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The Kevin Keatts era at NC State: Let’s look under the hood

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NCAA Basketball: Boston College at N.C. State Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

So far we know this much about Kevin Keatts: he’s a good coach, and he is capable of assembling NCAA-tournament caliber teams at NC State. Beyond that? It’s hard to say. It’s still early in his tenure here, and there has been a lot of roster turnover, which has led to obvious problems.

With significant changes in personnel overall, but with Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn as notable mainstays, State’s offense in year two hasn’t gone off a cliff, though it is, not surprisingly, less effective than it was last season:

Wolfpack Offense in League Play

ACC-only OFF_EFF (lg rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 2FG% 3FG% FT%
ACC-only OFF_EFF (lg rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 2FG% 3FG% FT%
2018 108.2 (5) 52.4 (4) 16.9 (7) 31.2 (5) 28.1 (10) 49.4 (7) 38.7 (2) 71.0 (9)
2019 104.1 (7) 48.1 (11) 17.9 (5) 34.8 (2) 26.0 (14) 47.6 (10) 32.6 (9) 73.0 (6)

State played the seventh-toughest league schedule in Keatts’ first year, and it has played the seventh-toughest in 2019, so that’s a wash.

Everything ultimately boils down to shooting at both ends of the floor, and there NC State has found the inconsistency that has plagued it this year. State just isn’t shooting this year the way it did last season, just does not have the depth of shooting it did last year with grad transfers Al Freeman and Sam Hunt.

Freeman made 38% of his threes in league play, and Hunt woke up to make 46% against ACC foes. They took pressure off Braxton Beverly, who as a tertiary option made 43% of his threes. This year, Beverly is taking more threes and his shooting percentage is down to (a still good) 37% in league games.

Wolfpack defense in league play

ACC-only DEF_EFF (lg rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 2FG% 3FG% FT%
ACC-only DEF_EFF (lg rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 2FG% 3FG% FT%
2018 107.2 (8) 53.6 (14) 19.4 (2) 31.2 (12) 31.5 (10) 56.4 (15) 31.5 (2) 69.7 (3)
2019 107.3 (10) 51.5 (11) 19.8 (4) 33.2 (14) 42.7 (15) 52.8 (14) 32.6 (7) 74.1 (11)

On the defensive side, the raw results are almost identical between year one and year two—the difference is in the component factors. And again, it always comes down to shooting.

Keatts has a reputation for playing pressure defense that creates turnovers, but while his State teams have been among the best in the league at forcing turnovers, they are not forcing turnovers at a game-changing rate. That’s a distinction that is important to understand. You’re not derailing teams with a 20% turnover rate—you need that closer to 25% if you want this to be an outcome-altering factor in any given game.

Keatts’ teams don’t run a lot of full-court pressure against teams with a pulse, which means that this is a glorified half-court man-to-man defense, and everybody knows it. This might change, eventually, if State can find a rim protector. That’s the missing piece here. You need that guy at the back end who can erase some shots at the rim when opponents break down your press.

Without that guy, Keatts understandably is reluctant to fully employ a press defense for extended periods.

There is a lack of size that compounds matters across the board, and State’s defensive rebounding particular has been awful of late. If opponents are going to shoot a decent percentage on the regular—and they are—then you absolutely cannot compound this with second-chance opportunities.

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So where are we? It’s year two, and you can tell. NC State has been all over the place during Kevin Keatts’ tenure, matching the turnover on the roster. Get the latter under control, and we might could be on to something.

This season, the underlying performance has matched the overall results. This is an extremely .500-in-the-ACC sort of team. Which is not an indictment—it’s not easy to just step right in and establish a team that is competitive right away, but Keatts has done that.

I think we’ll take it over the tail end of the Mark Gottfried era.