The Kevin Keatts era has begun. State blasted an overmatched Mars Hill squad 109-66 on Friday for Keatts’ first win in PNC. It was a refreshing experience to see State doing competent basketball things for the first time in what feels like forever. I don’t know how good this team is capable of actually being this year, probably not that great, but watching them isn’t going to be nearly as rage inducing.
The first and biggest takeaway from Friday was the defense. State pressured heavily on defense, and Keatts’ defensive strategy was highly effective at doing what it was intended to, which is forcing turnovers. Just seeing defensive energy was like watching a brand new team. State still has some issues with communicating and just general awareness in the halfcourt defense, and hopefully those will be stamped out over time, maybe. I don’t know. But the press was effective and fun to watch. This is a system that was tailor-made for high energy defenders like Markell Johnson and Lavar Batts. They will force their fair share of turnovers this year. Johnson is going to absolutely excel under Keatts and frankly I can’t wait. He had 16 and 12 with 6 steals on Friday.
The best part of the offense was the movement, both of the ball and people. People did things. It was crazy. State moved the ball around in the halfcourt more effectively than anything we have seen in the last six years. It was encouraging, especially considering how little these guys have actually played together.
I’m going out on a limb here and saying that Sam Hunt and Al Freeman will be the two most important players on this team. In an offensive system that relies a lot of three point shooting, these are your perimeter threats. You might be able to include Dorn in there as well, but his shot disappeared against better competition last year so that remains to be seen. Regardless, the Pack is not loaded with three point gunners, and this is going to challenge Keatts and the offense this year. (This feels like a good time to point out that if the NCAA wasn’t a bunch of competence-free imbeciles, Terry Henderson and Braxton Beverly would both be available this year, but whatevs).
Dorn led the scoring with 19. The Pack had six players crack double figures including Al Freeman with 18 and Batts and Johnson both posting 16. Yurt had 12 and Sam Hunt had 11 going 3-5 from beyond the arc. Freeman got boards as he does, ending up with 10. Yurt had a surprising four blocks, and also surprisingly collected only four fouls. Batts had an up and down first game, but showed some good shooting touch late in the second half.
Overall it was an encouraging first 40 minutes of the Kevin Keatts era. If nothing else, just seeing some intent from the offense and energy from the defense was exciting. State plays its first real game on Friday against VMI.