ACC Burning Questions: NC State Wolfpack

Posted by Mick McDonald on October 26th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Kevin Keatts compete in his first season in Raleigh?

Former head coach Mark Gottfried managed to get NC State to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons in Raleigh, but life on the bubble proved very stressful. After logging back-to-back losing seasons the next two years, Gottfried was fired following last season. His replacement, the highly impressive Kevin Keatts, will begin his fourth year as a head coach. After three seasons as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville, Keatts wasted no time in turning around a UNC-Wilmington program that had experienced six straight losing seasons. The Seahawks won 18 games in his first season on the bench en route to a share of the CAA regular season championship in 2014-15, and followed that up with two more conference championships and corresponding trips to the NCAA Tournament. UNC-Wilmington came away from those experiences with an 0-2 record, but not without putting serious scares into ACC powers Duke and Virginia.

Can Kevin Keatts compete in season one in Raleigh? (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Turning the Wolfpack around won’t be easy, as NC State loses its top three scorers from last season. Still, the cupboard for Keatts is hardly bare. The returning core is led by 6’8″ senior Abdul-Malik Abu, who averaged 12.0 points and seven rebounds per game last season. The athletic big man improved his effective field goal percentage (52.9%) for the third straight season and should benefit from the guards attacking the rim in Keatts’ system. Sophomore Markell Johnson will take over point guard duties from lottery pick Dennis Smith, Jr., but he will be pushed by incoming recruit Lavarr Batts, Jr. (who originally committed to VCU but ended up in Raleigh after Will Wade took the LSU job). Keatts will ask a lot of both players, especially on the defensive end in becoming a nuisance for opposing point guards.

Keatts relied heavily on big guards at UNC-Wilmington, including 6’5″ Chris Flemmings and 6’5″ C.J. Bryce (who will sit out this season after transferring over with Keatts). Look for senior Allerik Freeman (a transfer from Baylor) and junior Torin Dorn to also play key roles in the Wolfpack’s success. The wild card is sophomore big man Omer Yurtseven. A huge incoming recruit for Gottfried a summer ago, he could never quite put it all together. Some flashes of dominance, including 16 points in an early-season win over Rider and a double-double in a January win over Pittsburgh, were mixed with late relative no-shows versus Georgia Tech and Clemson. It will be interesting to see how Keatts utilizes the talented Turk. Will he be athletic enough to defend in a system that incents positional flexibility and athleticism? The answer to that question may make the difference for the Wolfpack in year one of their new era.

Mick McDonald (70 Posts)

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