Ready or not, basketball season is here. NC State plays its lone exhibition game tonight against Lees-McRae and opens the regular season on Monday against Austin Peay.
As we look ahead to the upcoming season, I’m going to review what happened last season, and where the Wolfpack will need to improve to get back to playing competitive basketball and hopefully return to the NCAA tournament.
Starting with the defense, because this is the painful one. (But impressive in its way.)
Just a couple things to fix here
|Overall (nat'l rank)||53.5 (319)||53.2 (305)||35.9 (298)||18.3 (173)||31.1 (298)||29.4 (164)||9.4 (146)||10.1 (106)|
|Conf-Only (ACC rank)||56.4 (15)||55.2 (15)||39.1 (15)||18.5 (4)||32.0 (15)||30.4 (11)||8.4 (10)||9.9 (5)|
NC State’s defense collapsed completely last season, thanks to a variety of factors, the most significant of those being the loss of Manny Bates to injury. The loss of one guy can’t explain that collapse, but the chain reaction caused by his absence definitely can.
Bates is not just an elite shot-blocker, but on last year’s NC State team, he was also the only guy on the roster capable of manning up and standing his ground in the paint against opposing bigs.
The dudes State had to employ in front court last season weren’t just inexperienced, they were wiry. Try as they might, there just wasn’t a lot they could do against their beefier cohorts, especially in league play. NC State had a thiccness problem.
Hence State’s interior defense bottoming out for the lack of fat bottoms. (Sorry.) The Wolfpack ranked among the nation’s worst—and dead last in the ACC—in 2FG% defense and defensive rebounding rate. Getting out-muscled on a nightly basis had severe consequences.
Kevin Keatts addressed this reasonably well in the transfer market with the additions of DJ Burns and Dusan Mahorcic. Burns is no shot-blocking threat, but if he can just prove to be an immovable object, that’ll help. NC State needs to get a whole lot better on the defensive glass to help itself elsewhere, and it needs Burns to lead that charge.
State did actually do a decent job forcing turnovers last season, and it was still an above-average shot blocking team thanks primarily it Ebe Dowuona. I’d expect the defense to be reasonably thefty once again, though losing Dereon Seabron hurts there.
If the Pack can get better there, it would really help a lot, since there’s no precedent under Keatts of State actually rebounding well at the defensive end. It’s difficult to figure how this group will ultimately perform at this end, though I can’t imagine there’s any way they can be worse than last season.
So that’s good! How much State bounces back on the whole really depends on how much it bounces back defensively. The Pack doesn’t have to be a good defensive team to get back on track, but it is going to have to be decent. Keatts ain’t rescuing his tenure with another debacle at this end of the floor.