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OUR TAKE: From NC State’s impressive season-opening win over Austin Peay

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NC State came in as 12-point favorites over Austin Peay on Monday, which sounded about right for a team that is picked to finish 10th in the ACC.

Austin Peay is coached by former Duke Blue Devil (player and assistant coach) Nate James and has their two top scorers back, one of which is a 6’11 center averaging 15 pts per game. A 12-point win would have been acceptable. A 20-point win would have been a good showing. A 30-point win would have been a real eye-opening beatdown. So what should I make of this 49-point shellacking that NC State just delivered?

Well, for starters, this team is not going to be 10th place in the ACC unless injuries derail their season.

“Oh, but Joey, you’ve seen one game and you’re jumping to conclusions! Wait a few weeks before making predictions like that.”

Say whatever you want. I might be early, but I’m not wrong. In fact, bookmark this article so you can come back to it at the end of conference play. I dare you.

This team is talented and they are built to contend. They have all the right pieces and it looks like, early on, they have great chemistry. Here are my main takaways from NC State’s 99-50 season-opening win over Austin Peay.

Jarkel Joiner will be one of the best PGs in the ACC.
A big part of the success you saw last night was thanks to the grad transfer PG Jarkel Joiner. This kid was everywhere and was getting it done on both ends of the floor. Defensively he was a pest. He’s quick, strong and has great anticipation. His defense at the top of the key was a big reason Austin Peay could never get into a good rhythm offensively.

And on the other side of the ball, he was just as important. Joiner finished 18 points, 8 boards, and 4 rebounds. He was 7-10 from the field and was putting pressure on the defense every time he touched the ball. His handle is quick and sure, he’s physical into the lane, he looks to find the open man (hence the 8 assists) and if he needs to score it, he’s probably NC State’s 2nd best option (obviously #1 is Smith).

NC State hasn’t had a PG like Joiner in years. He’s like turbo-charged Markell Johnson with a killer instinct already built in. Keatts really worked on making Johnson a scoring threat and quality defender and tried to instill in him a cut-throat mentality. You saw it from time to time, especially his junior season, but it came and went because it wasn’t natural to him. For Joiner, this is who he is and as long as he’s healthy, NC State is going to be a contender with him and Smith on the floor.

During the broadcast, Chris Corchiani said he believed Joiner and Smith could be the best backcourt in the ACC. The other guy in the booth brought up the fact that Caleb Love and RJ Davis might have something to say about that. Corchiani, arguably the best PG in NC State history, doubled down saying that the ACC has a ton of talent at guard but again said this NC State duo could be the best.

That’s a strong take by Corchiani and of course the UNC Twitter trolls will have a field day with that, and he might get mocked on local radio, but he’s going to end up being right. Smith is going to be the best scoring guard in the conference and as we saw last night, Joiner is going to be his perfect compliment. This duo is a huge reason NC State was so good last night and why I think they have a real shot at making the NCAA Tournament this season.

Terquavion Smith is back where he left off
You always wonder how a guy is going to react to the expectations and the pressure you get when you shun the NBA for another year in college. You gave up a big payday and bet on yourself. Can you shoulder that pressure and perform better than last season? That’s a tall order for a kid who averaged 16 points per game as a freshman and set 3pt records in doing so. But as you saw last night, Smith is going to have no problem dealing with the pressure.

Smith scored 26 points and doled out 5 assists on the night. He was 9-15 from the field (60%) and 3-7 from long range (43%). The crazy thing is, that aside from a flurry of long 3s during the 2nd half, most of Smith points were pretty quiet. He scored within the flow of the offense, and wasn’t selfsih with the basketball (hence the 5 assists). This is what NBA scouts were looking for. Everyone knows he’s an elite scorer, but can you lead a team, and can you play within an offense? Looks like he’s out to answer that question this year. Oh and he’s looking great with the added 10lbs of muscle. It’ll go a long way in his durability this season.

Jack Clark is the Jericole Hellems upgrade we needed
No hate on Hellems here. I loved the guy. He was a warrior who showed up and competed every night. However, he was overmatched physically in the ACC. He wasn’t very athletic, not very long, and because of this, he had trouble becoming a consistent scoring threat or a consistent defender when matched up against bigger forwards.

Enter Jack Clark, a transfer from La Salle. He’s slotting in at the 4 this season and he looks great. He scored a quiet 15 points on 6-11 shooting, was 3-6 from 3 point range, was second on the team with 7 rebounds, and added a game-high 3 steals. Clark filled up the stat sheet, and he’s been doing that every time we’ve seen him. He was the star during the Bahama trip, leading the team in rebounds and knocking in a ton of 3s. He’s great on defense, adding steals and jumping the passing lane, and he’s great on transition, being 6’8 and pretty long/athletic.

Clark is going to be a top 3 scorer on this team and that’s saying something because we didn’t even talk about DJ Burns yet (but we’re about to). That is huge coming from the 4 position where NC State was overmatched a lot last season.

DJ Burns and Dusan Mahorcic are a great 1-2 combo
First let’s talk about Burns, the reigning Big South player of the year. This guy is 6’9 and 275lbs (and that’s being generous. I think he’s closer to 290lbs.). He’s not going to be moved around, and when you get it to him on the block, it’s a bucket. He’s got great hands and great footwork. NC State hasn’t a center like this since…. I mean, dare I say Todd Fuller?

Burns was almost perfect on the night, going 5-6 for 10 points and 9 boards. He’s not super tall but he’s a load and he’s very phsyical. Couple that with his feathery touch, and you’ve got yourself a true scoring threat on the block.

Think about it. In college basketball you need to be either really tall or really wide to have an advantage on the block. Look at the Louisiana Tech big man, Kenneth Lofton Jr, who was 6’7 and 275lbs. He was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies after scoring almost 17 pts and 10 boards per game. Burns is just two inches bigger, maybe a little less athletic, but with a better jumper. Oh and he’s not a black hole, there were numerous times the double team came and Burns was quick to find the open man.

As for Mahorcic, he’s no slouch either. He’s strong and is going to be the enforcer for Keatts, but he too can provide some offense. Mahorcic went for 10 points, 5 boards and 3 assists. He’s not very athletic, but he’s got a high game IQ and knows how to use his body and strength to make space.

These guys were so good that Ebe Dowuona didn’t see much playing time. However, he did get 4 minutes at the end, logging a huge block, a rebound and a dunk (that was called back because of a charge by the guard who dropped it off to him.) Dowuona looks bigger and stronger than last season and without having to be scared of fouling (because his backup was Jaylen Gibson) he’s going to be a much better shot blocker this year.

Don’t let Ebe’s 4 minutes lull you to thining he’s not going to have a role. He is going to have a role this season and as NC State starts taking on teams with bigger, longer centers, they’re going to realize that strength and girth aren’t the best matchup every night. Sometimes you need length and springs.

QUICK NOTES + Predictions:

– Breon Pass was the lone guy who struggled last night. But I’m not worried. Pass was definitely trying too hard to make something happen. He’s not that guy, pal (at least not yet). But Pass will settle in and be fine as the backup PG.

– Keatts has so much flexibility with the rotation. You can have a big lineup, a small lineup, a physical lineup, a finesse lineup, or an athletic lineup. He’s got the horses, and because of this, I think NC State is going to be in almost every game this season and will surprise a lot of folks.

– This team is so active on defense. Clark and Joiner have upgraded things in a way I wasn’t expecting. They play great position defense and can stay in the passing lanes, while not overplaying and allowing lanes to drive. This is huge because it’s going to allow Keatts to play a lot more man (which he wants to do). If they can keep guards out of the lane, you limit the pressure you put on the bigs. The only time I see this team needing to fall back into zone is when Burns needs to be out there for offense and he’s either tired or failing in guarding the switch.

– Ernest Ross needs more minutes to get comfortable. But when he does, he’s going to be a force. You saw it with his drive to the bucket in the first. A slippery euro-step and then huge elevation for the layup. Then a leak out on the break for a dunk and a massive block in the second half. He had 6 points and a steal and a block in 11 minutes. He sat a lot because he was foul-prone with 4 fouls (2 of which came right away in the 1st half).

– Don’t sleep on Casey Morsell. He’s not in any headlines and he’s not being talked about much in this game, but the guy had 10 points on 4-9 shooting, hit 2 of his 5 3-pointers, had 3 steals, 3 assists and 3 rebounds. He did it all in 26 minutes of action. This is the glue guy that every team needs and this year they’re mostly going to ask him to hang in the corner and shoot wide open 3s that Smith and Joiner create. He’s the jack of all trades and is one of the team’s best on-ball defenders. He’s not goint get a ton of hype, but Morsell is a key to NC State being a contender this season.

– This team will make (or flirt with) the Top-25 this season. Again, you can hoot and holler about this prediction, but it’s going to be right. All I need to see is the makeup of the players, their skillset, and how they play together to know how this goes. There’s too much talent, too much shooting, too much depth, and too much versatility to be bad. Their PG is too good to be coupled with an elite scorer and fail. Their bigs have too many dimensions and too much depth to be an issue. This team is going to be good if they stay healthy, so hate on this take now if you want to, but bookmark it so you remember you could have been on the bandwagon in early November before everyone else was.

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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Afterglow
Afterglow
4 months ago

I liked what I heard from the game. Nice first game of the season win!

Dof87
Dof87
4 months ago

Ross kind of reminds me of CJ Leslie. He needs a little room to work, so he’ll be dangerous when we can maintain our spacing or catch him on the break. Burns’ knack for scoring is uncanny, both he and Mahoric seem to have an instinct for rebounding. Our two bigs need a nickname, they are like a wrestling tag team. Nice to see bigs kicking it out AND scoring. Proof you can do both. JJ is gonna be a menace. The only criticism I have is sometimes held the ball a bit longer than I’d like, trying to create… Read more »

Last edited 4 months ago by Dof87
Papajohn
Papajohn
4 months ago

Whew! Fire from Joey! Love what I am seeing, I wanna believe!

NC State Basketball

UNC Transfer Dontrez Styles Expected to Visit NC State Soon

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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.

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NC State Basketball

All-AAC Temple Transfer Damian Dunn Visiting NC State this Weekend

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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.

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.

 

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NC State Basketball

NC State’s Jack Clark Enters Transfer Portal

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NC State Forward Jack Clark has entered the Transfer Portal.

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.

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A few Point Guards we think NC State will target in the transfer portal

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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?

Jalen Cone
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.

 

Bobby Pettiford
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.

 

Javon Small
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.

Check out his highlights…

 

Dayvion McKnight
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.

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.

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