With the Pirates and Wolfpack ready to go to battle in the Round of 64 on Thursday at 4:30 p.m., Will Thompson of Backing the Pack gave us some insight into NC State’s squad.
Big East Coast Bias: NC State has great wins over teams like UNC and Duke this season, but also some puzzling losses to teams like Northern Iowa and Georgia Tech. Has consistency been a concern this season?
Will Thompson: Honestly, it hasn’t been too much of a concern. Were there times we all were a bit worried? Absolutely. The Northern Iowa loss was certainly a let down, especially after being Arizona in the Battle 4 Atlantis, but time and time again this year the Wolfpack have bounced back, and that’s really a testament to first year head coach Kevin Keatts. He has done an incredible job with a team that was picked to finish in the doldrums of the ACC, and made them into an NCAA Tournament team. I think probably the most worried we all were was at the start of ACC play, when State had two horrific losses to Clemson and Notre Dame. Right after that, State proceeded to beat Duke and Clemson in subsequent games (thanks to the ACC’s wonderfully weird scheduling quirks). The GT loss was certainly disappointing, but they bounced back and beat Louisville at home which ultimately sealed an NCAA Tournament bid for the Pack.
BECB: Seton Hall’s offense can quickly get into a groove, but has seen their momentum killed in the past by turnovers. Is NC State’s defense capable of creating pressure and forcing turnovers at a high rate?
WT: The Wolfpack is going to use full court press for most of the game, a hallmark of Kevin Keatts’ style. They are certainly capable of forcing these types of turnovers, but can have stretches at times where they lose focus a bit and get burned in transition. Definitely some high risk/reward there, but when State’s pressure is locked in, they are very difficult to beat. If Seton Hall is turning the ball over a lot, that’s going to lead to a lot of transition buckets for players like Allerik Freeman, Torin Dorn and Markell Johnson.
BECB: Going into this season, many expected Seton Hall to be one of the deepest teams in the country, but the bench play has not lived up to the hype this year. What kind of second unit does NC State present?
WT: Kevin Keatts is pretty fortunate in that he has a pretty deep bench. Both Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman are big down low and can help spell Omer Yurtseven when needed. While Abu has struggled lately, he still is capable of being a force around the rim offensively. One player Seton Hall fans will certainly want to keep an eye on from the Wolfpack bench is Sam Hunt. Sam has one role on this team, and that’s to shoot threes. He can get very hot from outside very quickly, so if he hits his first couple of threes, look out.
BECB: One matchup I’m looking forward to seeing is Angel Delgado matched up down low with Omer Yurtseven. Give me a scouting report on NC State’s big man.
WT: Yurtseven is one of the most interesting players to have ever suited up in the red and white. Last season he really struggled to find his role on this team, and I think a lot of us were surprised when he returned for his sophomore year. He struggled a bit to start this season, but really turned it on in ACC play. Yurtseven scored in double figures in every ACC game but three. He is vitally important to NC State’s offense, and if he gets into foul trouble early that’s going to help Seton Hall a ton. When he’s on the court, he helps the offense get fantastic spacing simply because of his ability to hit threes. He doesn’t shoot all that many, but he is shooting over 50% from beyond the arc. If he’s open at the top of the key, he’s going to shoot it, and probably going to hit it. He’s not the greatest rebounder, so Delgado will absolutely have plenty of offensive rebound opportunities.
BECB: If NC State is going to beat Seton Hall, what do they have to do?
WT: Tying that into my last point, the Wolfpack are not a great rebounding team. They’ve had games where they’ve given up 20+ offensive rebounds. They’re definitely going to need to limit that if they want to beat Seton Hall. Next, they have had some games where they’ve been a bit sluggish out of the gate. This happened in both games against Boston College, for example. One time the Pack rebounded and ended up demolishing BC, the other they fell just short of coming back. One key to insight as to how the Pack will go is how Allerik Freeman is playing. If he’s trying to force tough shots and going into iso dribble situations, that is not going to bode well for NC State. If he plays within the offense, State is a much better team. You’ll know pretty early on which version of Freeman you’ll see in the game. Also goes without saying that Omer Yurtseven needs to have a big game. Last and certainly not least, Markell Johnson has quietly had a wonderful season and is quite capable of putting up double digit assists in a game. I think we’ll need that effort again to beat Seton Hall.