Mental toughness isn’t a tangible thing. You can’t measure it. As a lot of guys like to say, it’s a part of the game that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet. Whatever it is though, this year’s Wolfpack appears to have it.
Right from the tipoff, NC State absorbed punch after punch in Chapel Hill on Saturday. Most of the recent Wolfpack teams would have eventually had their lights knocked out in a hostile environment against a team with superior talent. Not this team though. This team just kept coming. Every time Chapel Hill looked as if it was seizing control. They just kept coming
State looked down and out at 0-2 in the conference. They’ve won 5 of 7. They trailed Duke by double digits early, but won that game. They trailed for most of both the Pittsburgh and UNC games, but won them both. The Pack would have gotten ran out of the gym last year by the shooting clinic the Miami Hurricanes put on. Not Kevin Keatts’ Wolfpack.
There is an attitude about this team. They play like a group that believes they’re going to win. Regardless of the score, or the venue, or the opponent, State looks like a team that is confident and assertive in what it wants to do. This is the attitude that every team should play with, but as a stark contrast to a lot of what we have seen in recent years, it’s really surprising and invigorating as hell to watch.
Everybody talks about a new coach changing the culture of a program. This is what that looks like. When Cameron Johnson sunk two free throws to send the game to overtime on Saturday, the broadcast got a shot of Keatts smiling and clapping at his guys. It resonated with me how completely unphased he was by his team losing a two point in the final seconds. He still believed they would win. That’s the attitude he is installing in this program.
Playing in the right state of mind is far from the only thing that has fueled this little turnaround. Actually, you know, doing stuff on offense has had major implications along with other noticeable improvements. But the change in mentality that Kevin Keatts brought with him to Raleigh has certainly had an impact. State has shown a fight and resiliency that hasn’t often been there before.
The Pack isn’t a great team. It certainly isn’t the most talented team, and it’s still growing and learning how to win. But good luck killing NC State. They just won’t die.