NC State Basketball
Wolferetti: What a difference a year makes for NC State and Kevin Keatts
Flash back for a second.
It’s February 23rd, 2022. NC State has lost 8 of their last 10 games and will lose another one later in the day. The future seems dim. The fanbase has turned on Kevin Keatts, Dereon Seabron is all but gone next year and their only recruit coming in to ‘save the day’ is 3-star guard LJ Thomas. Apathy has taken hold of Wolfpack nation and brighter days don’t seem to be on the horizon.
Ok, snap out of it.
You’re back to present day. NC State just beat Wake Forest for their 22nd win (most in the regular season since 1988). This comes on the heels of taking out rival UNC just days earlier. Jarkel Joiner and DJ Burns, two guys you didn’t even know existed last year just combined for 50 points, the Pack is a projected 8 seed in the NCAA tournament and Kevin Keatts has himself in the running for Coach of the Year in the ACC.
What a difference a year makes.
But I’m not going to let everyone forget that a big group of you were ready to cut the rope and jump ship on Kevin Keatts. Had you done that, you don’t get Terquavion Smith back. And if you don’t get Smith back, you likely don’t get Burns, Joiner, Mahorcic or Clark transferring in. You also potentially lose Casey Morsell to the portal.
Look, I tried to tell you last year that Kevin Keatts has the intangibles to be a great coach, and firing him prematurely would be devastating to the program and just staying the course would eventually prove my point.
I was right. You were wrong. Now we move on.
If you were one of the people who wanted Keatts gone, you’re fired up after that last sentence, aren’t you? You’re racking your brain looking for an angle to respond. Should you go the “‘He got lucky” route? What about the, “It’s all thanks to the assistants” route? Do what you need to do, but a little advice for you. Calm down, take the L, and monitor my columns closely in the future for errors. Then call me out. But this time. The L, please.
That said, what Kevin Keatts and NC State have done to turn this ship around has been nothing short of amazing. Everything got better.
Keatts somehow convinced Terquavion Smith to come back. He hired Levi Watkins, an alum, a hire that not only appeased the fanbase but also brought an elite PG with him in Jarkel Joiner. He then went out and got the 4-man of his dreams (Jack Clark) and 2 bigs that complement each other perfectly. While Mahorcic’s injury may have seemed like a setback, it opened the door for DJ Burns to become one of the most dominant and efficient big men that Pack fans have ever seen.
While all of this was happening, Casey Morsell was retooling and sculpting himself to become the ultimate ACC glue guy. An elite spot-up shooter, a dependable scorer, and one of the best defenders in the ACC. Reminder that Morsell shot 17% from 3 as a freshman and 26% as a sophomore. Credit Morsell for the improvements, but Keatts and staff certainly deserve some of that credit.
Let’s also remind everyone that this is Keatts year 1 without the NCAA cloud over his head. And what has he done? Brought in a bunch of elite transfers, sure, but he’s also secured commitments from Trey Parker (who is going to be the next Terquavion Smith) and Dennis Parker, another 4-star who is dominating his senior season. Oh and just a couple of days ago he got a commitment from the 32nd best player in the 2024 class, Paul McNeil.
Ok enough salt distribution, let’s just look at what is making NC State so special this season.
Last year NC State was one-dimensional. They had no true point guard. They had no scoring threat from the block. Their defense was porous.
Honestly, this year, the MVP is Jarkel Joiner. Sure Smith is the favorite to win ACC POY, but Joiner filled a ton of holes for this team. He filled the PG hole as a guy who could push the pace, score, but do so without turning the ball over. He also filled a huge leadership gap. Without Joiner, NC State still may be decent, but they aren’t the same team. His vocal leadership has changed that locker room. His confidence and strength is infectious, and down the stretch, you’re seeing that he’s the type of guy who gets better when the lights get brighter.
Then there is DJ Burns. He and Smith to me are the second most important pieces of this team. Smith is the volume scorer who puts so much pressure on the defense anytime he has the ball. Sure, his percentages are down, but his assists are way up and his ability to catch fire stokes fear in every opposing coach and defender.
Meanwhile, Burns has finally taught Keatts a lesson. In the ACC you need versatility. You need to be able to have a back-to-the-basket big man for those times when the jumper won’t fall. Now, I don’t think anyone ever envisioned Burns being THIS good, but he is and there are rumblings that he wants to come back for another season. Burns makes NC State one of the hardest teams to scout. He requires a double team, but when Clark is out there you have 4 very good shooters around the perimeter.
Look, I’m not saying they’re going to. but NC State, for the first time in my life, has the talent to win it all. Yeah, I said that. They have the talent to win it all, especially if they can get Clark and Mahorcic back healthy for the tournament.
Can’t believe I said that? Well, just mark it down as another thing you were thinking, but I said.
They have the horses, but I think the question really is, do they have the mentality and the focus to make that kind of run?
At this point, I don’t think we’ve seen them put it all together yet, but they are trending in a good direction. Last night vs. Wake Forest you got to see them clicking on all cylinders for a few spurts. You saw it during the UNC game too. Runs that are electric and can shift the score by 10-12 within minutes. Those are the putaway runs you see from elite teams that win in March.
Now, to make a run like that, you have to get hot at the right time and for NC State to go really deep, they’ll need to be playing the hottest basketball of the season. If the Wake game was any indication, I think there is a reason for optimism.
Speaking of elite teams, ESPN is now touting Kansas as the #1 overall team in the national power rankings. The same Kansas that NC State took to the wire prior to really gelling. Prior to even knowing what DJ Burns was capable of. Burns played just 16 minutes in that game and scored 8 points. Meanwhile, Kansas has struggled against bigger teams that can back them down in the paint thanks to the fact that they are undersized at the 5. If they met again, I’d say all bets are off.
Lastly, I think the truth is, you’ve seen a different Keatts this season. I think he’s shown signs of maturing as an ACC coach. The defense has been sured up and he’s got a much shorter leash on his guys this year. Less rah-rah clapping after a mistake, and more scolding. More guys getting the yank for mental errors or lack of effort. And I think you can do that as a coach when you have full trust from your kids, and everyone on the roster knows that there is one goal and no room for excuses.
Last year everyone had lost interest at this point and the stands were empty. This year NC State is selling out the Clemson game.
Update: Our game Saturday vs. Clemson is Sold Out!#WPN head to @StubHub, our official fan ticket marketplace, to find tickets.
🎟: https://t.co/wMx2SoPU5A pic.twitter.com/eYEdE5olaY
— NC State Men’s Bball (@PackMensBball) February 23, 2023
Last year there were whispers about finding a new coach. This year there are whispers of repeating ’83.
I’ll say it again.
What a difference a year makes.
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.
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.
— Damian Dunn 🇦🇸 (@Dam1anKD) March 20, 2023
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.
NC State Basketball
NC State’s Jack Clark Enters Transfer Portal
NC State Forward Jack Clark has entered the Transfer Portal.
NC State G Jack Clark has entered the transfer portal. Grad transfer. https://t.co/NQ6vpv4XPL
— Verbal Commits (@VerbalCommits) March 24, 2023
I heard from a source that it was close to 50/50 whether Clark would return to NC State next year for his final year of eligibility.
Clark started in 17 of the 23 games that he played in for the Wolfpack this season, averaging 9.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Clark led the Wolfpack on rebounding in 22-23.
When it’s all said and done, I wouldn’t be shocked to see NC State pull in 6 players from the Transfer Portal when all the dust settles.
Brace yourself for the ride.
NC State Basketball
A few Point Guards we think NC State will target in the transfer portal
As stated yesterday, NC State lost Ebe Dowuona and might lose a couple more guys to the portal eventually. They also are very likely to keep their core guys aside from Terquavion Smith who is almost surely headed to the NBA.
The Pack has a few glaring needs for next season. They need a starting PG, they need a starting SG and they need a 4/5 guy that can be the bruiser option at the 4 against bigger, stronger teams, and also a guy who can slot in as a backup behind Burns if Mahorcic’s knee doesn’t get back to full strength. Those are the direct needs at this moment, however, based on what guys on the current roster do, there might end up being other needs. That said, we’d going to focus on the needs of today.
There is always the case that transfers can via the portal with no prior connection to the team. That means they aren’t local kids and they don’t have a prior relationship with the coaching staff. While that is possible, it’s not usually how this plays out. What usually happens is a kid wants to come closer to home, or they have some prior relationship with the staff (sometimes both).
So right now we’re going to limit our focus to a few guys that are in the portal and either local or have a prior relationship with the staff. We’re also going to limit the discussion in this piece to just Point Guards.
What is a ‘Keatts’ Point Guard?
NC State runs their offense off of an initial high pick and roll, like many college teams today. That means they need a playmaking PG. Now, a playmaking PG doesn’t mean a guy who just puts up a ton of points (although that is what Joiner was for the Pack last season), but it could also mean a guy who can score but also get his team involved.
Remember, the high pick and roll is not designed to get a PG open shots. Sure, that is one option, but if you have a good PG coming off that high screen, they have 3 real options. Shoot it, pass to the roll guy/pop guy, or draw help and kick out to the corners. If you have a guy who can do all of these things well, then the high pick and roll is nearly unguardable. However, if you have a guy who only does one of those things, the high pick-and-roll looks pretty stagnant and one-dimensional.
Right now, Keatts is constantly criticized for his offensive system, and based on his personnel and how the offense ran last season, I get it. But with a pass-first PG (who can also score), this offense could be really efficient. I think for the sake of the team and the sake of his job, Keatts would be smart to prioritize a PG who is a little more pass-oriented and creates a little more havoc off that screen (meaning he keeps his dribble alive on the drive and probes, not to score necessarily, but to bait the defense to get out of position.)
So, what would you say Keatts’ ideal PG looks like?
Well, we don’t really know. His first two recruited were Lavar Batts and Braxton Beverly, both taken in his first year and both kind of out of desperation. Then he landed Jalen Lecque, who was a 6’4 elite athlete PG, who opted to skip college and go to the NBA. Then he brought on Cam Hayes and Shakeel Moore. Moore was a late addition, who I believe was taken to entice teammate Josh Hall to come to NC State (Hall also skipped college to go to the NBA after committing to State). Hayes, however, was a Keatts guy and Hayes was a 6’2, 185lb combo guard who was known as a shooter and good defender (he ended up being not much of either at NC State unfortunately). Then he brought on Breon Pass, a 6-foot guard who has given State some good minutes the past couple of years, but doesn’t look quite ready to take over as a starter. Pass was known as a good scorer at a smaller NC school, and a very good defender. So far his defense has panned out but not as much scoring as we expected. Next there was LJ Thomas last year. He’s a bigger 6’2 190lb PG. Not quite as quick but more physical. Not as much of a playmaker, but more of a scorer. Then Keatts brought in Joiner this year, a 6’1 scoring threat who never averaged more than 2.3 assists per game before coming to Raleigh.
So, to us, this is Keatts biggest flaw during his NC State tenure. He has an offense built around having an elite PG, and he really hasn’t decided what an elite PG in his system looks like. The best he’s brought in was Joiner, but the offense ended up being a lot of isolation and one on one play. To really reach the next level, Keatts needs to find a PG who is a playmaker and passer, one who can defend and then pair him with an elite scoring guard.
Who is out there right now that we should keep an eye on?
Northern Arizona | 5’11, 175lbs | 18ppg, 2.5 assists, 40% from 3pt range | From Walkerton, NC
Cone started his career off at Virginia Tech. He was a 3 star kid who was super quick, and more of a scorer than a playmaker. He had offers from VT, Tennessee and Baylor, but that was really it. NC State was involved a little bit here but never given an offer.
He had decent stats at VT, but really came into his own when he transferred to Northern Arizona. Obviously, this is weaker conference, but he had 20pts, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists against Michigan State, 17 points and 6 boards against Arizona State. He did get shut down against Texas, scoring just 6 points and turning the ball over 5 times, but this is a guy who had games of 45pts, 38 pts, and 29pts. He’s super quick and really a good shooter. He’s a less physical version of Jarkell Joiner if you ask me. So maybe Keatts sees this as a decent fit, but in my opinion, you need to target a guy who is more interested in getting his teammates involved (but I guess that depends on your ability to lock down an elite scoring 2 guard). I’m also concerned about his 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. You want your lead guard to be better than that.
Kansas | 6’1, 190lbs | 2 ppg, 1.3 assists, 30% from 3pt range | From Durham, NC
Pettiford is a stout, physical guard who can defend, but really hasn’t shown much on the offensive end. That said, he’s had a case of the injury bug during his two years at Kansas. He started with an ankle injury and then had an abdominal injury, both really slowed him down. When he committed to Kansas (after decommitting from Louisville) Bill Self really thought Pettiford was going to be a major contibutor to his team saying “We were very fortunate when Bobby opened up his recruitment last month. He became a priority immediately. We feel Bobby has a tremendous future, great upside and will make an immediate impact for us. His work ethic and drive are something I think every program hopes every player has.”
Pettiford is interesting to me. He’s a very physical guard, a good defender, and a good finisher around the rim, but he’s not super athletic, nor is he a great long-range shooter. He also isn’t someone who is explosive in transition. Those seem to be all things Keatts is looking for in a PG, so you’d think Pettiford isn’t going to be a major target for State, but you never know. He has a lot of talent, but I’m not sure he fits great with the pieces NC State currently has in place. However, in HS he was a really good shooter and showed a real scoring ability, so who knows.
ECU | 6’2, 180lbs | 15.8 ppg, 5.6 assists, 33% from 3pt range | From South Bend, IN
Small isn’t a North Carolina prep kid, but his connection to the state is that he’s transferring from ECU. This is a kid who was a 3-star recruit and only had mid-major offers, but has erupted for the Pirates this season. He’s a big, strong PG who shot nearly 40% from the floor and 33.3% from long range. This year Jarkel Joiner shot 42.8% from the field and 35.4% from long range. So he’s not quite the shooter that Joiner was, but he’s not that far off. He also is more of a playmaker than Joiner. He averaged 5.6 assists per game and 3.4 turnovers per game. He was ranked 18th nationally in assist rate when he went down with a knee injury in mid-January. This is a guy that I think Keatts should try to bring in, and it looks like he’s already reached out.
ECU transfer Javon Small has heard from the following schools since entering the transfer portal, he tells @On3sports:
NC State https://t.co/oY8D4CDfHM
— Joe Tipton (@TiptonEdits) March 16, 2023
Check out his highlights…
WKU | 6’1, 195lbs | 16.5 ppg, 5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 34% from 3pt range | From Shelbyville, KY
McKnight is being listed here because NC State has reached out to him. I’m not aware of any connection with the staff, but he definitely fits the Keatts mold. He’s a little bit of a bigger, stronger guard, and honestly is like an undersized James Harden with the way he creates space and attacks the basket (He’s also a lefty). McKnight is going to be a really unique player no matter where he ends up. He’s got a knack for creating space, great footwork, a nice jumper and he really loves drawing contact on his drives to the hoop. I can definitely see why NC State reached out, and if he really does pattern his game after James Harden, then the NC State high screen and roll offense is the perfect system for him. Don’t look at his frame and think he’s slow, either. The kid has speed and while he’s not going to play above the rim, he’ll be a scoring threat no matter where he lands.
Western Kentucky transfer Dayvion McKnight has heard from the following schools since entering the portal, source tells @On3sports:
Mississippi State https://t.co/rPam5GZvdb
— Joe Tipton (@TiptonEdits) March 22, 2023
Here are his highlights…
As more names get added to the portal with NC State connections, we’ll add them here and reshare this article.
This is what I want. I want T Smith to go totally bonkers tonight and score 50% for field goal percentage, 44% from three-point range, and hit 100% of his free throws. Meanwhile, I want Joiner to score 30 points, grab 10 rebounds, dish out 10 assists. Oh, DJ, if you could score on every double team Duke puts on you, let’s keep your points at a respectable 23, maybe grab 12 rebounds. Then Morsell, I want you to be the scoring Ninja. After being blown away by T Smith, Joiner and DJ, we’re all going to be like, wait!… Read more »
Monday – In today’s weekly presser, Keatts said he didn’t know if ‘Jack would be ready to play tomorrow or the ACCT.’ I’d love to have him for Duke, but it sounds like we’re definitely getting him back. And that is great news.
Mahorcic – Since we’ve never heard anything definitive one way or the other, I’ve kind of hoped he’d come back to help us be our best here when it counts. Looks highly unlikely.
Okay, that comment was based off a tweet.
Listening to the actual presser, Keatts may have meant he didn’t know anything, and just used Duke and the ACCT as examples – rather than saying Jack would play in one or the other.
Just ignore that post. LOL
It sounded to me encouraging that he’d be back by ACCT. We sure could could use him at Duke though. Maybe the longer rest for us is a good thing.
Duke game is gonna be a beast to win, we’ll need to be hitting our shots and playing elite D. They’ll be out for payback. Hopefully it will be T Time.
That was pretty abysmal. I love we’re 22-8. But that was butt ass ugly.
That’s a fitting description. Clemson came to play ‘March’ basketball, we didn’t. Brutally ugly performance. I think its a mistake to start DJ against teams like Clemson, where we need speed and athleticism to keep them in check. Set the defensive tone with Ross, Clark, Ebe then bring in DJ.
Duke will be out for revenge and is playing much better now. I hope Clemson was a wake up call us.
And although it had zero bearing on who won the game, the officiating was almost as abysmal as our performance. How did ACC officiating get to be so bad?
Any update on how Clark is doing? I saw him in a sling during the game.
I suppose we won’t know till game time, but I’m hopefull it was just a stinger. Its his non shooting arm so there’s that.
We definitely could use him to loosen up that tough Clemson defense. Gonna be a fight, Clemson needs wins bad.
Not playing today against Clemson
Keatts on Clark: “I don’t have an update…I got a text this morning from our trainer that he wasn’t able to go today. It’s nothing major, but he did take a nasty fall.
Alright, Wolferetti. I have a question for you. Back in December, you wrote an article regarding Keats, stating all the things you supported and then went on to say that there is one thing our coach lacks… a defense that can compete in the ACC. My question is, did he change his defensive strategy??? Because I am no expert and will never claim to be one. Or is the defensive strategy you talked about in that article, the same one he’s been running all year? And if so, then what are your thoughts on now?
imho KK has not changed defensive strategy, he’s just now got more players that can play good defense. We are still doing the same things, pressing, running shooters off the 3 pt line, etc. He’s been saying all along that our guards need to do better to protect drives into the lane, we are now 4-5 players deep with those that can maintain defensive position against good ball handlers and/or quick passers. It also helps tremendously to have a few bigs that can absorb more fouls. We also have more and better rebounders and that helps tremendously Its a change… Read more »
I think there are three factors contributing to Keatts defense being effective: Players – Last year we only had one really good defender, Morsell. This year we add Joiner, LJ, Gantt, Clark, and Ross is getting much better – plus he’s a very good shot blocking threat. DJ isn’t as mobile as many other bigs, but once they post him up in the paint, he’s tough to score on. Buy in – Earlier in the season, Keatts commented a couple of times that his players “were learning to love to play defense.” And in interviews you hear players talking about… Read more »
Joey, c’mon man, tell us what you really think. LOL I’ve been a strong Keatts supporter from the beginning, but I have to admit, a couple of this season’s early season losses – particularly our one home loss against Pitt – had me thinking he wasn’t going to cut it. I was wrong, both about Keatts and Pitt. Pitt is another example of what you can do with the portal, their top 6 players are all transfers, 3 are grad students and 1 is a senior. All transfers, heavy dose of experience. I think a key point in Keatts’ favor… Read more »
Wait! Burns wants to “come back for another season”. I thought this was his senior year.
And yes, while I’ve been pretty supportive of Keatts, I will absolutely, 100% admit when things weren’t looking great this year, to being one of those people who questioned if Keatts was the guy. He’s definitely the guy. And I’m glad he’s the guy!!!
DJ has another year if he chooses to use it. He’s publicly said “He’s thinking about it.” Since he has no NBA prospects, and he seems to be enjoying being the toast of Wolfpack Nation, I’d think he’ll think really hard about it. He should be a great candidate for substantial NIL money. The only guys that have exhausted eligibility are Joiner and Mahorcic, plus Smith will be a first round draft pick. I’ve read that Mahorcic is right on the borderline for eligibility for a medical redshirt – not a foregone conclusion that he would get it – but… Read more »
Thankfully the NCAA cloud was removed prior to last offseason. Many dismissed the impact on recruiting. But if anyone thinks that KK could have gotten Joiner, Clark, DJ and Dusan to come to State with the threat of a post season bad still hanging over us, they are beyond clueless.
Now the tides have turned… who would NOT want to play for KK, or at least seriously consider it.
I predict KK will have another fine portal haul.
Unless you read the same article I did, you are on top of it!! There was an article published yesterday (I think) listing State as one of the top portal destinations in the country next year.