Kevin Keatts promised he was a winner at his introductory press conference, and he delivered with an NCAA Tournament berth in his first season at NC State.
Keatts looks to build on his first-year success with a reconfigured roster that features nine transfers — eight of whom will be eligible this season. The Wolfpack will continue to push tempo, press and take a lot of 3-pointers. This team figures to be deeper and more athletic than the one that exceeded all expectations with an 11–7 record and fifth-place ACC finish in 2017-18.
Keatts will be counting on a pair of transfer guards, Devon Daniels and C.J. Bryce, to help this team get back to the postseason.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Kevin Keatts
2017-18 RECORD (ACC): 21-12 (11-7)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Seton Hall 94-82 in the first round
F Abdul-Malik Abu (5.2 ppg, 3.4 apg)
G Allerik Freeman (16.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
F Lennard Freeman (7.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
C Omer Yurtseven (13.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
Undersized wing Torin Dorn quickly showed he could hold his own, and then some, as a stretch-4. The 6'5" senior finished second on the team in rebounding (6.3 rpg) and second in scoring (13.9 ppg). Often, Dorn found himself on the floor with three guards and one big. He’s undersized but is athletic enough to defend the 4 and rebound the position.
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With forward Omer Yurtseven, last year’s top post option, off to Georgetown as a transfer, Keatts will have to rely on a couple of newcomers for production in the paint.
The addition of graduate transfer Wyatt Walker, from Samford, gives Keatts a proven rebounder and an adept passer. Walker missed all but two games of the 2017-18 season with a knee injury but led the Southern Conference with 9.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
Walker is the only true post player with college experience. Derek Funderburk, a one-time four-star recruit who started his career at Ohio State before a junior college detour, and freshmen Manny Bates and Ian Steere will also vie for rotation minutes.
Keatts didn’t use two bigs at the same time very often a year ago. That’s probably how he’ll play again this season with a guard-heavy rotation.
Bryce followed Keatts from UNC Wilmington to NC State, and Daniels arrives after playing his freshman season at Utah. Both practiced with the team and dominated the starters at times. They’ll be expected to carry the scoring load with the losses of Yurtseven and guard Allerik Freeman.
Bryce, a 6'5" scoring guard, led the Seahawks — an NCAA Tournament team in 2016-17 — with 17.4 points and added 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Daniels, a 6'5" combo guard from Michigan, averaged 9.9 points 4.6 rebounds for the Utes in 2016-17. Both have the kind of size and versatility that Keatts wants on the wing.
Eric Lockett is another big guard (6'5") and adds some scoring punch off the bench after averaging 14.3 points per game last season at Florida International. The grad transfer, now at his third school, gives the Wolfpack some experience and will allow the Pack to bring freshman Jericole Hellems along slowly.
NC State is stocked at point guard with junior Markell Johnson, who led the ACC with 7.3 assists per game last season, and sophomore Braxton Beverly, who averaged 9.5 points and started 26 games as a freshman.
After the first semester, sophomore guard Blake Harris, a transfer from Missouri, will also be available to help. A North Carolina native and former four-star recruit, Harris left Missouri after one semester.
Traditionally, NC State has had problems when more is expected, but Keatts has put together a deep roster that fits his up-tempo style.
If Dorn and Johnson hold form, and the new bigs can rebound and defend, Keatts will be back in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year with the Wolfpack and fourth straight overall as a head coach. The Wolfpack’s ultimate success will depend on how much Bryce and Daniels have developed during their year off.
Postseason Prediction: One & Done
ACC Prediction: 8th