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Kevin Keatts talks scheduling, practice challenges, and Manny Bates’ improvement

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NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at N.C. State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Assuming no coronavirus-related hiccups, we’re about three-and-a-half weeks from the start of NC State’s season, which will begin with a multi-team event in Raleigh. On Friday, Kevin Keatts met again with media members to provide on update on his team’s progress.

Keatts laments the lack of time he’s had with his squad this offseason, particularly with such a large group of freshmen, but that’s a problem that everybody is dealing with. Nobody is playing exhibition games this year, and State is going to ease into the season as best it can with early games against weak opponents.

It’s weird, even though we probably would have started on Nov. 3, I think we needed the time. Because obviously, we didn’t have a chance to have these guys to be able to practice the entire summer, where I could get eight weeks from, especially these young guards that I have.

But I like our team. We’re working hard. I will tell you right now that our defense is a little further along than our offense, because we spend more time, especially when I’ve got some young guys trying to pick up concepts and making sure those guys understand what defenses schemes to get us in.

Keatts spoke at length about Manny Bates, who has added some muscle in the offseason and looks more confident the farther away he gets from the shoulder injury that prevented him from playing as a true freshman.

Bates’ value to the team is obvious enough, and Keatts wants his team to do a better job of protecting the big man from potential fouls in the paint so that he can spend more time on the floor this year:

The other thing that really hurt him last year when you look at him, he was always in foul trouble. I went back and actually as a coach, I was amazed that he only played around 20 minutes a game, and I went back to my assistant coaches like, ‘What, why is this kid only playing 20?’

He was in foul trouble most of the time. And so what we’re doing is to, believe it or not, I’m concentrating on our guards more to do a better job of keeping guys in front so he doesn’t have to block as many shots. And he doesn’t have to be put in that situation.

But offensively we’ve been able to throw the ball inside to him. He’s going over both shoulders. He is starting to rebound the basketball a lot better than he did last year. A lot of that is confidence because I think he’s more confident in the shoulder than he was coming into the season last year.

Bates is an elite natural shot-blocker and in that respect he’s capable of protecting himself, but he did average 5.5 fouls per 40 minutes last year—a lot of that is frequently being in the disadvantageous position of being flat-footed while guys are coming down hill at you and trying to initiate contact. It’s up to State’s guards to cut down on those situations.

On the scheduling front, it sounds like State tentatively has its full allotment of seven non-conference games scheduled, they just aren’t completely official from a contract standpoint. We know State has Michigan and probably UConn, as well as at least two games in the opening MTE—probably three—which leaves a two or three more games yet to be announced.