Almost 2 years ago Greg Gantt announced that he would be transferring to NC State.
Gantt was a former 4-star forward who played his first 2 seasons at Providence. There he averaged 4 points, 3 boards and 1.7 assists in his sophomore campaign, shooting just 22% from long range.
Those stats didn’t really generate much excitement about his arrival, but that didn’t change the fact that Gantt was a 6’8 former 4-star kid with a college-tested body. Unfortunately, State fans didn’t get to see him last year due to numerous injuries, one of which was a nagging sports hernia. And there wasn’t much news on whether we’d get to see him this year either.
As the 2022-23 slate started, NC State’s frontcourt looked loaded. They had Mahorcic, Burns, and Ebe at the 5. They had Clark and Ross at the 4. There really wasn’t much talk about Gantt, in fact, some wondered if he would ever even suit up for the Pack.
Then, on November 15th, in NC State’s 3rd game of the season, Gantt finally checked in.
He logged 12 minutes, played hard defense, but only finished with 3 rebounds and an assist. He didn’t score.
Then 5 games later we saw him again, this time vs. William and Mary. 9 minutes, 2 points, 3 rebounds. Then the next game (vs. Pitt) he logged 14 minutes, had 3 points, 4 boards and a steal. Gantt then got a game off before coming back and playing 14 minutes vs. Miami. Zero points, 4 boards. Then the next game he came back with 12 minutes vs Furman. Zero points 2, boards.
Gantt was providing ‘breather’ minutes for the Pack, allowing his teammates to get a quick break before coming back in. It was hard for him to get in any sort of flow, but it was clear that he plays hard and rebounds the basketball. The question was, where does he really fit with this team?
Jack Clark, State’s starting 4 man, was the conference’s 9th best rebounder and was averaging 9 points per game, however, he was shooting just 40% on the season and 26% from 3, while taking 8 shots per game. Clark wasn’t providing much offense for NC State, but he was doing a good job of guarding the perimeter and rebounding the basketball.
That’s why when it was announced that Clark would miss the Duke game with an abdominal injury, NC State fans were very nervous.
Ernest Ross has come back this season from injury playing with a lot of hesitancy. He’s averaging just 2.2 pts and 1.7 rebounds in 9 minutes per game. Ross just looks a little lost this season and seems to be shying away from contact way more often than we saw last season, something NC State can’t afford from their 4 man. So where would they turn?
Keatts decided it was time to throw Greg Gantt in the fire vs. #16 Duke, ready or not.
Immediately it paid dividends.
Gantt registered the first 3 rebounds of the game, blocked the first shot, and score the first 2 points for NC State.
Gantt set the tone for the Pack. NC State had been playing a bit soft since big man Dusan Mahorcic went down with a knee injury. Clark was putting up good numbers, but pairing him with Burns and Dowuona, you had a real finesse front court. Don’t get me wrong, those guys are good players in their own right, but NC State’s frontcourt wasn’t contesting shots, bodying up opposing bigs, and doing the dirty work in the paint. I mentioned it as my #1 thing to correct in my pre-game piece on the Duke game.
Gantt provided a physical presence in the middle, bodying up larger defenders, contesting every rebound, diving for loose ball, but most importantly, he’s a great off-ball defender.
Watch Gantt defend and he’s constantly seeing man and ball. He’s great with his help-side positioning, putting him in a good spot to come help, or just hedge when teams start going down low again Dowuona. In fact, I think over the past 2 games, you’ve seen Ebe look a lot better down low. Part of that has been his play, but part of that has been the Greg Gantt lurking on help side. Just watch the fist possession of this video. Focus on Gantt.
Gantt plays intense, in-the-passing-lane defense, constantly seeing his man and the ball in his periphery. Then when a shot goes up, He finds his man, boxes out and attacks the rebound. In this case, it gets knocked away by Dowuona’s man (who was not boxed out). But Gantt doesn’t give up on the play, he immediately reads the situation, sees that there is about to be an easy put back over Dowuona, and comes in with the blindside block.
That possession is a microcosm of what Greg Gantt has given NC State since his injection into the starting lineup.
Gantt is shooting just 30% from the field and just 16% from long range, but he’s taking less than 2 shots per game. Clark isn’t hitting at THAT much better of a clip to be honest (Clark is 10% better in both FG% and 3pt%).
Meanwhile, Gantt is giving NC State just about as much rebounding as Jack Clark was giving them. Clark averaged .25 rebounds per minute played, while Gantt is averaging .23 rebounds per minute played.
With Gantt in, NC State loses an offensive option in Clark, but honestly, it seems to be freeing up more shots for Joiner, Smith, and Burns, the guys you really want shooting the basketball right now. Plus he’s giving you a grit and physicality in the paint that you were missing since Mahorcic went down.
Some may look at the stats and think this is a crazy take, but since Greg Gantt has gotten into the starting lineup, NC State is playing some of its best basketball to date. Their defense has been stellar. With Morsell, Joiner, and Gantt on the floor, you have 3 lockdown defenders, and teams have struggled to find good shots vs. this lineup. And while he isn’t going to move the needle offensively, this team has more than enough offense to go around. What it needs is a few guys who take pride in getting stops.
Clark may return (we hope), but Gantt has proven that he deserves his share of minutes and until Mahorcic returns, might be the option Keatts decides to roll with for the time being.
Because, if you ask me, Gantt brought what this Wolfpack team was missing, and may have just saved the season in the process.
Here is the 2024 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament Bracket
The bracket for the 2024 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament is here. The 10th ranked NC State is the #2 seed in the tournament, and their first game will be on Friday at 5pm on ACC Network.
The Wolfpack will play the winner of the Duke (7 seed) vs. Georgia Tech (10 seed)/Pitt (15 seed).
NC State defeated Pitt 83-47 on February 11th, and they defeated Georgia Tech 86-85 on February 18th.
The Wolfpack lost to Duke 58-69 on February 25th. NC State entered the game as 1.5-point favorites, but ended up losing in enemy territory.
Georgia Tech defeated Pitt 68-58 on January 7th. Duke defeated both Georgia Tech and Pitt this season, defeating the Yellow Jackets 84-46 on January 14th, and the Panthers on 69-38 on February 1st.
There is Reason to be Frustrated
If you are an NC State fan, it’s only reasonable that you’re frustrated with the state of the Men’s Basketball program.
Under Kevin Keatts, NC State has gone to the NCAA Tournament twice in 7 seasons. The Wolfpack didn’t win a game in the Big Dance in either of those appearances.
Keatts has led NC State to a 3-5 record in the ACC Tournament, failing to reach the semifinals a single time.
You could make an argument that his first season in Raleigh was his best (I don’t think it was), because the Wolfpack finished 5th in the ACC, which is the highest the team has finished in the conference under his watch.
2017-18 – 5th
2018-19 – 8th
2019-20 – 6th
2020-21 – 9th
2021-22 – 15th
2022-23 – 6th
2023-23 – 9th (currently)
Average finish: 8.3
(For context, in 6 seasons, Mark Gottfried’s average finish was 8.7.)
Over the past 7 seasons, NC State has been ranked in the Top-25 in only 8 polls (2 separate seasons), with the highest being on January 7th, 2019, when the Wolfpack were ranked 15th.
Under Gottfried, NC State was ranked in 13 polls (all one season). With Herb Sendek at the helm, the Wolfpack were ranked in the Top-25 in 5 different seasons, in a total of 35 polls.
Do I think Kevin Keatts is the worst coach at NC State in recent memory? No, that award goes to Sydney Lowe. In all reality, NC State’s record overall and in conference play is nearly identical under Keatts, as it was under Mark Gottfried and Herb Sendek.
Kevin Keatts – 58.3/48.3
Mark Gottfried – 58.9/45.3
Herb Sendek – 59.1/45.0
What’s the difference between Keatts and the other two?
A couple of observations.
Sendek finished his time at NC State with 5 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, and Gottfried started off his tenure with 4 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. The Wolfpack advanced to the 2nd round 3 times, and the Sweet 16 once under Sendek. Under Gottfried, they advanced to the 2nd round twice.
Sendek led NC State to the ACC Championship game 3 times (in 10 years), and the semifinals 4 times. Gottfried led the Wolfpack to the semifinals on 3 occasions. Heck, Sidney Lowe led NC State to the ACC Championship game once, and the semifinals on another occasion.
Is the NC State Men’s Basketball program worse off under Keatts than it was under the previous coaches? If you simply look at total wins and losses, that’s not necessarily the case, but when you look at the Wolfpack’s production in postseason play, there is no other answer besides ‘yes.’
Every now and then you have to be willing to eat crow. Years ago, I was of the opinion that Herb Sendek needed to go. Do I think that Sendek would have brought NC State back to where it was in the 80’s? I didn’t think it then, and I’m not certain my opinion on that has changed, but the past 20 years has proven to me that the grass isn’t always greener.
Call me nostalgic, but from a historical perspective, I believe NC State fans have right to expect their Men’s Basketball program to be successful…to consistently be ranked in the Top-25…to finish in the top half of the ACC…compete for conference championships…and go to the Big Dance on a regular basis.
There is reason to be frustrated.
Madison Hayes Will Be Returning for Her Final Year of Eligibility in 2024-25
Last night NC State Guard Madison Hayes was honored on Senior Night, but she also announced that she would be returning in 2024-25 for her final year of eligibility. She was honored alongside Center River Baldwin and Forward Mimi Collins, who are both out of eligibility after this season.
Hayes is in the midst of a breakout season this year, averaging 11.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, which are both career highs. She ranks 3rd on the team in scoring, behind the other two Guards in the starting lineup, Aziaha James and Saniya Rivers, who will also be back in 2024-25. Even though she is a Guard, Hayes leads the Wolfpack in rebounding. Her 44.1% Field Goal Percentage is the best of any of the Wolfpack Guards, and her Three Point Percentage of 41.7% is the best on the squad.
As a Senior in high school, Hayes was named a McDonald’s All-American in 2020, and she earned a spot on the All SEC Freshman team in 2021 as a member of Mississippi St. In 2021-22, she transferred to NC State, and played in 26 games off the bench, but earned a spot in the starting lineup last season.
Big news for the Wolfpack Women’s Basketball program!