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Opinion: NC State will never reach full potential until defensive fundamentals are taken seriously



I’ve hinted about this for over a year now. I’ve gone play-by-play on game footage to show you that I’m not making this stuff up. And now I’m going to scream it.

NC State will never reach its full potential until defensive fundamentals are taken seriously.

I’ve been a vocal Keatts supporter since he arrived, despite many potential coaching red flags. I believe he has the intangibles that very few coaches have and things you really can’t teach.

For one, his players love playing for him. For years, NC State fans have complained about lack of effort from their teams. Keatts’ kids give 100% every time out. Over his tenure, I can only remember one or two games where I felt the team wasn’t scrapping and playing their hearts out. That’s the first thing a coach needs to be able to do to achieve success.

Secondly, Keatts is very good at evaluating talent. He got commitments from Josh Hall, Jalen Lecque, Saddiq Bey, Terquavion Smith, and more recently Trea Parker. All of these guys were 3-star recruits when Keatts first got involved. He’s able to get the jump on larger programs by trusting his own eyes instead of waiting on recruiting gurus to tell him who is college ready.

Keatts offensive system isn’t all that bad either. I know most fans criticize the fact that they play a lot of 1 on 1 basketball, but his teams have always been top 5 in the ACC in scoring and with decent bigs this season, you can see that he’s not afraid to have his guys dump it down and play from the post when needed. This offense works fine when you have elite playmakers, and for the majority of Keatts tenure, he’s had that.

But there has been one glaring weakness since he’s arrived…


I’ve said it probably 50 times. This style of defense, where you switch on all screens 1 through 5 (or 1 through 4), you press almost all game, and deflections are rewarded, is undermining this basketball team’s chance to succeed.

Keatts and staff probably don’t want to hear it, and believe if they stay the course they will succeed with it, but the numbers don’t lie. It’s not working at this level.

This type of defense works at lower levels. The press dominates against smaller guards with lower court-IQ. The length, speed, and hustle overwhelm teams not accustomed to pressure. And it leads to steals, which leads to points, which leads to wins.

However, the ACC is filled with big, smart, athletic guards, and coaches are prepping their teams on how to dismantle the Wolfpack. Meanwhile, the Pack is wasting valuable energy, while consistently giving up uncontested easy buckets. This forces even the best offensive team to have an uphill climb to win.

Just look at the last game vs. Miami.

Smith, Joiner and Burns all had great games. Morsell played fine. Yet, NC State still lost.

You can blame the foul trouble of Jack Clark if you want, but all 5 guys shouldn’t have to play perfect basketball to get a win. Having 2 guys have big games should be enough on most nights, and when both your guards and your big man go-off there should be no excuse for losing.

So what the heck is going on?

Just look. NC State racks up the turnovers in non-conference play with their press, but against ACC opponents, those turnovers drop off. Miami only turned the ball over 6 times against the Pack. The trade-off from 6 turnovers was a ton of spent energy, and a bunch of easy, uncontested buckets from Miami when they broke the press.

NC State is not getting good value from its press. If you ask me, Keatts would be better off having his guys pick up at half-court most of the game, playing a more fundamental, traditional style of defense, and then surprising his opponents with the press in certain situations.

The key for the Pack, it seems, is to make their opponents score OVER them. Meaning, stop letting guys get to the rim and start limiting easy buckets.

Very few teams will be able to out-score NC State if they have to rely on jump shots.  However, Wolfpack opponents get a big chunk of points off rim runs from breaking the press, or isolations when a mismatch occurs because of a switch.

The ‘switch-everything on defense’ strategy that swept college basketball for a decade has been a failure for most. The ACC is too talented to think your 4 man can guard the opposing point guard. NC State can probably switch 1 through 3, however, I wouldn’t even do that. I would challenge my team to be disciplined enough to hedge and recover on ball screens. So what if they get off a few 3s here and there? What this team needs to do is limit drives to the hoop. That’s where all the havoc is being created.

For example, when Joiner’s man goes off of a screen set by Jack Clark’s guy, NC State switches that screen.Clark takes Joiner’s guy and Joiner takes Clark’s guy. Suddenly you have a point guard attacking the 6’8 Jack Clark, and while Clark is very versatile for a 6’8 guy, a smart, talented PG is going to exploit this. All he has to do is get a half step on Clark, which then means someone needs to pinch in to help, leaving someone open on the wing for a wide-open shot (or a big helps over, opening up a window for a dump-off).

The idea of the ‘switch everything’ defense means that there are no windows for open shots or drives off of ball screens. However, they leave you with a mismatch that teams are taking advantage of over and over against NC State.

If you don’t switch, there are small windows where the ball handler could get off a shot (if the defender goes under the screen). And if the defender goes over the screen, the drive is open if the hedge isn’t perfect. But this is where you have to teach smart, situational defense.

There are few shooters good enough in the ACC to warrant chasing them over top of a screen. In those cases where you have an elite shooter, switching the screen might make the most sense. However, the rest of the time, having a hedge from your big, going under, and recovering keeps the ball handler out of the lane and keeps the matchup Guard vs. Guard.

So what if Isaiah Wong wants to launch a 3 from 4 feet beyond the arc with the outstretched hand of a defender in his face? The guy is a career 34% 3 point shooter and with a hand in his face that number is certainly lower.

Instead of baiting marginal shooters into shooting contested shots, NC State continues to take away those shots and bet they can handle the mismatch because of their versatility.

That bet has lost a lot of games for NC State, and unless you can put together the perfect roster AND eliminate injuries every year, it’s going to continue to lose games.

It’s not rocket science, in fact, most State fans are saying a version of this same thing. Even if they aren’t aware of the intricacies of defensive strategies, they see the Pack constantly on their heels defensively.

Sure, some nights you can outscore the defensive flaws, but like we saw against Miami and Pitt, some nights you can’t.

The most frustrating thing is that this can be fixed. It just takes a little pride-swallowing and demanding defensive communication. It isn’t like Keatts doesn’t know how to teach defense. He does, he’s just teaching a system that isn’t working.

If NC State is going to reach their potential under Kevin Keatts, they are going to have to adjust their defensive strategy. Hate that statement if you want to, but after 5 and 1/2 years, it’s getting hard to argue that it’s false.

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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3 months ago

Great write up.

3 months ago

I agree. I would add that I think adding a zone, any zone, would give us another situational option. Just like the occasional press, a match up zone would not just surprise an opponent, it might help protect big men in foul trouble.

NC State Basketball

NC State’s Terquavion Smith Will Forgo His Remaining College Eligibility & Declare for NBA Draft



Well, it’s official. NC State Sophomore Terquavion Smith will forgo his remaining two years of college eligibility and officially declare for the 2023 NBA Draft.

Here’s what Smith had to say to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony regarding his decision.

“I’m forgoing my college eligibility and going all the way in,” Smith said. “I’m thankful for everything the NC State coaching staff and fans have done for me. This is the right decision for me to take care of my family.”

“I showed a lot of different things this year,” Smith said. “Teams wanted to see me be more of a point guard, making the right play, making the right decisions. They wanted to see me improve my finishing, and I increased that. I showed I can be a leader.”

“I improved my grades. I’m a year closer to getting my degree now. You only get one chance to be a college student and get that college vibe. There was no rush for me. I’m ready to contribute to an NBA team now.”

“I’m feeling good about everything now,” Smith said. “I came back to do what I needed to do. I feel like I did everything the right way. I know what’s coming now in the pre-draft process because I’ve been there already and know what to expect. I’ll be a lot more confident in myself now. It’s going to be a straight grind.” (ESPN)

Smith earned 2nd Team All-ACC honors this year, averaging 17.9 points and 4.1 assists per game.

He currently ranks 30th on ESPN’s Top-100 2023 NBA Draft Prospect Rankings. In most NBA Mock Drafts, Smith is projected as a late first round pick.

Smith’s career scoring average of 17.1 ranks 8th in school history. He made 187 three point shots in two seasons, ranking 8th all-time in NC State history. His 96 made three-pointers last year are the most ever by a Freshman in school history, and his 91 made three-pointers made this year are the most ever by a Sophomore.

If Smith goes on to be taken in the 1st round of the 2023 NBA Draft, it will be the first person to do so from NC State since Dennis Smith Jr. was taken 9th overall in 2017. If Smith is taken in the first round, the would become the 17th player in school history to do so.

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NC State Basketball

NC State’s Men’s Basketball 2022-23 Season: BY THE NUMBERS



NC State’s Men’s Basketball 2022-23 season has come and gone, and I thought we should take a moment to look back on this season BY THE NUMBERS.

  • NC State finished the season with a 23-11 overall record.
    • The 23 wins are the 2nd most of the Kevin Keatts era.
      • In 2018-19, the Wolfpack had 24 wins (2 in the NIT)
  • The Wolfpack had 22 regular season wins.
    • This was the most regular season wins since 2012-13.
  • NC State had 12 ACC regular season wins.
    • This is the most conference wins since they increased the slate of conference games to 20 in 2019-20.
    • It’s the most conference wins since 1973-74, when the Wolfpack was 12-0 in ACC play. Obviously this stat is not representative of the best conference performance by NC State since 1973-74, because they played significantly more conference games than years past.
  • The Wolfpack’s winning percentage in ACC play was 60%, which is the 2nd highest winning percentage in conference play under Kevin Keatts.
    • In his first season in 2017-18, the Wolfpack’s ACC winning percentage was 61.1%.
  • NC State shot 45% from the field this season;.
    • This is the 2nd to worst shooting season under Kevin Keatts, trailing only 41.3% last year.
  • The Wolfpack shot 34.7% from three-point range.
    • That number is the 4th best in 6 seasons under Kevin Keatts.
  • NC State shot 72.2% from the free-throw line.
    • This is the 2nd best number under Kevin Keatts (72.5% last year was the best year).
  • For the first time since 2018-19, NC State won the rebounding margin over their opponents on the year.
    • It was the 2nd highest rebounding margin under Kevin Keatts, with +1.7 margin. (In 2018-19, the margin was +4.3)
  • NC State averaged 77.7 points per game, which is the third highest number under Kevin Keatts, but the highest since 2018-19.
  • The Wolfpack forced 477 turnovers, which is the 3rd highest total under Kevin Keatts, and the most since 2018-19.
    • NC State only committed 320 turnovers, which is the lowest total under Keatts (328 in 2020-21, which was a shortened season, was the lowest before.)
  • NC State held opponents to a 44.5% field goal percentage, which is the lowest since 2019-20, and the third lowest under Keatts.
  • The Wolfpack held opponents to 31.6% from three, which is tied for the 2nd lowest percentage under Keatts.
  • NC State had 434 assists, which is tied for the 3rd most in a season under Keatts.
  • The Wolfpack had 152 blocks, which is the most in a single season under Keatts.
  • NC State finished ranked 51 in KenPom’s

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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.

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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.

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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