NC State is Legit — and So is Markell Johnson

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 20th, 2018

N.C. State got its biggest win of the season on Wednesday night at PNC Arena, taking out #7 Auburn, 78-71. As our colleague Matt Auerbach pointed out yesterday, there has been a lot of early-season skepticism about the Wolfpack because of their weak overall schedule to date. Now, after handling the Tigers, look for Kevin Keatts‘ surprising young squad to crack the Top 25 rankings next week (assuming it handles USC-Upstate over the weekend).

Markell Johnson led NC State to its biggest win of the year over #7 Auburn (

NC State’s rise is in large part because Markell Johnson has quietly emerged as one of the nation’s best guards. Against Auburn, the 6’1″ junior exploded for 27 points on 9-of-15 shooting and was at his best when his team really needed him. A personal 10-2 run in the second half exhibited the value Johnson is giving his team at a regular occurrence. Against the four Power Six schools that NC State has faced, he is averaging 20.0 points and posting an outstanding effective field goal percentage of 71.4 percent. On the season, Johnson is making 50.0 percent of his threes and 72.7 percent of his two-point attempts. Additionally, he’s posting a superb assist to turnover ratio of 2.5-to-1. As Kevin Keatts said Wednesday night, “He [Johnson] is one of the best guards in the country when he stays aggressive.” Johnson’s game is blending nicely with his backcourt mate Braxton Beverly — the duo thoroughly outplayed Auburn’s highly regarded pair of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. The side-by-side comparison shows that Johnson/Beverly combined for 42 points, 9-of-13 shooting from deep, and four turnovers; Harper and Brown, on the other hand, totaled just 14 points, made only 1-of-9 shots from distance, and committed 10 turnovers.

Another strength of Keatts’ squad this season is in its outstanding depth. Coming into Wednesday’s contest, the Wolfpack’s leading scorers were forwards Torin Dorn (16.0 PPG) and C.J. Bryce (12.4 PPG). Against the Tigers, both players struggled – Dorn scored six points and grabbed five rebounds while Bryce finished with one point and zero boards. No problem! Sophomore transfer Devon Daniels came off the bench for 15 points (all in the second half) and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds. NC State’s one area of improvement comes on the defensive end, particularly around the basket. Keatts’ pressure defense harassed Auburn into 25 turnovers last night, but opponents are making 50.0 percent of their two-point attempts because the Wolfpack do not have effective
rim protectors on the roster. So far, they have also been fortunate that opponents are only shooting 26.5 percent from beyond the arc and converting just 62.4 percent of their free throw attempts, but NC State’s offense (13th in efficiency, per KenPom) is potent enough to outscore most opponents on most nights. And with Johnson looking like an All-ACC performer, Keatts has the go-to guy he needs to compete for an upper level finish in the league standings.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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