Strange as it was Martin Sheen’s (now seemingly archaic) portrayal of President Josiah Bartlett on TV’s The West Wing had a number of famed speeches, but one of his most memorable catchphrases was “what’s next?” It was an acknowledgment that it was time to move on from whatever issue or crisis he and his administration was dealing with...to whatever the next issue or crisis the administration needed to deal with. A simple catchphrase that encapsulated the impossible difficulty of the job of president, that is also apropos to where Coach Kevin Keatts and NC State Basketball are now.
No need to rehash what happened. It's unfortunate and all we can hope and pray is that Devon Daniels recovers fully and can find success on the court in the future. Right now, we have a potential game Sunday (every game in this godforsaken season is a “potential”) and the bulk of ACC play to consider. So...what’s next? Here are some options:
Part of the excitement in preseason came from getting to see this talented freshman group work their way into the lineup and gain consistency as the season progressed. COVID pauses and its lingering effects have stifled much of that development. All the freshmen in the regular rotation have shown skill, some have even won games for us, but doing it night in, and night out might be too tall a task right now. Still, with an eye toward the future, Coach Keatts could look to replace Daniels’ minutes with more for Seabron and Gibson. He could entrench Cam Hayes and/or Shak Moore in the starting lineup...letting guys like Allen play a role in the bench mob. Likely aware that Daniels was done, Keatts rolled the dice a bit by letting Hayes and Moore close out the WF game to gain that experience. So while Braxton Beverly has always played his heart out and Thomas Allen is virtually a senior...Keatts could choose to cut those guys regular minutes, make a push in 20-21 to eventually go all out in 21-22.
Get In the Laboratory
Losing a wing puts this team in a curious position. Seabron is the only true “small forward” on the team. Our guards are very small, with Cam’s wingspan (drink...oh wait, that was someone else’s thing...) being his saving grace if he were to play that position. Hellems could play the three but only against comparably sized lineups and Gibson hasn’t shown the expected skillset yet to earn much time there. This presents a massive challenge, but also an opportunity to just...try things. Keatts could look to frustrate teams who lack a post presence by playing three guards, Seabron and Hellems at times...switching everything on D, running full speed on the break, playing five out in the halfcourt. Keatts could choose to overpower teams with DJ and Manny in the frontcourt, Hellems at the three, and pick your two guards in the backcourt. Basically, he could run a ton of lineups from game to game that hasn’t played much together, that are guaranteed to make mistakes, but also screw with opponents scouting reports and situational awareness. Could work, could not work...but that's why it’d be an experiment.
(Try to) Dance With Who Got You There
The above options, on the surface, seem like “the season’s over” type of philosophies though I don’t think they are. They each just have a ton of variables to account for. And to be clear, I don’t believe Kevin Keatts has an ounce of “let's pack it in” in his being. Yet, this last consideration mitigates those unknowns because you go with who you already do know. Shifting a bulk of the minutes to Bev, Hellems, DJ, and Manny (along with Allen) gives you the guys who know the system best and many of which have won you games your entire tenure. Asking them to step up and take ownership of their gameplay, their status, their leadership of the team...and hinging the season on trusting one or two of these guys to answer the bell in Daniels’ absence. This would still allow the freshmen to ease into their first year while playing solid minutes, but it would lay the pressure at the feet of the upperclassmen to deliver. The problem here, of course, is that our youth...and especially Cam/Shak...are too talented to let sit for long stretches. Weighing that against going all-in on this strategy is a question above my paygrade (or...not my actual job).
The four-game losing streak was rough...but I am an optimist by nature and think we have enough talent to still close out respectably. Does that mean an NCAA bid or hosting a potential NIT? I am not sure but that’s why they play the game. These options aren’t mutually exclusive on the surface but the philosophies behind them are...and there are likely more considerations out there than just these. Feel free to critique them, feel free to share your own (I know some of you numbers folks would have thoughts) and lets try to enjoy the rest of this year for what it is. We can wait till the end of March to ask “what’s next?”