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.
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.