We’re in the midst of quite the stretch for NC State athletics. From a cellar dweller football season to this roller coaster basketball season, there’s been very little to spark joy for Wolfpack fans. On the one hand, on-revenue sports continue to shine, and the women’s team is lining up for a top 2 seed. On the other, men’s basketball and football have left a lot to be desired. Kevin Keatts’ team is still top 5 in the conference, so miles apart from how the football team did. But in a year where the ACC likely will get 4 NCAA berths, the Pack are likely to be the odd man out (again).
Let’s take some time to check in with how the other BTP contributors are feeling about the roundball season so far:
Starting with the positive, what have you enjoyed about this season?
TheRealEssad: Manny Bates. He’s been such a force with protecting the rim. He’s got a great feel for getting clean blocks, and he’s still got three years left to improve offensively. Also, DJ Funderburk has taken the next step many of us were hoping. If he can foul less, and improve his jump shot next year, he could be all-conference.
JEOHankins2: This may not be the consensus here but I appreciate our fight in almost all games (except Chapel Hill aka the game that broke me). Very rarely have I felt we are completely out of a game so when the BBall IQ isn’t there, I’m still expecting them to make a run.
Steven: It was really nice to end the losing streak against Virginia the way we did—that was probably the most satisfying win of the season, with Syracuse and Wisconsin also receiving votes. There have been plenty of fun individual moments; I just wish it had made for a more enjoyable big picture.
Is there a specific achilles heel that seems to be holding the Wolfpack from taking the next step?
TheRealEssad: Two things, half court defense and a consistent 3 point threat. If you put a Scott Wood clone on this team, there’s a lot that might have gone differently. I know Braxton Beverly has been hampered by an injured back. And Keatts was hoping to fill that role with Pat Andree, but he’s been DOA since coming to Raleigh.
JEOHankins2: Blame doesn’t lie with one player, its on the program as a whole but the BBall IQ of our upperclassmen is lacking. And while each has their unique area of blame (Braxton fouling 3 point shooters, DJF’s ticky-tack fouls, turnovers by Bryce, erratic decision making by DD) Markell is the biggest culprit, as the defacto leader his situational awareness hasn’t improved much and may have gotten worse.
Steven: I agree with JEO that the team’s general lack of basketball IQ is a huge problem, as the end of the BC game made so painfully clear. These guys are tough to watch sometimes. Okay, a lot of times. Also the terrible defensive rebounding is a killer.
Much was made prior to the season of this being Keatts’ most mature roster, with so many players coming back. In hindsight, should it be much of a surprise to see this level of performance based on how we saw this same group perform last year?
TheRealEssad: I went to the ACC tournament last year, and made this remark to the friends I was with. We were watching FSU, UVA, Duke and UNC all performing at high levels. We’d just lost to UVA, so we were already thinking about next year (this year), and I made this comment at the time. I then repressed it as I normally get sucked in to thinking a leap would be made without prior precedent. But ultimately we could’ve seen it coming.
JEOHankins2: Yes...IMHO its a surprise. We needed consistency from our best players and whether it be due to injury, shooting slumps or bad decision making, the expectation is and should’ve been that we’d play smarter with reliable factors to count on. Though to be fair the narrative for State athletics on the revenue side has continually been individuals having a breakout season and following it up with regression. Just didn’t think it’d happen again.
Steven: I’m still surprised that Markell has been as bad as he has for most of this season. I didn’t see that coming at all. Everything kind of starts right there. I also thought Markell had it in him to be more of a leader, but that hasn’t been the case.
If you could fix one thing about the team right now, what would it be?
TheRealEssad: Just one? Um, rebounding, getting more 50-50 balls, not fouling seemingly every time the ball goes down low..um, I’m going to go with not having swings of being up 10 to being down 10 in the blink of an eye. No lead is safe, and it’s extremely frustrating to see a team that clearly is capable of scoring in bunches to then turn switch off and go cold for long stretches. That’s not the recipe for elite teams.
JEOHankins2: I harp on BBall IQ quite a bit don’t I? But yeah...its situational awareness. Both GT games and this past BC matchup showcased how to lose winnable games down the stretch with poor decision making. I am not mad at the vast majority of our losses because I mean...that’s basketball, where the “any given game” cliche is more true than not, but its games where we shoot ourselves in the foot that are a killer (i.e. play smarter down the stretch in games like those three then this post is about solidifying seeding down the stretch in the NCAAs).
Steven: I would fix Braxton Beverly’s back, Pat Andree’s ankle, and magically heal the concussions guys endured seconds after they occurred. Fine, so that’s more than one thing.
Which player has surprised you the most this season, good or bad?
TheRealEssad: Devon Daniels. I was a vocal critic of his last season:
To be fair, he deserved it. He was out of control most of the time. He would drive to basket with his head down regardless of how many defenders were in front of him. He would have great plays to briefly redeem himself, but then regress.
This year, he’s flipped that, and I’m as surprised as anyone. He kept a lot of those great hustle plays, I’m a particular fan of his leaping interceptions. Meanwhile, he’s playing much smarter offensively, staying within the game and usually making the smart play. It’s almost like he’s in a contract year and needed to secure his starting spot looking at the incoming class next year. And I think he’s got it locked.
JEOHankins2: Shout out to Manny Bates for coming in and playing at the level he is but I’ll also shoutout Cole Hellems who, while having ups and downs even from play to play, has gamely taken on his role, always plays with passion and support for his teammates. He has had more than a few crucial plays in our wins this year.
Steven: I had no idea what to expect from Manny Bates but didn’t figure he’d become so important so quickly. He’s got a chance to be really good.
If you could pick one game to have back from this season which would it be?
TheRealEssad: Has to be unc. It’s their worst season in basically two decades. They won their season opener against Notre Dame, and have since only picked up two wins in conference, one being against the Pack, earning them dead last. I was joking with friends before that game that it would make total sense for State to lose to this unc team, and then when it happened it wasn’t funny at all.
JEOHankins2: Any of the Q3 losses...and as much as the Chapel Hill game obliterated my spirit and as fresh as the BC game is in my mind, beating GT to open the season would’ve set a completely different tone for the year and maybe not felt like such a harbinger for things to come.
Steven: Every time I think about this stupid losing streak against stupid damned Josh Pastner of all coaches, it makes me angry. So give me back either one of those games. Both were painful losses in toss-up finishes so I put those ahead of UNC, which was just a two-hour-long fart noise.
With six games left on the season, what are you hoping to see?
TheRealEssad: There’s likely no saving the NCAA berth hopes after that BC loss, but I guess you never know. I want to see the team fight for 40 minutes. I love how they feel they’re never out of a game, and work their way back in when they get down. But how about, like, DON’T get down by 10 in the first place? Maybe give that a try? There has been a consistent wall the team hits in every game, and I would like that removed, please. Regardless of the tournament, just finish strong. Don’t let the bottom drop out. It will be hard with two top 10 matchups back to back, but let’s see what happens after that.
JEOHankins2: Before losing to BC, State was playing some really good basketball in the road games at The U and at Syracuse. We were getting in transition, we were playing solid defense and our scorers were shooting with confidence. That team can go 4-2 down the stretch and reignite NCAA hopes with a good showing in the ACC tourny. So what I want to see is someone, any of these players, get in their teammate’s faces and drag them across this finish line. Visible, vocal unwavering leadership. I want to see a team that wants to play in the NCAA tournament not just through their effort and passion, but their attention to detail on the court
Steven: It seems like most folks wrote off the NCAAs after losing at BC, but I mean, getting two of three on that road trip was not a bad outcome. So I’d like to see State play its best basketball over these last couple of weeks—I don’t think an at-large bid is that far out of reach right now and if the team plays well it’s certainly capable of getting to 11 league wins. That should be enough to be strongly in the conversation, at least.
Date: Wednesday, February 19, 2020
Prediction: 66-81 (L)
Comment: “Two teams going in opposite directions. Won’t be close.”
Prediction: 71-77 (L)
Comment: “We tend to always play Duke well at home, but they are playing at too high a level right now.”
Prediction: 82-77 (W)
Comment: “I don’t really believe this is likely but I’m trying to will it into existence.”
KenPom Projection: 71-79 (L)
BTP Staff Cumulative Prediction: 73-79 (L)
Date: Saturday, February 22, 2020
Prediction: 71-76 (L)
Comment: “Pack hangs in there but gets out-athleted by a FSU team primed for a good NCAA run.”
Prediction: 67-79 (L)
Comment: “FSU is too deep and Lenny Ham seems to have State’s number; Duke loss will emotionally drain us.”
Prediction: 70-75 (L)
Comment: “The Noles have some significant flaws that lead to inconsistent performance, but their ability to shut down the paint is too much.”
KenPom Projection: 72-73 (L)
BTP Staff Cumulative Prediction: 70-76 (L)
Staff Season Predicted Record (started week of Jan 6th):
TheRealEssad: 5 - 6
JEOHankins2: 9 - 2
Steven: 7 - 2
PirateWolf: 4 - 1
no23sports: 5 - 1
KenPom: 7 - 4
Actual: 6 - 5
So what do y’all think? Give us your predictions below!