NC State lost Joiner, Smith, Clark Dowuona and Gantt this offseason.
So far they’ve landed a 3-level scoring guard in Jayden Taylor and a combo guard who can play point or shooting guard in DJ Horne. Right now, these are your replacements for Joiner and Smith, and honestly, they are good ones.
Taylor might not be as shifty and athletic as Teruqavion Smith, but he’s a lot stronger and a much more physical player. That’s something NC State needed at the guard last year that they didn’t really get from Smith. Taylor had great stats last year at 13 points and almost 4 rebounds, but he’s still somewhat of a breakout candidate. He’s got the ability to be even better than what we saw from him at Butler, and he’s only going to be a junior this season.
Horn reminds me a lot of Jarkell Joiner, only I think he’s a little less physical, and he’s a better shooter from beyond the arc. In his first two seasons, he shot a combined 41.2% from 3pt range. Over the past two seasons, he’s shot 35.8%. I think with more scoring around him and without having to shoulder most of the scoring load, we’ll see a guy who is going to knock down 38% + from long range and that is something the Wolfpack desperately need.
Now, while I say that Horne reminds me of Joiner, I’m not positive that Keatts is done recruiting PGs. I think he’d like to find a guy who is more of a distributor than a scorer. They pushed hard to land Louisville’s El Ellis, but he recently committed to Arkansas. Horne can obviously play the Joiner role next year, but one of NC State’s problem was that the ball would stick too much at the top of the key and much of the offense was built around isolation.
I don’t believe Keatts wants to replicate that this year, and I think Casey Morsell has made it clear that he’s like a lead guard who can distribute if he’s going to stay (which he’s pretty much committed to doing so at this point). So, what’s next for NC State?
They need a Starting PF
Keatts has a nice sell at PF. With the guard spots potentially filled, Morsell at the 3, and Burns at the 5, you have a lot of minutes to give at the 4. Sure, you have Ernest Ross still there, but that’s it. Keatts is going to want to find a 4 who can bang on the blocks but also step out and knock down the 3. At this point, the guys he’s targeted have gone elsewhere, but you can bet he’s going to go hard for Matthew Cleveland of FSU. While he’s only listed at 6’7, Cleveland has NBA upside and was a former 5-star prospect. He averaged 14 and 7 this past season in his second year with the Noles.
Florida State transfer Matthew Cleveland tells me that he’s receiving interest from the following programs:
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) April 12, 2023
NC recruited Cleveland hard out of HS, even having him to campus on a visit. So they two know each other well, but at this point it’s likely going to be a NIL bidding war.
Other than Cleveland, I don’t think a really strong option has presented itself. There are a few guys out there like Yohan Traore (not to be mistaken with former commit Made Traore).
Auburn transfer Yohan Traore tells me that he has heard from the following schools since entering the portal:
UC Santa Barbara
Former 5 🌟 prospect. pic.twitter.com/kvKE4iExKs
— Recruits Zone (@recruitszone) April 6, 2023
Yohan Traore is 6’10, was a real high level recruit, and played at Auburn this past season. Now, he only played about 10 minutes per game, and really didnt do much (2ppg), so this is kind of a shot in the dark at a big body who has some decent touch.
Remember, State does have Isaiah Miranda, the 7-foot wing that committed halfway through last season and practiced with the team down the stretch. He’s a real wild card for next year’s team. Word was that he wasn’t really ready for physicality of college basketball out of the gate, however half a season practicing with the team and an off-season of training and building up his body might have him in a shot to slot into the 4 for Keatts and company.
Other than that, we’ll have to wait and see because there really isn’t much out there right now at the 4.
They need a backup to DJ Burns
Sure, you have Mahorcic likely coming back with a waiver, but his knee never healed right and he had to get some more work done to it, so no one knows if he’ll be ready or not. I assume Mahorcic is banking on being back with the team and filling this role, but Keatts can’t rely on that and needs to get a quality backup in the portal.
Right now, it looks like most of the eggs are in the Ben Middlebrooks basket. He’s the 6’10 backup center from Clemson who ate NC State up this past year. He only averaged 3 points and 3 boards, but he really didn’t get minutes unless PJ Hall was in foul trouble. Middlebooks visited NC State this past weekend, and there is some optimism that he could commit.
Clemson transfer Ben Middlebrooks (@benmiddle5) has an official visit with NC State this weekend, he tells me.
Has also heard from Georgia, Auburn, USF, George Washington, Furman, Belmont, Samford, Davidson, Tulsa and Oral Roberts.
— Riley Davis (@Riley_Davis3) April 11, 2023
He’s a great compliment to Burns, as Middlebrooks is a bruiser with some beef to him.
Burns is certainly gone after this season, so Keatts could pitch Middlebrooks decent minutes this year and a starting job next year.
Other than Middlebrooks, there really isn’t anyone getting hard looks from Keatts at backup center.
They need a true PG
I guess this one is debatable. Horne could potentially be a PG for Keatts and honestly, if he’s going to play at the next level it’s going to be at PG (he’s 6’1). So maybe they think he cant handle it, and with Breon Pass and LJ Thomas backing him up, maybe Keatts feels like he has enough there. However, we’ve heard that one goal is to find a true starting PG who can log major minutes, protect the basketball and get others involved. The problem is that those guys are a dying breed in basketball and when one of them pops up, every school wants to snatch them up.
Keatts could also go all in on Horne as the PG and try to land MJ Rice as a backup 2/3. Rice was almost a Wolfpack lock before he switched to Kansas (where he barely played last season.) Rice has a great body, is very physical, and honestly would be a nice backup to Morsell/Taylor, although I believe Rice wants to go somewhere where he can be featured.
For now, that’s it. There will likely be another wave of portal entries and commitments in the coming weeks before the portal closes in May.
NC State’s NET Ranking After Defeating Maryland Eastern Shore
NC State defeated Maryland Eastern Shore 93-61 last night, improving to 6-2 on the season. Ironically, they fell one spot in the NET Rankings, from 51st to 52nd.
NC State’s two losses were against #1 BYU (!) and Ole Miss (#89). BYU was a Quad 1 loss, and Ole Miss was a Quad 2 loss.
The Wolfpack currently rank 7th in the ACC.
ACC Teams in NET Rankings
52) NC State
71) Virginia Tech
91) Boston College
105) Wake Forest
107) Florida St.
159) Georgia Tech
212) Notre Dame
For a refresher on how the NET Rankings are calculated:
Using the quadrant system, which was in its fourth season in 2020-21, the quality of wins and losses will be organized based on game location and the opponent’s NET ranking.
Quadrant 1: Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75
Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240
Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353
The number of Quadrant 1 wins and Quadrant 3/4 losses will be incredibly important when it comes time for NCAA tournament selection and seeding. (NCAA)
Kansas Transfer MJ Rice Makes Quite the Impression in his NC State Debut
We’ve seen a lot of new faces on the NC State Men’s Basketball team this season, but one face we haven’t seen yet is Kansas Transfer Guard/Forward M.J. Rice (6’5″/215)…until tonight.
Rice stepped away from the program for personal reasons earlier this Fall, and when he returned, he had a little catching up to do. It wasn’t until today during shoot around that Rice and Keatts both knew that tonight would be his debut.
“He’d been practicing for the last couple of weeks, and you know, I was just trying to figure out when he was ready. He and I, we talked a little bit after shoot around today and I said ‘MJ you ready to go tonight?'” said Kevin Keatts. “and he had this big huge smile on his face. He’s like ‘You sure you ready?’ He’s like ‘Ask me some plays.’ So he and I sit over there on the scores table at the Dale and we went over plays and I was like ‘You know what, you are ready to play.'”
Out of all the transfers Keatts brought in this offseason, Rice might have the highest ceiling. Rice was a 5-Star prospect in the 2022 recruiting class, and ON3 ranked him as the #24 overall prospect nationally. He committed to Kansas, where he played in 23 games for the Jayhawks as a Freshman in 2022, averaging 2.2 points in 7.6 minutes per game. Rice was a huge pickup in the Transfer Portal, ranked as the #2 player in the Portal, with three years of eligibility remaining.
Rice also isn’t new to the area either, playing high school ball at Durham Academy, before heading off to Oak Hill Academy and Prolific Prep.
In a short sample size, Rice gave us a glimpse of what the hype is all about tonight. He scored 11 points in 11 minutes of play, also grabbing 6 boards. Rice was 5-6 from the field, and hit the only three he took. In the most electrifying play of the night, Rice took it coast-to-coast, finishing with a soaring dunk.
“He gives us another dimension. We’ve been playing with six of our new dudes. Now we added the seventh and I’m happy for him. He’s going to help us. He’s going to be really good for us.” said Keatts. “I said this on the radio just now…we’ve got some older guys, but two really good young players in Dennis Parker Jr. and also MJ Rice. It was good for MJ to see the ball going in. I think he played 10 minutes had 11 points. He made a three. He had a big time dunk, so I was excited for him.”
“He gives us the ability to play a little bit more small ball. If we have to, we can play him and Dennis Parker both at the three and four. Really good defender at that position and can rebound the basketball,” said Keatts. “It’s going to take time. I’m trying to figure out how to kind of put him into the rotation, and now we’ve added another really good exciting piece to it, but it was good to have him back out there.”
Welcome to the Pack MJ! We’re glad you’ve arrived!
NC State 93 UMES 61: BOX SCORE
Pack Insider’s Highlight Reel of NC State’s Win Over BC
Ready to watch NC State’s Men’s Basketball team play in the ‘old barn’ tonight against Maryland Eastern-Shore? Well, until 7pm, go ahead and get yourself hype by watching Pack Insider’s Highlight Reel of the Wolfpack’s ACC opening win over BC this past Saturday. Check it out above.