NC State Hoping to Show Its Hot Start is the Real Deal Tonight

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 19th, 2018

Perhaps college basketball’s most under-appreciated and terrific start this season is happening very quietly in Raleigh. NC State, winner of nine of its first 10 games heading into this evening’s battle with Auburn — the sole loss came to Wisconsin in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — has done so in relative anonymity. Tonight, the Wolfpack have an opportunity to take center stage and announce their candidacy for legitimacy to the nation.

Kevin Keatts is Smiling With Good Reason (USA Today Images)

Only four other schools in Division I hoops have played easier schedules to date than Kevin Keatts’ team, so the raised eyebrow skepticism with which some observers view the Wolfpack’s gaudy offensive numbers (currently 12th nationally) is justified. That said, NC State is playing the same brand of uptempo basketball that earned a surprise trip to the NCAA Tournament last season, and Keatts’ proven ability in building cohesion and teamwork is already apparent. Eight of the Wolfpack’s nine victories have come by at least 11 points, a key component of the new NET ratings that the NCAA Selection Committee relies upon during its analysis.

As good as Wisconsin was, Keatts, fresh off signing a new six-year contract extension that includes a significant raise in compensation, knows his team will get its best litmus test tonight when #7 Auburn visits the Triangle. Bruce Pearl’s team has picked up right where it left off last season, racing out to an identical 9-1 record that includes a single loss to Duke. Spearheaded by point guard Jared Harper, the Tigers’ hounding man-to-man defense leads the nation in defensive turnover rate (28.5%). The Wolfpack, however, may have the perfect elixir to overcome that pressure, as they sport tight ball-handlers, skilled passers and knock-down shooters all over the floor. And with excellent balance — 10 players log more than 13 minutes per game and average more than four points per game — the Wolfpack have enough balance and depth to avoid being worn down by the stifling Auburn defense.

During this relatively quiet period of the college hoops season, tonight’s affair in Raleigh should tell us a great deal about whether the Wolfpack’s early season flash is a product of its admittedly weak competition or a harbinger of greater things ahead.

Matthew Auerbach (70 Posts)

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