened (he hit a contested jumper on one of these possessions), but when you face a UNC or a Kansas every possession matters and as a PG, keeping your team in a rhythm and moving the basketball is going to be important.
Now, you can argue that NC State was already up by 30+ when he started doing this and maybe he was trying to get his stats, and if so, that’s fine by me. However, I’m pointing it out because as the competition gets fierce, this type of basketball can get poisonous. But I dont have to tell you that, that’s how NC State has played over the past few seasons, and one of the reasons they’ve struggled.
Early in the game, when possessions mattered, Joiner was a true PG, slashing, probing and finding the open man. Shooting shots within the offense. I think that’s how he’s going to be. He’s a 5th year senior so he knows the ropes, but as a State fan who has seen that type of basketball ruin team rhythm, I want to point it out as something that COULD be a problem if it happens too much.
Breon Pass struggled to get it going
Pass is going to need to be a solid backup PG for the Pack. Joiner will obviously get the bulk of the minutes, but Pass has a role here too and last night it just looked like he was trying too hard.
At this point in his career, Pass needs to pick and choose his moments. He needs to get in there, make the simple play and knock down open shots. He’s super talented and was one of NC’s top scorers in HS, so eventually it’ll come, but in this one, he didn’t have it.
Pass finished with zero points, 1 assist, and 1 turnover in 14 minutes. He also fouled out.
It appeared that he was really wanting to make a play. Everyone had it going last night and clicking on all cylinders, so it makes sense that Pass wanted to get in on the action. I’ve seen enough of him to know that he’s capable of coming in and being a positive contributor, but he’s going to need to play within himself this season if he wants to really solidify his role. There is so much talent around him that all he needs to do is find his teammates, run the offense and defend. Anything more is icing on the cake in his year 2.
Ernest Ross wasn’t who he’s going to be
I’ve told you over and over, Ross is going to be a big-time player in this league. It’s not if, it’s when. Last night in 11 minutes he scored 6 points on 3-5 shooting, but he never really got into a groove. Most of the problem was his early 2 fouls sending him to the bench and when he got his minutes he seems to be forcing the issue. I don’t think he played great, but he played ok and had flashes, but I am expecting a lot more out of him this season.
Ross gives Keatts the ability to have 2 bigs on the floor, but not become slow and plodding. He allows NC State to have a true shot blocker on the floor. When they face strong, better bigs, they’ll have muscle up front to bang with them (Burns/Mahorcic). These physical bigs will create a lot of contact, likely keeping the offensive big man anchored to the floor on shots. This is going to have Ross’ mouth watering. He’s going to have the ability to block a lot of shots from help side, so having him able to stay on the floor and provide positive minutes is key. I think we see a better showing this Friday from Ernest.
Ok, so there you have it. The negatives. Honestly, I’m grasping at straws here because this team played amazingly last night. If these things are our worst problems then NC State is going to have a huge season. However, this was game 1 and there is always room for improvement. These are the areas I’ll be focusing on this Friday when they take on Campbell at 7pm in Raleigh.
NC State Basketball
UNC Transfer Dontrez Styles Expected to Visit NC State Soon
UNC Guard/Forward Transfer Dontrez Styles (6’6″/210) is expected to be visiting NC State soon. According to a source, he was expected to take an unofficial visit tomorrow, but it has been rescheduled to Monday.
Styles entered the Transfer Portal on March 17th.
Over the past two seasons, Styles has seen limited action for the Tar Heels, averaging 5.9 minutes in 45 total games (15 this season).
Styles is no stranger to NC State. He played high school for Kinston (Kinston, NC), and was offered by Kevin Keatts. Styles was a consensus 4-Star prospect coming out of High School. 247Sports ranked him as the #62 overall player nationally in the 2021 recruiting class, and the #2 player in the state of North Carolina.
ON3 ranks Styles as the #21 player currently in the Transfer Portal.
NC State Basketball
All-AAC Temple Transfer Damian Dunn Visiting NC State this Weekend
According to a source, Temple All-AAC Transfer Shooting Guard Damian Dunn (6’5″/195) was expected to be at NC State today on an unofficial visit.
Dunn entered the Transfer Portal on March 20th.
— Damian Dunn 🇦🇸 (@Dam1anKD) March 20, 2023
Dunn averaged 15.3 points per game this season, earning 3rd Team All-AAC honors. He shot 41.1% from the field this season, and 34.8% from three-point land.
In 2021-22, he led the Owls in scoring (14.9), and earned 2nd Team All-AAC honors.
Dunn originally is from Kinston, North Carolina, but played his Senior season of High School for Meadowcreek in Georgia, finishing his high school career as a 3-star prospect.
With the almost guaranteed loss of Terquavion Smith, NC State will be in need for a dynamic scorer, and Dunn has proven that he can do just that at the collegiate level.
Currently, Dunn is the 16th ranked player in the Transfer Portal according to ON3.
Dunn is a Redshirt Sophomore this season, with 2 years of eligibility remaining.
NC State Basketball
NC State’s Jack Clark Enters Transfer Portal
NC State Forward Jack Clark has entered the Transfer Portal.
NC State G Jack Clark has entered the transfer portal. Grad transfer. https://t.co/NQ6vpv4XPL
— Verbal Commits (@VerbalCommits) March 24, 2023
I heard from a source that it was close to 50/50 whether Clark would return to NC State next year for his final year of eligibility.
Clark started in 17 of the 23 games that he played in for the Wolfpack this season, averaging 9.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Clark led the Wolfpack on rebounding in 22-23.
When it’s all said and done, I wouldn’t be shocked to see NC State pull in 6 players from the Transfer Portal when all the dust settles.
Brace yourself for the ride.
NC State Basketball
A few Point Guards we think NC State will target in the transfer portal
As stated yesterday, NC State lost Ebe Dowuona and might lose a couple more guys to the portal eventually. They also are very likely to keep their core guys aside from Terquavion Smith who is almost surely headed to the NBA.
The Pack has a few glaring needs for next season. They need a starting PG, they need a starting SG and they need a 4/5 guy that can be the bruiser option at the 4 against bigger, stronger teams, and also a guy who can slot in as a backup behind Burns if Mahorcic’s knee doesn’t get back to full strength. Those are the direct needs at this moment, however, based on what guys on the current roster do, there might end up being other needs. That said, we’d going to focus on the needs of today.
There is always the case that transfers can via the portal with no prior connection to the team. That means they aren’t local kids and they don’t have a prior relationship with the coaching staff. While that is possible, it’s not usually how this plays out. What usually happens is a kid wants to come closer to home, or they have some prior relationship with the staff (sometimes both).
So right now we’re going to limit our focus to a few guys that are in the portal and either local or have a prior relationship with the staff. We’re also going to limit the discussion in this piece to just Point Guards.
What is a ‘Keatts’ Point Guard?
NC State runs their offense off of an initial high pick and roll, like many college teams today. That means they need a playmaking PG. Now, a playmaking PG doesn’t mean a guy who just puts up a ton of points (although that is what Joiner was for the Pack last season), but it could also mean a guy who can score but also get his team involved.
Remember, the high pick and roll is not designed to get a PG open shots. Sure, that is one option, but if you have a good PG coming off that high screen, they have 3 real options. Shoot it, pass to the roll guy/pop guy, or draw help and kick out to the corners. If you have a guy who can do all of these things well, then the high pick and roll is nearly unguardable. However, if you have a guy who only does one of those things, the high pick-and-roll looks pretty stagnant and one-dimensional.
Right now, Keatts is constantly criticized for his offensive system, and based on his personnel and how the offense ran last season, I get it. But with a pass-first PG (who can also score), this offense could be really efficient. I think for the sake of the team and the sake of his job, Keatts would be smart to prioritize a PG who is a little more pass-oriented and creates a little more havoc off that screen (meaning he keeps his dribble alive on the drive and probes, not to score necessarily, but to bait the defense to get out of position.)
So, what would you say Keatts’ ideal PG looks like?
Well, we don’t really know. His first two recruited were Lavar Batts and Braxton Beverly, both taken in his first year and both kind of out of desperation. Then he landed Jalen Lecque, who was a 6’4 elite athlete PG, who opted to skip college and go to the NBA. Then he brought on Cam Hayes and Shakeel Moore. Moore was a late addition, who I believe was taken to entice teammate Josh Hall to come to NC State (Hall also skipped college to go to the NBA after committing to State). Hayes, however, was a Keatts guy and Hayes was a 6’2, 185lb combo guard who was known as a shooter and good defender (he ended up being not much of either at NC State unfortunately). Then he brought on Breon Pass, a 6-foot guard who has given State some good minutes the past couple of years, but doesn’t look quite ready to take over as a starter. Pass was known as a good scorer at a smaller NC school, and a very good defender. So far his defense has panned out but not as much scoring as we expected. Next there was LJ Thomas last year. He’s a bigger 6’2 190lb PG. Not quite as quick but more physical. Not as much of a playmaker, but more of a scorer. Then Keatts brought in Joiner this year, a 6’1 scoring threat who never averaged more than 2.3 assists per game before coming to Raleigh.
So, to us, this is Keatts biggest flaw during his NC State tenure. He has an offense built around having an elite PG, and he really hasn’t decided what an elite PG in his system looks like. The best he’s brought in was Joiner, but the offense ended up being a lot of isolation and one on one play. To really reach the next level, Keatts needs to find a PG who is a playmaker and passer, one who can defend and then pair him with an elite scoring guard.
Who is out there right now that we should keep an eye on?
Northern Arizona | 5’11, 175lbs | 18ppg, 2.5 assists, 40% from 3pt range | From Walkerton, NC
Cone started his career off at Virginia Tech. He was a 3 star kid who was super quick, and more of a scorer than a playmaker. He had offers from VT, Tennessee and Baylor, but that was really it. NC State was involved a little bit here but never given an offer.
He had decent stats at VT, but really came into his own when he transferred to Northern Arizona. Obviously, this is weaker conference, but he had 20pts, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists against Michigan State, 17 points and 6 boards against Arizona State. He did get shut down against Texas, scoring just 6 points and turning the ball over 5 times, but this is a guy who had games of 45pts, 38 pts, and 29pts. He’s super quick and really a good shooter. He’s a less physical version of Jarkell Joiner if you ask me. So maybe Keatts sees this as a decent fit, but in my opinion, you need to target a guy who is more interested in getting his teammates involved (but I guess that depends on your ability to lock down an elite scoring 2 guard). I’m also concerned about his 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. You want your lead guard to be better than that.
Kansas | 6’1, 190lbs | 2 ppg, 1.3 assists, 30% from 3pt range | From Durham, NC
Pettiford is a stout, physical guard who can defend, but really hasn’t shown much on the offensive end. That said, he’s had a case of the injury bug during his two years at Kansas. He started with an ankle injury and then had an abdominal injury, both really slowed him down. When he committed to Kansas (after decommitting from Louisville) Bill Self really thought Pettiford was going to be a major contibutor to his team saying “We were very fortunate when Bobby opened up his recruitment last month. He became a priority immediately. We feel Bobby has a tremendous future, great upside and will make an immediate impact for us. His work ethic and drive are something I think every program hopes every player has.”
Pettiford is interesting to me. He’s a very physical guard, a good defender, and a good finisher around the rim, but he’s not super athletic, nor is he a great long-range shooter. He also isn’t someone who is explosive in transition. Those seem to be all things Keatts is looking for in a PG, so you’d think Pettiford isn’t going to be a major target for State, but you never know. He has a lot of talent, but I’m not sure he fits great with the pieces NC State currently has in place. However, in HS he was a really good shooter and showed a real scoring ability, so who knows.
ECU | 6’2, 180lbs | 15.8 ppg, 5.6 assists, 33% from 3pt range | From South Bend, IN
Small isn’t a North Carolina prep kid, but his connection to the state is that he’s transferring from ECU. This is a kid who was a 3-star recruit and only had mid-major offers, but has erupted for the Pirates this season. He’s a big, strong PG who shot nearly 40% from the floor and 33.3% from long range. This year Jarkel Joiner shot 42.8% from the field and 35.4% from long range. So he’s not quite the shooter that Joiner was, but he’s not that far off. He also is more of a playmaker than Joiner. He averaged 5.6 assists per game and 3.4 turnovers per game. He was ranked 18th nationally in assist rate when he went down with a knee injury in mid-January. This is a guy that I think Keatts should try to bring in, and it looks like he’s already reached out.
ECU transfer Javon Small has heard from the following schools since entering the transfer portal, he tells @On3sports:
NC State https://t.co/oY8D4CDfHM
— Joe Tipton (@TiptonEdits) March 16, 2023
Check out his highlights…
WKU | 6’1, 195lbs | 16.5 ppg, 5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 34% from 3pt range | From Shelbyville, KY
McKnight is being listed here because NC State has reached out to him. I’m not aware of any connection with the staff, but he definitely fits the Keatts mold. He’s a little bit of a bigger, stronger guard, and honestly is like an undersized James Harden with the way he creates space and attacks the basket (He’s also a lefty). McKnight is going to be a really unique player no matter where he ends up. He’s got a knack for creating space, great footwork, a nice jumper and he really loves drawing contact on his drives to the hoop. I can definitely see why NC State reached out, and if he really does pattern his game after James Harden, then the NC State high screen and roll offense is the perfect system for him. Don’t look at his frame and think he’s slow, either. The kid has speed and while he’s not going to play above the rim, he’ll be a scoring threat no matter where he lands.
Western Kentucky transfer Dayvion McKnight has heard from the following schools since entering the portal, source tells @On3sports:
Mississippi State https://t.co/rPam5GZvdb
— Joe Tipton (@TiptonEdits) March 22, 2023
Here are his highlights…
As more names get added to the portal with NC State connections, we’ll add them here and reshare this article.
Hadn’t thought about Joiner over dribbling. As you said, it’s a new role for him and we’ve got at least 30 more games. It’s not a coincidence that our two sophomores accumulated 9 of the teams 20 fouls. With experience, you figure that stuff out. Breon averaged 9 minutes a game last year, it’s time he stopped playing basketball like a football player so he can give us 15 mins a game this season. He’s got skills, need to coach him up.1 assist, 2 TO, and no points is not the way to earn minutes. Ross, on the other hand,… Read more »
Agree on Joiner, he used up early shot clock trying to find a hole to penetrate, if its not there pass the ball. There was lots of glowing talk during the summer about Pass. He may do better in games that aren’t quite as fast paced. As long as he’s playing good D and not making bad turnovers out high, he shouldn’t really need to do a lot as there are scorers and playmakers all around. The fact that he might be a drop off from Jarkel shouldn’t be seen as a negative toward him.