We should be enjoying the chaos of the NCAA tournament right now. Those glorious four days from Thursday through Sunday where 64 fanbases hope to avoid that feeling of being stabbed in the heart, in the hopes of making it through that first weekend alive. Do that and you get to the glorious Sweet 16. Considering NC State hasn’t made it passed this stage in so long, I am fairly certain the tournament just ends after that round, right? Let’s go with that.
If you follow calendars and whatnot, you would be led to believe that Thursday, March 19, marked the first day of spring for 2020. But by my calculations it would seem that we’ve now entered summer already. The BTP team is here to try and fill that void you’re attempting to fill with your 7th meal of the day since you’re in your house and reached the bottom of the Netflix barrel.
Let’s open the floor to some questions to discuss the 2019-2020 basketball season:
What was the biggest surprise for you this year (whether good or bad)?
TheRealEssad: I’m going to be honest, there were times last year where I wanted to shoot Devon Daniels to the moon. He clearly had a ton of talent, but couldn’t quite filter it. Much like my 6 year old is incapable of walking at any speed less than a full sprint, even when in the house or on a walk and she’s going downhill so now she’s like a running back waiting to barrel over an unsuspecting safety, Daniels would run full sprint into a 1 on 4 fast break and look nowhere but his own shot. I give the credit as much to Daniels as to Kevin Keatts. They’ve figured out how to focus his skills in just the right way. When last season ended, I never thought I would be saying by the end of this year that Daniels is my favorite player on this team. He embodies the ethos that Keatts is trying to spread in this system. Go 110% all the time on every play, while playing within yourself. Play hard on defense and fast on offense. When I see a point guard make an ill advised cross court pass, I can see Daniels eyes light up like a cornerback spotting a pick six. He skies for the interception and goes off to the races. He may still need to work on finishing those fast breaks, but the whole team does. Going into 2020-21, there’s no other player I have higher confidence in showing up every night than Devon Daniels, and that’s the highest praise I can give him. As great as Markell Johnson showed he could be, that daily dice roll of which guy would walk out there was exhausting. We didn’t have to worry about that with DD.
JEOHankins2: I’m normally more positive than what I am about to say. DD has been covered and I hope Bates will get a mention on the plus side...but Markell’s up and down season was the biggest surprise to me. The fact he ended last year proving he could perform at a high level in all facets of his game then returned this season to continue to have deflating performances baffled me. Maybe the advice from the NBA sent the wrong message, maybe his passion for the game waned, maybe Keatts never quite reached him as we thought he could...but whatever it was, I was expecting him to shine in both big and small games...and that just didn’t happen. All that being said I’m a fan of MJ, proud to continue supporting him in whatever he does next...when he was locked in I don’t know the last time we’ve had as crafty a PG.
Steven: No doubt that Markell’s regression as a jump shooter is up there, but on the bright side we had Manny Bates show pretty much immediately that he is definitely an ACC-caliber big. I don’t think any of us expected him to prove to be the best shot-blocker in the ACC this year, but that’s exactly what we got. And not just the best in the country, but tops nationally in block rate among qualified players.
PirateWolf: In terms of a ‘Good Surprise’, I was thoroughly impressed with Manny Bates from the very first game of the season. My expectations were pretty low for Bates coming off a lost year due to injury, but he showed some serious potential to be a low post disrupting force on both ends of the court - with his defense already being excellent (as long as he doesn’t sell out for blocks too often). On the ‘Bad Surprise’, I was a little shocked that we still ended up with such a shallow rotation this year. I know injuries were a major factor, but I expected this to be the deepest team for Keatts with as many as ten guys playing significant minutes.
We now have three full (well, almost) years of Kevin Keatts. Thoughts?
TheRealEssad: I’m still in. I can be honest that it’s frustrating to see other coaches come in and thrive right away, where we’re still waiting for the seed to fully germinate. Some places are more fortunate than others, and that stinks when you’ve been waiting most of your sports fan life for things to turn around. It still bugs me that Louisville was able to land Chris Mack. Yes, the talent he adopted at Louisville was of a higher caliber than what Keatts did. To be able to just shed that Pitino scandal overnight as if it never happened, the bitter part of my brain just wants to complain about that not being fair. But he’s also instituted a high level of play, and turned them into what appears to be a perennial ACC contender nearly overnight. If State had turned into a top ten within two years of the Gottfried era, I am not sure I would know what to do with my hands. We don’t have the luxury of fairness in sports game competitions, and Louisville has moved into a positive era with Mack (and Satterfield for football). Good for them.
As for Keatts, I think he can achieve great heights if he continues to push himself to grow as a coach. He needs to be honest with himself to look at areas he needs to improve. We often think about how young he is, and it’s true, he only has six years of D1 head coaching experience (three years at UNC-W prior to NC State). But he first became the head coach at Hargrave in 1999. He left for a while and came back, but spent 10 years as their head coach in all. My point is he isn’t a coaching spring chicken, including his time spent as an assistant. That being said, being a head coach in the ACC is like nothing else, so it takes time to ramp up. Chris Mack seems to have made that transition, so now going into year four Keatts needs to show the leap we’ve been waiting for. I am convinced of one thing: his style of play works, BUT ONLY IF the players fully buy in and play at that level consistently. I’ve seen a few decades of State teams across multiple coaches look great against Duke on Tuesday, then shit the bed against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Keatts needs to show that he can get his players to show up no matter the opponent. If he does that, he might reveal to me some other round of the tournament heretofore unknown.
JEOHankins2: Anyone who has seen my posts and my comments knows that I am a big Kevin Keatts fan. I would hope folks would also find me fair in my analysis but I believe what Keatts is trying to do is the way to be successful long-term in the ACC. Now to be fair, there are good arguments against his offensive style. While his NC State teams averaged just outside of the KP Top 30 on offense over these past three years, we saw this year what happens when shots aren’t falling and the offensive freedom he allows produces multiple bad possessions. We also have only seen glimpses of how effective his pressure defense can be, as different forms of attrition have sidelined some of the best depth pieces to run it. You can run a simple P&R/P&P/Screener offense and win big...you can run a press based, turnover dependent defense and win big...but what we need to see from Keatts is his players displaying higher basketball IQ and vocal on-court leadership. IMHO, Keatts is a smart in-game coach whose best skills lie in his push toward conditioning and his ability to motivate/inspire players to push past adversity. The next step is to instill that situational knowledge and vocal leadership, that he has himself, in his players...specifically his guards. This will cut down on inefficient offensive possessions and ramp up better decision making when playing half-court defense...those reminders won’t have to come during a timeout but can come in the flow of the game. So for Keatts the next step is hopefully seeing what those prospects are like as he grooms guys like Cam Hayes, Shak Moore and D. Seabron from scratch into the Russ Smiths, Peyton Sivas and Wayne Blackshears of the world.
Steven: Kevin Keatts felt like a great fit for NC State after his first season and I still feel that way. Who knows where we might be at this point if he hadn’t had some significant setbacks in building his roster (Omer Yurtseven leaving, Ian Steere and Saddiq Bey here and gone in a flash, Sasha Killeya-Jones never playing a minute) but he’s still done well under the circumstances. The program didn’t take a step forward this year but Keatts hasn’t had a losing league record in three years, which is pretty good work.
PirateWolf: I still don’t think we’ve really seen what Keatts can do yet, and this incoming class will help get to that top level. While I’d love to believe what we saw in the victory over Duke is what State could hit night in and night out under a fully operational Keatts team, I’m not quite ready to let myself buy into that level of hype. Still, I think - touching back to my answer from the first question in this post - a deeper, more athletic team will help the style on the court mirror the fast-paced, havoc-creating style that Keatts wants to run.
It’s been frustrating at times, but the glimpses we’ve seen in some of the signature wins have allowed for more patience to be granted.
What’s something fun you’ve been doing to fill the void sports have left in your heart thanks to That Rona?
TheRealEssad: I have always been a mildly handy person. I can fix the odd sink or do some novice woodworking, but doing work on cars has always been an area I haven’t dabbled. I am going to try and learn how to change my car’s brakes in the coming week. It may be simple to some folks who are already skilled in this area, but I think I could get a lot of satisfaction out of accomplishing that.
JEOHankins2: Outside of important updates, I have curmudgeonly refused to pay attention to mass media, social media or most of my friend groups regarding this thing. And considering this week had already been designated as Spring Break for my school district here in Texas, I did nothing but spend time with my first love: movies, take walks and drink bourbon. Promise I’ll be more productive next week (kind of because I have to).
Steven: When not weeping uncontrollably over how much I miss baseball, I have been testing out if I want to become a video game guy again. Tried a little of this “Call of Duty” thing the kids talk about sometimes. Not sure I care for it. Also this is a good time to dig through Netflix for random stuff—for instance, I recently watched a movie starring Billie Joe Armstrong because who knew there was a movie starring Billie Joe Armstrong? And while it does feature Kevin from The Office, I cannot in good faith recommend this one.
PirateWolf: I’ve been spending a lot more time with my kids - some of that voluntary, some forced. I’ve also finally started getting around to getting my ‘94 YJ back up to full functionality, and with some upgrades, too. It’s been sitting in my driveway/garage for the better part of four years and I think my wife was about fed up with my “plans”, so some actual work getting done on it has been nice. Also, I’m getting back into some video games, in particular Out of the Park Baseball. If you’re a baseball junkie and want an unbelievably in depth game, this is it. I highly recommend it.
There you have it. Part 1 of a series of indeterminate length. It may end with just a part 1, but that would make my 10th grade english teacher mad. That Millbrook education is finally paying off. So what are your thoughts on the topics at hand? What are you filling your time with these days?
Also, suggest some better games to Steven than Call of Duty, we’re not in the 2010’s anymore.