1. Dig down for a little more grit and toughness
Since NC State lost Dusan Mahorcic and the team has gone somewhat soft. Mahorcic was a big piece of this team, averaging 8pts and 6 boards per game, but his real value to this team was that he brought the toughness. He loved mixing it up, and getting physical in the paint. That type of basketball was contagious, but since he got injured, it’s been nowhere to be found. Instead, State has turned into a team seemingly scared of contact, settling for contested jumper after contested jumper. When we do see some attitude it’s usually reactionary chippiness, which is a lot different than the grittiness born out of confidence that Mahorcic brought to the table. If they’re going to turn things around they’re going to need to find it again.
2. Take better shots!!
Terquavion Smith is the best scorer NC State has had in a long time, but the kid is taking far too many long, contested, step-back 3s. NC State has the talent to play simple, team basketball and win in the ACC. They don’t need Smith to be torching teams from 10 feet beyond the arc. They do however need Smith to read what the defense is giving him and exploit it (which he is capable of doing and will go a lot further with NBA scouts than contested bombs from deep). Teams can’t guard him one on one, so you’re seeing teams double him off screens and make him give it up. The Pack should be carving up teams that decide to do that, but instead, they’ve failed to capitalize.
Smith is getting frustrated with the extra attention and is settling for long, sometimes contested 3s, and he’s been missing them. He’s shooting just 31% from 3-point range vs. ACC opponents, and while that not be THAT awful, Smith is way too good a shooter to be hitting at that low of a clip. For this team to be at their best he needs to be hitting about 38% from long range, which he’s certainly capable of doing if he focuses on taking good open 3s.
And it’s not just Smith. As the team struggles, they are more and more opting for quick, contested shots. Part of that is on them rushing, but part of that is on the system. I’ve begged for a long time for Keatts to revisit his system on both ends of the floor, but we haven’t seen it happen. There is very little movement away from the ball. No one ever cuts with any urgency and ‘the offense’ rarely gets this team an easy bucket. Most buckets are made by the players taking things into their own hands which is how the system is designed.
All but one of NC State’s losses have been by 3 possession or less. In ACC play, it’s a game of possessions, and every long, contested 3 you take, every quick, forced shot you take is as good as a turnover. It’s the difference between winning a losing in many cases, and until the Pack cleans this up, we’re going to continue to see the results we’ve been seeing. Taking good shots is going to be paramount against a deep and talented Duke team.
3. Have a little situational strategy on the offensive end
The poor shots aren’t just costing possessions, they are costing this team momentum. Every time State gets up by 6 or 8, they get loose on offense and start taking quick, wild shots. This is exactly the opposite of what you want to do and I’m going to put this one on Jarkell Joiner. He’s the senior, so he’s got to be the one to take guys aside and get in their face when they jack up a transition 3 when you’re up 8.
You have your opponents on the ropes. Instead of taking your foot off their throat, you need to clamp down even harder to make sure they never get up. Meaning, you drain the shot clock, working to find a good shot, making your defenders stay in a stance, and then put another 2 on them (or get to the line). This is how you keep a lead. Playing fast pace for 40 minutes and ignoring situational strategy is really NC State’s worst offensive flaw this season.
Joiner needs to take control of this basketball team and be the coach on the floor. When you get up, you keep attacking, but you attack in a different, more calculated way.
Look, no lead you’ll get will ever be safe if you’re just dedicated to playing the volume game (getting up as many shots as you can). If you do that, you’re 20-point leads can start getting eaten into, with barely any time off the clock, then momentum switches, and the wheels can fall off quickly.
When the Pack gets leads it should be DJ Burns time, or they should penetrate and pitch to the corners until they find an open lane or a wide-open 3. Good shots should be traded in for great shots and the extra pass should be made every time. Instead, they play the same whether they’re up 20 or down 2o, and to me, it’s insane to think you’re going to consistently win that way.
4. NC State needs to find answers on the defensive end (and that might mean a system tweak)
NC State ranks last in the ACC, allowing 75.6 pts per game. Offensively, they are scoring 73 ppg, good for 6th in the ACC. However, that margin of -2.6 is 13th in the ACC. And sadly this is a trend during the Keatts era.
NC State is almost always top 5 or 6 in offense (in the ACC), but the defense has always been so bad that it doesn’t really matter much. If you can’t stop your opponent, you can’t win and that is the story so far for Keatts. It’s why I’ve been so vocal about their need to change their defensive identity and strategy. I wrote an entire piece about this almost a month ago, and I feel the same way today.
Switching every screen, and pressing a majority of the game, it’s not going to work in the ACC. Don’t listen to me, just look at the defensive stats during the Keatts era. It was his signature at UNCW, a long team of tweeners that could switch every screen and would turn up the heat for 40 minutes with presses and traps. This type of defense obliterates teams with small, weak backcourts who can’t throw over the top and whose forwards can barely handle the rock. But in the ACC it doesn’t fly. Guards are too big and forwards can flash the middle and alleviate pressure. It’s a waste of energy to continuously run it and it’s hard to blame guys for lapsing of defense when they’re dead tired and being asked to go full throttle all the time. Meanwhile, Keatts is really only playing 5 or 6 guys’ significant minutes. It’s not like he has 9 or 10 guys rotating in and out.
You’d think, given the circumstances, given the outcomes, and given the years of trend lines that you’d see some kind of adjustment in strategy, but nope. No real noticeable wrinkles, like throwing off the opponent’s pace with a couple of possession of zone looks or dropping back in a zone, waiting for them to set up their zone offense then springing back into a man. But we haven’t seen it.
In my opinion, NC State has been too easy to gameplan against. There is no element of surprise, there is no chess match going on. It’s just “This is what we do. Try and stop it.” however everyone who tries seemingly succeeds.
5. Take it personal
This is a rivalry game. You’re playing for your season and potentially your coach’s career. You’re playing for your teammates and you’re playing for your school. This a ton to play for here, so it shouldn’t be hard for the Pack to get up for this one. And to be honest, Keatts does always have his guys hyped to play. There is rarely a game where NC State comes out and doesn’t work hard. They go 100% all the time, but for me, I’d like to see a little more ‘chip on the shoulder’ vibe coming from this team. A little more aggression and hunger. A little more taking things personally.
(That is the one thing I hate about switching every screen on defense. You lose that game within the game one-on-one matchup where you look up at the scoreboard to see how many points your man has. If he’s torching you, then there’s no one to blame but yourself, and if he’s being held down, you’re the one holding him down. Instead, you’re guarding multiple guys on every possession and when a guy has 20 points, you can blame switch offs and other teammates for it.)
If State is going to beat Duke we’re going to need to start seeing guys not just physically going 100%, but we’re going to need to see that lock-in of focus. That mental toughness that goes to 100. Pairing physical effort and mental effort is going to be what gets this team back on track.
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.