It’s that time of the year once again. College hoops is back and so is your NC State Wolfpack. The Pack tip-off at 7:00 p.m. against The Citadel in the 2023-2024 season opener as a 20.5-point favorite over the Bulldogs.
After a four-year drought, the Wolfpack found themselves dancing once again. Surviving a roller coaster of a season, the Pack will need to prove it in March when it all counts.
Head coach Kevin Keatts is still looking for that prominent NCAA Tournament win but believes he has the pieces to get the Pack dancing once again.
Senior center DJ Burns – Arguably the most beloved player on the team, Burns made his first season with NC State one that the fans will never forget. Burns took on the starting role after senior center Dusan Mahorcic went down with a season-ending knee injury. Burns managed to become a focal point on the offense and stole the show. Burns averaged 12.5 points per game on 56.1 percent shooting and managed to snag 4.8 rebounds per contest.
Proving he was a force to be reckoned with down low, Burns scored in double figures in 23 of 34 games that he was featured in. Once named the starter, Burns opened the floodgates and started being the deciding factor in a lot of games for Keatts and company.
With a whole new roster, NC State is going to lean on the big man down low even more this year. A big step forward looks to be in the cards, but he will have to stay on the floor. Burns averaged just 22.9 minutes per game a season ago and the Pack were just 9-6 in games where he played 25 minutes or less after Mahorcic went down with a 12.8-point average margin of loss.
The backcourt – Nobody seemed to have suffered a bigger loss to their roster than Keatts when Jarkel Joiner and Terquavion Smith left for the NBA.
Now, Keatts has a brand new backcourt bolstered by Arizona State transfer senior guard DJ Horne and Butler junior guard Jayden Taylor.
It is impossible to ask Horne and Taylor to reciprocate what Smith and Joiner did for this Wolfpack squad a season ago, but with immense depth and help at the guard spot, maybe the two can provide important minutes.
Horne will more than likely man the point after putting up 12.5 points per game and managing a 2.4/1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio and eighth in the PAC-12 in three-pointers made. Taylor was asked to do a lot down the stretch for a bad Butler team. Seeing his minutes, usage, and shot attempts all increase after the calendar year. Taylor was inefficient due to the high usage, but with other scoring options all around him, Taylor will not be asked to do more than he can. The duo could make up for a sneaky backcourt that not many ACC teams will be talking about as the season begins.
Senior guard Elijah Morgan – It was a forgettable season for The Citadel after going 10-22, but one shining light was senior guard Elijah Morgan. Morgan averaged 7.6 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, and 2.1 assists. All of which were third-best for the Bulldogs a season ago. After putting up a team-high 1.7 steals per contest, Morgan makes his presence felt most on the defensive end of the court. Starting his college career with Notre Dame, Morgan knows a thing or two about ACC hoops. Morgan can fill up the stat sheet if given the opportunity.
Sophomore guard Madison Durr – Arguably Citadel’s best player is sophomore guard Madison Durr. Durr could be special if the team looks for him for production. As a freshman, Durr, in his first college game, put up 12 points and came down with six rebounds against Clemson. Just two games later, Durr almost walked home with the school’s first-ever triple-double when he had nine points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. The Bulldogs have a special one in Durr and will need this backcourt to step up big-time if they want to compete.
Keys to the Game
A. Do not foul.
NC State had an extremely difficult time not sending their opponents to the free-throw line last season, ultimately costing them wins. The Wolfpack last season gave up 17.4 fouls per game which ranked 225th in the NCAA. Due to their fast-paced hands-on defense, this will more than likely be a recurring theme as it is a double-edged sword. It is the identity of the Keatts defense and offense. You do not want to send The Citadel to the line as they posted an impressive 75.49 percent from the charity strike last season, good for 43rd in the country. Morgan is the one you want to watch for. The senior guard shot 85.3 percent (58-65) on the season. This team wants to get to the line and will try to keep games close and make you pay.
A. Get senior wing Winston Hill involved early.
B. Stop the bleeding.
The Citadel has a nice piece in grad-senior wing Winston Hill. A great touch on both sides of the floor, Hill was only featured in seven games last season for Presbyterian but was a double-digit scorer in all three seasons spent there. Hill likes to score inside and does not attempt many threes but can be a force on the rebounds. This does not bode well for NC State. The Bulldogs have a full plate on their hands with all the scoring options the Wolfpack can throw at you. A common theme amongst Keatts’ teams is that they can score in bunches and when they go on runs it is impossible to slow them down. Once this train gets going, it is gone. The Citadel will have to keep it close the whole way through or this thing could get ugly.