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Men’s Basketball Status Report

How’re we doing so far?

As we make the turn into full time ACC play, let’s review the things as they stand today, and see how we grade against our ACC competition.

The potential is there:

This Wolfpack team is unique in many ways.

  • We have nine transfers on the team this year. Last season, the first of the ‘transfer era’, we had six and I’d guess that was probably the most we’d ever had. Like it or not, the new world of college basketball is going to be defined by how well you play the portal game. So far, we’re playing pretty well.
  • There are more ACC caliber players on this team than any team we’ve had in memory. Having a McDonald’s All American coming off the bench is rare, if not unheard of, in Raleigh.
  • They aren’t unique in that – AGAIN – we have a starter injured. Happily, not a season ending injury, so far as we know. You could make a case that having Diarra at full strength against Ole Miss, and Tennessee especially, would have made a difference.
  • We have a unique problem this season, rather than losing a player for the season like we have too frequently done lately, we’ve added two good players (Rice 12/6 and Woods 12/16) in the last month and are still integrating them into the rotation.
  • For the first time in the Keatts’ era, we didn’t start the season knowing ‘the guy’ that we will count on to get it done in the final minutes of a tough game. We have candidates, returning starters DJ Burns and Casey Morsell are the obvious choices. But opposing teams have figured out that DJ is vulnerable to the double team when he dribbles, and Casey is still settling into his new role after two seasons of standing in the corner firing 3PT shots. Transfer DJ Horne may be the best candidate.
  • Starters – We have a ‘starting four’, Morsell, Taylor, and DJ x2, with Diarra (5 games), Parker (5 games) and Middlebrooks (2 games) taking turns at PF. If/when (?) Diarra gets healthy, he should settle in as our 5th regular starter.
  • Speaking of Mo Diarra, he caught us all by surprise and is the hidden gem of the transfer class. Before the season we all were pretty sure who would start at the guard and center positions, but the power forward was a question mark. Now we can’t wait to get him back. (Diarra in the summer, “I think I’m playing good, but I want to be the greatest of all time.”) Got to love that! Well done coaches!
  • Scoring – 6 different players have led us (or tied), Horne leads with 5 times. We have 10 players who have scored 10+ points in a game, 5 have done it 4 or more times.
  • Rebounding – 7 different players have led us (or tied), Burns leads with 4. 4 different players have recorded double digit rebounds, Diarra 3 times
  • Assists – 5 different players have led us (or tied), Burns 5 times, O’Connell 4.
  • We are heavily weighted toward experience with 4 grads and 6 juniors who have combined for over 400 starts, but ‘rookies’ Parker and Rice are already contributors with bright futures. Parker has already started 5 games.

How do we grade against the rest of the ACC?

ACC Statistical Comparison

Statistic Grade NCS Rank NCS Metric ACC Ldr ACC Ldr Metric
Statistic Grade NCS Rank NCS Metric ACC Ldr ACC Ldr Metric
Turnover Margin A 1 5.33 NCS
Steals B 4 8.08 FSU 9.73
3PT Made B 5 8.1 Pitt 9.8
Assist / TO Ratio B 5 1.56 Duke 1.83
Team FG % B 6 46% Miami 50.5%
Offense C 7 79.8 UNC 84.5
Team OR C 7 11 GT 14.3
Defense C 8 70.2 UVA 55.5
Team 3PT % C 8 35% Miami 40.80%
Assists C 8 14.58 Clemson 17.91
Combined Team Reb D 10 36.3 Pitt 42.4
Opponent 3PT% D 12 32.80% Pitt 25.80%
Opponent FG% F 13 43% UVA 36.90%
Combined Opp Reb F 13 37 VT 30.6
Team DR F 14 25.3 Pitt 29.2
Blocked Shots F 14 2.75 UVA 5.64
KP Strength of Sched. F 286 (ACC 13th) 3.39 UNC (KP 15th) 9.53
Sources: theacc.com, kenpom.com

Analysis of the most serious problems:

This confirms what we all suspected, right now we are a middle of the ACC team. And that is not good enough. In all likelihood, the NCAAT selection committee won’t go any deeper than the top 3rd.

The worst problems (the D’s and F’s) are our strength of schedule, rebounding, defending the shooters, and blocked shots (oh, is that all?):

PROBLEM #1: Strength of Schedule - This may end up being the perfect application of the phrase, “Scared money don’t make money.” Clearly, Keatts saw a roster with 8 new faces, including 3 new starters, and decided he needed as much time as possible to put the team together. That used to be reasonable thinking. Not anymore. The ACC comes with baggage these days. On the bottom end, ND & Louisville are ranked in the NET 200s and FSU & GT in the NET 100s, and on the top end, no one is ranked in the top 10. Granted, Vandy didn’t help by tanking, but playing 7 Q4 opponents and having the 13th lowest SOS in the ACC just makes the path to the tournament harder. This will definitely be a prime factor if things don’t go as hoped the afternoon of March 17, Selection Sunday.

PROBLEM #2: Rebounding: Combined Team Rebounds, Combined Opponent Rebounds, Team Defensive Rebounds

This is a whole team problem. Keatts’ system depends on taking more shots than the opponent, and rebounding is a big key to that. We have a -0.8 (!) rebounding margin on the season. Everyone needs to rebound better. Last season we were 3rd in combined team rebounds, but we lost 4 of our top 6 rebounders - including our best 3.

Guards - Smith (3.6Rpg) and Joiner (4.8Rpg) were excellent rebounding guards. This season Taylor is at 4.1 Rpg, Horne at 2.9 Rpg, Morsell at 2.9. Horne has had 3 games with 6, Taylor 4 games with 6 or 7, Morsell with 4 games with 5 or 6. They have proven they can rebound, they need consistency. A fixable problem.

PF - Obviously, the first priority is to get Diarra healthy and back starting. Not much we can do about that until he heals. (Personally, I’m wearing my lucky hat) With he and Parker sharing time, that position should lead in rebounding most games and will help us a lot. Rice hasn’t shown himself to be much of a rebounder yet, hopefully with his size he will grow into it as he learns his role. If Diarra isn’t able to get back to his early season form, we may have to call on Ernest (“love me a 3PT shot!”) Ross. Last season he got 4 or more rebounds 9 times.

Center - Burns only rebounds 0.17 per minute played, Middlebrooks gets 0.28. DJ is averaging 27 Minpg, Ben 13 Minpg. Ben is the better defender (which helps the next issue), and with more court time I think he’ll score more. Split the minutes evenly. Ben will improve (and, he’ll be back and likely starting next season), DJ will get the rest he needs. Win / win. A fixable problem.

PROBLEM #3: Defense : Opponent 3PT%, Opponent FG%

This is indicative of two big problems (and several smaller ones as well, but my pen is running out of ink), too many poorly defended drives to the basket, and losing a defensive assignment on the 3PT arc. And there is no silver bullet, our three best defenders are the primary offenders. They need to play better. Kam Woods was a good defender at A&T, hopefully he can get into that rotation and add some energy.

Drives to the basket - According to Coach Keatts, early in the season DJ Horne was a ‘less inspired’ defender but he has bought into it and is playing well now. Morsell and Taylor are our best defenders. They should NOT be losing their men and getting beaten to the basket, but they are. And when they get past them, Burns is seldom able to protect the rim. Another scenario is, when our guard gets cutoff by the high screen our center should hedge to cut off the driver at the top of the key. but what is happening is the quicker guards are just going around Burns and have a lane to the basket before our defender can recover. As mentioned before, Middlebrooks is the better defender. We have to cut off the drive better. A fixable problem.

3PT shooters - To be fair, we’ve had unexpected guys rain threes on us. We’ve followed the scouting report and shut down the primary 3PT shooters successfully, and ‘some guy’ shows up and turns into a Splash Brother. But another problem is our weak side help is often out of place and the opposing team finds that open shooter. Partly a product of all of the switching we do - and losing the assignment. Parker and Diarra are part of that problem too, but both say they like playing defense. They will get better and help us with this. Another fixable problem.

PROBLEM #4: Blocked Shots:

I think if we solve the rebounding problem, we improve this number at the same time. Diarra and Middlebrooks each have 7 blocks on the season, Burns has 9. Diarra and Middlebrooks have each played less than half the total minutes that Burns has played. Get your better shot blockers more court time. Another fixable problem.

NET Rank / NET record so far / NET future opportunities

Wolfpack NET rank - 70

NET - Games Played

. . . . .
. . . . .
To Date Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Wins 1 0 1 7
Losses 3 0 0 0
NET rankings and Quad groupings change frequently. As of games played 12/27/23.

NET - Remaining Schedule

. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
January 3-Jan 6-Jan 10-Jan 13-Jan 16-Jan 20-Jan 24-Jan 27-Jan 30-Jan
Opp. ND-A UVA-H UNC-H LOU-A WF-H VT-H UVA-A SYR -A UM-H
Quad Q3 Q2 Q1 Q4 Q3 Q2 Q1 Q2 Q2
February 3-Feb 7-Feb 10-Feb 17-Feb 20-Feb 24-Feb 27-Feb
Opp. GT-H Pitt-H WF-A CLE-A SYR -H BC-H FSU-A
Quad Q3 Q2 Q2 Q1 Q3 Q2 Q2
March 2-Mar 4-Mar 9-Mar
Opp. UNC-A Duke-H Pitt-A
Quad Q1 Q1 Q1
NET rankings and Quad groupings change frequently. As of games played 12/27/23.

Summary

  1. So far, we aren’t impressing anyone. We’re a middle of the ACC team at best. We’ve missed opportunities to position ourselves much better. But looking at the potential, there’s a lot of talent and experience, if this team can get and stay healthy and play at or near it’s best, it should be tough to beat. Hopefully we can do it, because we’re going to have to win a lot of games in the ACC starting next week.
  2. Mo Diarra is a very good player, he is just beginning to realize his potential, and hopefully this break is what he needs to get healed and back into the starting lineup. (he was practicing with the team Wednesday) If you look at our best win, at BC, Mo played 35 minutes, got 18 rebounds, scored 8 points, hit a 3PT shot (in overtime!), and blocked two shots. He only played 5 minutes against UT, 5 against Ole Miss, and 13 against BYU. (Note - As a long time Pack fan, I realize that we are due another soul crushing injury. I try not to focus on that.) So we played our 3 toughest games with one of our key players barely playing.
  3. Scoring - This team generally has scorers at 4 positions on the floor, we should be able to score with anyone. If we share the ball, someone should have a good shot. Our assists (Grade = C) need to be better, which would boost our offense (Grade = C). Another obvious opportunity to improve.
  4. Our most serious on court problems - rebounding, guarding the shooters, and blocking shots - are all correctable with a healthy Diarra and the current players.
  5. College basketball is a guard’s game, and we have three good ones starting - and two of them are fifth year players. And Kam Woods might surprise us, and join that conversation.
  6. There are enough NET opportunities in front of us to make up for those misses behind us.

Finally ...

This team has more potential than any we’ve had in several years. We are more than a third of the way through the season. Now is the time to put it together. Fix the fixable problems. UNC comes to Raleigh in less than two weeks for what some will call a must win game.