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OUR TAKE: On NC State’s dominant and balanced 107-74 win over FIU



NC State regained form after a questionable outing (still a win) against Campbell, crushing FIU 107-74.

This was a game where you were really able to see just how deep and versatile this roster is. Five guys were in double figures, a guy we figured would be a top 3 scorer only had 2 points, Terquavion Smith was off most of the night, and our ‘offensive’ big man, DJ Burns, only mustered 3 points.

So how the heck did NC State win by 33 points against a feisty Florida International team? Let’s take a closer look.

Here is ‘our take.’

Terquavion Smith had one of his off nights, only this year he had backup
There were nights last season when Smith just couldn’t get it going. In fact, there was a handful of games where the elite-scoring freshman finished in single digits. NC State lost every single conference game where this was the case. But this is a different player we’re watching this season. Smith isn’t going to be on fire every game, but he’s still able to have an impact when the shots aren’t falling. Part of that is because he now has guys around him that he can trust to carry the load.

Smith was 6-15 shooting and only 1-8 from 3pt range. Usually, that would mean that the NC State offense sputtered and was lifeless. But that wasn’t the case. Smith did have 15 points despite the struggles and had 6 assists and 6 steals (plus 3 boards), but most of the offensive load was taken on by backcourt mates Jarkell Joiner and Casey Morsell who combined for 52 points on the night. We’ll talk more about them in a second, but the fact that NC State could put on a performance like this on a Smith off-night should signal to you that this team is not going to be anywhere near as one-dimensional as they were last season.

Jarkell Joiner and Casey Morsell showed you why this offense is dangerous
Joiner had already scored 17 and 18 in his first two games, but he did so despite not really having his shot falling from outside. In this one you got to see what Ole Miss fans saw a lot of over the past couple of years. This guy has the ability to control a game offensively. He not only dished out 5 assists, but he was on fire, scoring 26 points, going 9-15 from the floor and 6-8 from long range. He also had 3 steals. Joiner isn’t as electric of a scorer as Smith, but he’s not that far off. He can do it at all levels, just like Smith, and he’s a little more physical. Having these two guys in your backcourt is going to ensure that you’re in almost every game.

Meanwhile, we’ve said over and over that Casey Morsell simply needs to work on knocking down open 3s if he wants to have a successful offensive season with this group. When you have Smith and Joiner on the perimeter, you have two guys were can get to the rim and finish, while still having elite outside shots. That means defenses need to be keyed in on them, and help side needs to be cheating a bit if they get a step on their defender. This is going to leave guys wide open on the wing and most of the time that has been Casey Morsell. If he can knock down those shots, this offense becomes even more dangerous.

Last night you saw Morsell do just that. He scored a career-high 26 points, going 10-13 and 6-7 from 3. He also had 6 boards. Add to the fact that he’s probably your best or second best on the ball defender, and it feels like the 6’3 senior is the perfect do-it-all glue guy every great team has.

Last night showed you that this team is going to be physical and tough when challanged
One of my favorite quotes comes from Mike Tyson when he said “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

FIU came out playing very physically and very aggressively. Now, they aren’t all that strong of a team, but that’s the mentality they came into this game with. They wanted to impose their will and punk NC State by getting in their heads and making the game chippy at the start.

That ended pretty quickly though. Once FIU realized that NC State was going to give it right back to them and was the stronger, bigger team, that chippiness went away, and their confidence followed.

This might not mean a lot to most fans, but this is a game within the game. Some teams challenge you, hoping you’ll back down to the bully, and last year, NC State would do that from time to time (especially if it was a game they weren’t as interested in). When you let these teams get in your head, you’ve already lost. However, this team invited it, gave it right back to them, and used it as motivation to bury them. *I think Joiner’s attitude and confidence are a big reason for this.

LJ Thomas making a move for minutes 
Thomas was a guy we didn’t think we’d see much of this season, mostly because they have Joiner, Smith and Pass who would dominate the backcourt minutes. However, Pass has struggled a bit with his shot and turning the ball over, opening the door for Thomas.

Thomas is a big freshman PG. He’s 6’2 and 200lbs and in his first real action last night, he showcased a pure jumper and some nice PG skills. Thomas went 5-7 from the floor and 2-2 from 3pt range for 12 points. He also had 2 assists, 2 rebounds, and a steal, without turning the ball over once. And this was in just 12 minutes.

Now, we knew Thomas was a pretty good scorer. He was more of an offensive-minded PG at the HS level and Keatts keyed on him early. The question was, what is he? Is he a PG? Does he have the speed and instinct to play that position in the ACC? Or is he a SG, and if he is, is he a crafty enough scorer to get buckets in the ACC? Well, I’m still not sure yet if Thomas has the instincts of a true PG, but there were a few early signs that he might.

For one, when trapped in the backcourt, usually a freshman panics, leaves his feet, and tries to make a jump pass over the top. When he leaves his feet, it gives off-ball defenders a chance to make their break and intercept the pass. However, Thomas didn’t do that. He faked a pass over the top, used his thick frame to step through, and made a nice easy point-to-point pass to break the press.

Another play that stood out was a full-court pass that Thomas made to Mahorcic. It was a tough pass, having to loft it over the defender, but with enough touch that it didn’t go out of bounds on the opposite baseline. He threaded the needle, his Mahorcic in the bread basket giving him a clear lane for an easy layup. Unfortunately, Mahorcic missed the bunny, but it wasn’t because of the pass.

Thomas must have been putting in some good minutes in practice because he came in pretty early in this one after not playing a minute vs. Campbell. There is going to be a battle for backup guard minutes, between Thomas and Pass, so it will be interesting to see how that goes forward.

We keep learning about our bigs
Like I’ve said for a while, we have 3 real big men, and the key will be finding out what matchup is right for which guy. Against Campbell, we saw a big that we really had nobody for. In fact, I think a mature Ernest Ross would be the best guy for that matchup one day. However, today he’s still a little too raw. Instead, State had to rely on Mahorcic, Burns and Dowuona. None of which had the footspeed to slow him down. The good news, however, is that they likely wont face another big like that all season long.

In this game, we saw a super tall, thin big, which NC State will see a few times in the ACC. What we found out was that Mahorcic’s muscle really worked well against this. He was able to body him down in the paint, create some space and finish. On defense, he never let him get deep enough to be a problem. Mahorcic finished with 12 points, 7 boards and 3 steals.

On the flip side, Burns struggled in this one. The pure length of the 7’1 Pinkey didn’t allow him room to maneuver on offense. His width was off-set by the 7 footers height. This makes us believe that Burns is going to see his most success against thicker bigs, with less length. These are the type of guys he was dominating all season long in the Big South on his way to player of the year. The more matchups we see, the more it will become apparent on which guy is right for Keatts to feature in the paint.


Ernest Ross is almost there. 
Man, Ross is going to be a game-changer at some point. He finished this game with just 4 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes, but he was 2-3 shooting and also had 3 big blocks. I’ve said it over and over, Ross is a natural shot blocker. He has great timing and gets off the floor fast. They key for Ross is for the game to slow down around him. There are times when he gets a little ahead of himself and rushes things, but once things slow down, he’s going to be a guy that can really give you that athletic shot blocker on the paint and the above-the-rim scorer on offense.

Oh and don’t get mad when you see Ross take a 3 here and there. The guy was a really good 3pt shooter in HS and once he sees a few go down he’ll start building confidence in that part of his game. And once defenders have to respect his shot, it’ll open up lanes for him to get to the rim, and that’s where the real highlights start happening.

Still waiting on Jack Clark to get it going 
Clark scored 15 points and had 7 boards in the season opener vs. Austin Peay, however he’s struggled a bit in the last 2 games. But struggling migh not be the right word. He’s just been a big complacent and his shots haven’t been falling. Instead of forcing the issue, Clark has kind of just passed up shots and played within the offense. He’s also continued to provide solid defense, so he hasn’t really. hurt NC State, he just hasn’t been helping in the way we expected.

In this one, he only played 11 minutes as Ross and Gantt got most of the run at the 4. Clark finished with just 2 points and 1 assist. That said, I think Clark just needs to see a few shots go down. This is a guy who was dominant in the Bahamas, played great in the exhibition and then did well in the season opener. Clark does need to show a little more physicality against stronger opponents, but I think that will come.

Clark might be one of the team’s top-3  3 point shooters by the end of the season, so just give him some time. However, it’s nice to see all the options Keatts has when guys struggle or just don’t have it on a particular night.

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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4 months ago

One other thing to note. We had 10 players with 10 or more minutes of court time. That was unthinkable last year. Its much easier to keep up intensity in the second half when you can do this. This means our players won’t be so gassed at the end of tight games. Combine that with our good looking guard lineup and I could see a lot of those games going our way instead of us just fading in the final 3 minutes.

It will also pay off in ACC play when we have short turnaround time between games.

Last edited 4 months ago by Dof87
Pack Insider Staff
4 months ago
Reply to  Dof87

Great points !

4 months ago
Reply to  Dof87

As much fun as this one was to watch, I think the Campbell game showed us what the real rotation will look like when it gets tough. Probably 8 deep, like a lot of teams. Dusan and DJ splitting time at the 5 based on the opponent. Terquavion seldom sitting, Jarkel, Casey and Jack playing 30. Breon spelling the guards, and Ernest giving Jack a break. If would really be a plus if Greg G and LJ could break into the rotation and give us some quality minutes, and I really thought Ebe would play this year, but he’s basically… Read more »

NC State Basketball

Wolferetti: Feed me my crow. NC State lost to Creighton and I’m here to break it down (and admit I was wrong)



I was wrong.

I thought this matchup was a good one for NC State. I watched a lot of Creighton this year and to me, they looked like a team that NC State could roll over. Let me explain why.

I knew a few things. I knew Nembhard was a PG that could get a little out of control if sped up. I knew with a little defense and physicality, Sheierman could be made uncomfortable. I knew Kalkbrenner was a good defender but was going to sink on the pick-and-roll to protect the basket.

Joiner’s pull up just wouldn’t fall

I figured that Joiner, the pull-up king would be taking that DJ Burns screen, getting to the middle, and pulling up as Kalkbrenner sank. I figured Smith would exploit this as well. Well, turns out Joiner was off and couldn’t get his pull-up game going and Smith, well yeah Smith did exploit this pretty well.

Burns didn’t look like Burns

The other thing I’d figure would happen is that I thought DJ Burns would really frustrate Kalkbrenner. If you’ve looked at games where Kalkbrenner had to face a really good, physical back-to-the-basket big man, those bigs usually had pretty good games in the scoring column.  I honestly don’t understand what happened to Burns in this one. Sure he got a few stupid early fouls, but before he even picked up a foul he looked out of it. With no double teams coming, Burns is usually calculated, slowly backing you down and hitting you with a flurry of head fakes, pump fakes or spins. If the big doesn’t bite, Burns can fade away, go with a contested hook shot, or pass out.

In this game, Burns looked sped up for some reason. The first time he got the ball he quickly backed in and threw up a hook that rattled out. Not awful, but usually you see him probe a little more. Then the next time he didn’t even look for contact, instead, he threw up a little floater that didn’t fall. While neither were awful shots, both were uncharacteristic of Burns. On top of those things, he looked absolutely gassed within minutes of coming in. My guess is that it was the altitude, but either way, it took a toll on him.

Whatever it was, it had him frustrated and he had two really bad fouls where he just shoved Kalkbrenner (he also had a phantom foul that was ridiculous). That said, it just wasn’t his night and this made NC State a lot more one-dimensional.

Casey Morsell came to play, but this NC State roster just wasn’t built to get a guy like him going, which is a shame. Jarkel Joiner was a huge reason why NC State got to where they got. His scoring ability, his speed and his toughness and leadership skill were huge. But Joiner is a scoring guard, and great basketball teams need POINT guards.

What is a point guard, and why can’t we have one?

A point guard isn’t just a guy who dribbles it down. It’s a guy who understands the games within the games. Guys who dictate pace, call plays (sets) and are essentially coaches on the floor. NC State and Kevin Keatts never had that this season, and while you can get a long way with scoring guards and good big men, you’ll never compete for anything of worth until you prioritize the skill set of a true point guard. I think that has been NC State’s problem for years, and I find it kind of insane that coach after coach falls into this idea of having a scoring guard play as a PG for more offense to get on the court.

This is no shot at Jarkel, either. The guy was one of my favorite players to watch on this team, but it just is what it is. He is a scoring guard who happens to be slotting in at PG. When you see Keatts bring in a guy whose priority is getting his guys open and dictating pace, then you can start to believe that this program may be close to arriving. Until then, sneaking into the tournament and hoping guys get hot hands is as good as it gets.

Look at Kihei Clark (Virginia’s PG). I know it’s not a great time to be talking about Clark, whose errant pass ended up losing the game for Virginia on Thursday, but look at Clark’s build.5’10, 170lbs. Look at his stats. Mid-30s shooting % from 3. Hight 70s from the FT line. The guy is nothing special when it comes to the numbers, but he’s a leader and he distributes the basketball to the right guys at the right time. Tony Bennett has started Clark for 4 years despite the fact that he’s coaching a team that is always in the running to win the ACC and won a national championship less than 5 years ago.  He could replace Clark with an elite, tall, athlete at any moment. But he doesn’t. Why? Because he understands what I’m talking about. It’s a puzzle that coaches need to put together, and one piece of that puzzle is a guy like this.

I was wrong about this game. I thought things would play out differently. They didn’t. I’m not blaming anyone in particular, but the makeup of this team vs. the makeup of teams that play deep into March are different. Maybe this is step one to getting there. We’ll have to see how the roster shapes up next season.

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NC State Basketball

VIDEO: NC State falls to Creighton 72-63 in first round of NCAA Tournament | Extended Highlights & Box Score

NC State came out flat, DJ Burns looked gassed, and for the most part, the Pack looked shell-shocked vs. Creighton from the opening tip. However, Terquavion Smith is excluded from all of that. He was amazing and in what was likely his final game at NC State, he kept the Pack afloat, dropping 32 points on 12-25 shooting. In the end, it wasn’t enough as their big man, 7’1 Ryan Kalkbrenner went for 31.



NC State came out flat, DJ Burns looked gassed, and for the most part, the Pack looked shell-shocked vs. Creighton from the opening tip. However, Terquavion Smith is excluded from all of that. He was amazing and in what was likely his final game at NC State, he kept the Pack afloat, dropping 32 points on 12-25 shooting. In the end, it wasn’t enough as their big man, 7’1 Ryan Kalkbrenner went for 31.

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NC State Basketball

VIDEO: Smith, Joiner and Keatts talk in postgame press conference

Terquavion Smith, Jarkel Joiner and Kevin Keatts meet with the media after 72-63 loss to Creighton in the NCAA Tournament.



Terquavion Smith, Jarkel Joiner and Kevin Keatts meet with the media after 72-63 loss to Creighton in the NCAA Tournament.

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NC State Basketball

Wolferetti: 3 reasons why NC State is going to win today



God bless these guys over here at PI. I submitted this article to them this morning and got this back.

“Joey, this is a good piece, but are you sure you want to come out and say that NC State is going to win? Why not just do a ‘keys to the game.’ or something? Hedge your bets. Why are you always wanting to put your reputation on the line?”

To that I say, “Nah, I’m good. I want my reputation on the line. What fun is this if I’m not callin’ it like I see it?”

Look, they’ve been worried about me stating outlandish opinions before. Like when I said after game #1, after I first laid eye on this team, that it was going to be a team that will flirt with or get into the Top 25? I got hammered for that, but was I right? And today I’m back on my prediction tip, telling you that NC State will survive and advance. And here are my 3 reasons why.

1. Creighton hasn’t fared well against teams with great Turnover Margins.

If Creighton has a glaring weakness, it’s turnover margin.

NC State’s turnover margin ranks 16th in the NCAA. Creighton’s is a miserable 291st. This means Creighton turns the ball over a lot and doesn’t create many turnovers. Meanwhile, NC State is the exact opposite. They create a lot of turnovers and really protect the basketball. This statistic right here is going to play a major role. The Creighton guards, especially Nembhard, can get sped up, and when they do, they can get sloppy and out of control. Meanwhile, Joiner and Smith flourish at top speed.

Let’s look at the one team that Creighton lost to every time they played them (and played them multiple times). That team is Marquette.

What do Marquette and NC State have in common? Well, they are both Top 20 in the nation in Turnover Margin. Marquette ranks #3 in the NCAA while the Pack is 16th. Creighton turned it over 18 times in their first meeting at Marquette. The second time these two teams met, Creighton turned it over 15 times.

The other teams they faced in the Top 50 of Turnover Margin in the nation?

#39 Arizona State
#10 Texas

That’s it. And guess what, Creighton lost every single one of those games. They have yet to beat a team in the Top 50 in Turnover Margin.

Reminder. NC State ranks 16th.

2. Large, back-to-the-basket bigs have fared well against Creighton

6’9, 245lb, Adama Sanogo from UConn dropped 17 against them in a win.

6’9, 215lb, Oso Ighodaro from Marquette dropped 16 on them in their first meeting, and then 18 in their second.

6’7, 220lb, Bryce Hopkins from Providence scored 20 on them in both meetings. One of which was a win.

All of these guys are big, strong, back-to-the-basket bigs and all of them bullied their way to huge games again Creighton.

In all 3 instances, Creighton refused to double-team on most possessions and the big men ate. So how will they deal with a big that is bigger than any of these guys?

DJ Burns is 6’9, 275lbs and he’s going to be a focal point for NC State in this game. If Creighton opts to play Burns straight up, history says they are going to have a long night and Burn is going to have a big game.

3. Creighton hasn’t seen guards like Joiner and Smith

Sure Creighton has quick guards. Nembhard, the 6’0 PG rarely gets a matchup where he doesn’t have a quickness advantage. Today, against Joiner, he won’t have one. There is so much talk about Creighton’s guards bottling up their opponents, but watch them play and you’ll see that they simply haven’t had to face guys like Joiner or Smith. Creighton will allow the floor to be spread and will not fight against playing this game at a fast pace, and those are the types of games we’ve seen the NC State guards feast.

Creighton is a very good team. They have some very good pieces, but I just think they’ve found themselves in a matchup that isn’t very good for them despite being data-darlings. I could be wrong, but to me, this looks like a game where people are reading off statistics and making assumptions without watching film. Without looking at each team’s Achilles heel. And without really breaking down the matchups.

I think this is a really good matchup for the Pack and I think I’ll be back talking to you in about 24 hours looking at who the guys will play on Sunday.

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