StLou's Previews: NC State Wolfpack

North Carolina State Wolfpack

New NC State coach Kevin Keatts, who we last saw almost leading UNC-Wilmington to a 12-5 upset of Virginia in last year's opening NCAAT game, has the Wolfpack playing inspired basketball of late. Will the upstart Pack stay hot against the lockdown Virginia defense?

Game Details:

Date/Time: Sunday, January 14th, 6:00 PM Eastern
Location: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA

What 'They' Say

Vegas: VIRGINIA -15, O/U 132
TAPE: Ranks NCSU #92, projects an 83-60 UVA win, 98% confidence
KenPom: Ranks NCSU #68, projects a 73-58 UVA win, 92% confidence


Depth Chart:


PG #10 Braxton Beverly, 6-0 180, FR
30.7 mpg, 10.2 ppg, 4.5 apg, 38% 3P%
SG #12 Allerik Freeman, 6-3 200, SR 
35.1 mpg, 15.2 ppg, 3 apg, 30% 3P% 
SF #2 Torin Dorn, 6-5 210, JR 
27.5 mpg, 13.1 ppg, 1.6 apg, 33% 3P% 
PF #0 Abdul-Malik Abu, 6-8 240, SR 
18.9 mpg, 7.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 51% FG% 
C #14 Omer Yurtseven, 7-0 245, SO 
21.3 mpg, 12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.9 bpg 

Key Reserves


#11 Markell Johnson, 6-1 165, SO
27 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 6.6 apg, 39% 3P%
G #3 Lavar Batts Jr., 6-2 170, FR 
17.7 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 1.9 apg, 20% 3P% 
G  #15 Sam Hunt, 6-2 185, SR 
18.1 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 0.4 apg, 37% 3P% 
F/C #1 Lennard Freeman, 6-8 265, SR 
21.6 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 70% FG% 


The ABC's of NCSU:

A) Omer Yurtseven, the Lottery candidate folks had forgotten about. The 7' Turkish center came to Raleigh in 2016 with the expectation of being a one and done, after being one of the most dominant teenage European big men in years. But of course Gottfried totally wasted his freshman year, and though Yurtseven attended and excelled at the NBA Draft Combine last summer, he chose to give State one more year. Keatts has finally seemed to unlock his potential. He's only their 3rd leading scorer, but when he has big games, he changes their fortunes. In beating Clemson this week, he scored 29 points, including going 5-6 from three point range. He hasn't consistently deployed the 3 point shot this year (he went an 8-game stretch where he only attempted 2 total), but when he does he's over 70%. Finding the right defensive matchup for the inside-outside threat will be a challenge. He also blocks 2 shots a game, grabs almost 7 rebounds. 

B) This team wants to play at the rim. The big men are all primarily post-oriented offensive threats, Yurtseven's recent Clemson explosion notwithstanding (he attempted less than a 3 a game before that). As a team, however, State is only shooting 34% from deep on the season, and as such they rarely shoot the 3 (less than a third of their attempts are 3's, only 296th nationally). They play very downhill, both in transition and the half court. The guards (grad transfers Al Freeman and Hunt, youngsters Johnson, Beverly, and Batts) are all hit and miss on offense. The best threat from a statistical perspective is sophomore Markell Johnson (39% from 3, 49% at the rim, scored 11 points against us last year), but he's coming back from a 7 game suspension and may have rust/chemistry issues.

C) They're going through a transition, playing big more. Veteran big man Abu missed a lot of the early season with knee problems, so the team played small a lot with Dorn as the 4. They're slipping back and forth between the two styles throughout the game, and the balance shifts night to night. Against Duke, only 4 minutes. In their first Clemson game, it was 25 minutes. Personally I think they're better as a two-big team, even though it's not Keatts' preferred style, as the 3-point ability of Yurtseven allows them to stay spaced. Virginia will need to be prepared for both big and small lineups at both ends.

Their season to date:

NC State is 12-5 on the season so far, 2-2 in the ACC. Their best wins are over Arizona, Duke, and most recently Clemson. Their worst losses are to UNC-Greensboro, Northern Iowa, and a 30 point loss at a Notre Dame squad missing Bonzie Colson. 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Figure out the defensive rebounding solution. The concern about Virginia's inability to control the defensive glass is very real. Both Syracuse and North Carolina were able to grab 19 offensive boards apiece at JPJ. The Wolfpack are yet another very strong offensive rebounding team, grabbing 16.4% of their misses (36th nationally), almost 14 a game. A big factor in this will be how the Wolfpack choose to deploy Yurtseven; when he plays primarily on the block, he's a top offensive rebounding threat (OR% of 15%, 23rd in the country). If they choose to have him pick and pop, though, riding his hot 3-point hand, it may lighten the threat. Even if Yurtseven plays away from the basket, though, NC State will have plenty of other bodies crashing the offensive glass, so it's another all-hands on deck rebounding night. 

2) Protect the ball. Their defense is almost all-or-nothing on generating turnovers. 34th nationally in turnover percentage (22.1%), 26th nationally in live ball steals (11.4%). There may be some attempt to do it via full court pressure but I'd expect most of their attack to come in the half court, smothering ball handlers, attacking passing lanes, maybe the occasional trap. When Clemson beat them in their first matchup, they committed only 9 TOs. When Clemson lost to them this week, they committed 17. It's a difference maker against this Wolfpack squad.

3) Don't settle for too many 3's. Frankly, there's no need. Whether it's in transition or in the half court, the best course of action is going to be to play downhill. The same defensive mentality that has them pushed out to the perimeter chasing the passing lanes and harassing ball handlers is the same defense that's far better at harassing three point shooters (holding teams to 32.5% from 3), than it is slowing down drivers (defense allows 50.5% shooting from 2, 199th nationally). Yurtseven is an adept rim protector but he's alone in that regard, so if he's not near the rim (or on the bench), the lane is open. Frankly, even if he's in, he's going to be susceptible to a drive-and-dish once he comes over to help. Most other teams have figured this out.


All Hands on Deck

Updated on January 12, 2018 by Seattle Hoo

Kenpom.Com is pretty cocky about this one for the Hoos, being 92% confident of a 73-58 win.  I don't think it will be that easy.  I think the Wolfpack are going to come into JPJ and pose a strong challenge to the PacklineTM. They bring another strong offensive rebounding team and fullcourt pressure defense, two things we just watched the Hoos struggle with. Their offense will be difficult to guard,with multiple quick guards who can get into the lane, and big men who can both shoot and rebound.

This could be a game for Nigel Johnson to see a lot of minutes. NC State has four guards 6-2 or smaller, and they all play - assuming that Markell Johnson plays. His being cleared of charges was just in time to get him on the trip to Charlottesville.  Thanks a lot, Ohio prosecutor.  Thanks a lot. Johnson is good.  He's a problem. The Hoos will need our Johnson to come up bigger than their Johnson. He needs to be able to maintain control against the pressure, and stop penetration. The 'Pack's small guards are tough to defend because they all shoot above 35% from three, so we will need to press up on them. 

Against the NCSU press, Nigel could be key. His ability to dribble through pressure can lead to advantages that can be exploited for easy baskets. The key is recognition of when the dribble will work and when it will just get him in trouble. One way to hurt the zone press is to inbound to the sideline and hit a cutter running up the middle of the floor. This could be a way to get Johnson the ball in motion. 

In the halfcourt, it's about time to start seeing some penetration from Nigel. The guards have the freedom in the motion to pull the ball back and call for a ball screen. Pull Omer Yurtseven away from the basket and go around him. The Wolfpack will foul.

Devon Hall has been crucial to the success of the offense in the last two games. Against the Heels and Orange, no points were scored without Devon on the floor. He has been a bit inconsistent with his shooting - shooting is by its nature somewhat inconsistent - but he has consistently made good plays. He's averaging 5.5 assists per game so far in ACC play, a testament to his smart play and the finishing ability of his teammates. If he handles himself better against the NCSU press than he did vs Syracuse - he did well at West Virginia - the Hoos should get plenty of good looks.

Against Syracuse, Ty Jerome's foul trouble led to a lineup we might see more often after how successful it was: two bigs, Hunter and Hall on the wings, and Kyle Guy. Hall was the primary ballhandler in that lineup and it was by far the most efficient lineup of the night. In the 'Pack's last game against Clemson, they mostly played two bigs, rotating between Yurtseven, Lennard Freeman and Abdul Malik Abu. Torin Dorn was the next biggest player on the floor at 6-5. Other than that, it's 6-3 or smaller. With Hunter likely to mostly play the three against that formation, Hall will see a lot of time in the backcourt. Defensively, Al Freeman is Devon's most likely assignment, as his strength and physicality will be important against the strong, physical grad transfer.

Isaiah Wilkins played a lot of five against Syracuse and Paschal Chukwu, but don't expect to see much of that with Yurtseven. Unlike Chukwu, Yurtseven is a potent offensive threat, both inside and out. Jack Salt is more likely to have success at bothering Yurtseven on the arc than Zay is at preventing him from scoring down low. The powerful but more size-appropriate Abu and Freeman are better matches for Zay. We might see Zay at the five when Yurtseven is on the bench (he only averages 21 mpg), but Hunter will have issues with the strength of Abu or Freeman. If State goes small, then Hunter will be at the four and his size will cause major issues for State.

NC State is another good offensive rebounding team, so this is a game where Zay's ball-winning skills will be needed. We need to do a better job of rotating effectively and chasing down loose balls than in the last two games. Zay sets the tone for that.



NC State has not faced a lot of top defenses yet this year. They struggled when they left home to face UNI (KenPom #47 D), Tennessee (#27), and @ Clemson (#11). They were only able to eke out a 1 point win over that same Clemson team two weeks later by uncorking a career night from Yurtseven. But I think our defense really takes the Wolfpack out of their comfort zone; none of their guards is the kind of talent that should repeatedly beat ours. Really it comes down to not letting Yurtseven have the kind of night he had on Thursday. This means playing him very physically and never letting him find a rhythm. I think the defensive gameplan is sound and NC State is spending the entire second half trying to find a hot hand and catch up.

Hoos Win - 74-62