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The Importance of Michael O’Connell’s Return Next Season

It's May 23, 2023, and Kevin Keatts and his staff just got a commitment from a point guard named Michael O’Connell. He was in the transfer portal and after spending 3 years at Stanford, he chose the Wolfpack. He wasn't well known in the College basketball free-for-all all that is known as the transfer portal, but someone ( I don't know who exactly,) decided it was time to consider him as a viable member of the Wolfpack brotherhood, and didn't things work out swimmingly.

When I first watched his game footage, I noticed how calm and relaxed he seemed on the court. I suppose comfortable would be an accurate description. What I didn't see was an offensive threat or someone who even looked to score, but perhaps that was just his role, because as we have figured out Michael O’Connell can score. Without him, we would certainly not be reveling in the glory of an ACC championship and a mind-blowing final four appearance. His season numbers were much better this past season compared to his Stanford ones the year before. He shot 37% from behind the arc this season, which was much better than the 29% he shot at Stanford. His overall shooting percentage improved from 37% at Stanford to Almost 45% this year with the Wolfpack. His free throw percentage this year was 78%, which is comparable to his previous year, but it was a larger sample size this year. Then there is his assist-to-turnover ratio which is right around 3 to 1, and you begin to see that Michael O’Connell is a gifted basketball player. He is also a pretty good rebounder at 3.4 per game, and he had 11 rebounds against Duke in the Elite 8.

The postseason is where he entered a parallel universe. I am going to call it the right side up because I think NC State was stuck in the upside-down for a long time. Most people didn't think he would be as big a factor as he was, but stranger things have happened. Hopefully, a few of you get the reference. Michael O’Connell shot 47% overall in the postseason (the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament ). He was 31 for 66 which is impressive in its own right, but he was 16 for 31 from beyond the 3-point line which is 51.6 %. That is remarkable given his stats up to that point, and it's not a small sample size. He also averaged just short of 10 points a game during the postseason, with 6 games in double figures. He also had 130 assists and only 51 turnovers for the whole season. It just doesn't get much better than that. Let's not forget about rebounding. At 6’2, you wouldn't expect him to be much of a rebounding threat, but he averaged 3.4 per game, and he had 11 rebounds against Duke in the Elite 8 game. A point guard getting 11 boards against a tall Duke team just blows my mind. He also had 25 offensive rebounds this season, and if you think about it, it seemed like every game he was getting a putback off of an offensive rebound. He is sneaky, and he plays bigger than his 6’2 frame.

The thing that is the most amazing to me about MOC is his floor vision. He sees the floor as well as anyone I have ever seen. He can get the ball to guys in the pocket when it looks almost impossible, and he does that consistently. He was a huge facilitator for DJ Burns in the post, and he and Ben Middlebrooks ran the pick and roll to perfection on many occasions, which was a very important part of the offense, especially later in the season. He was also really good at running the secondary break. The wolfpack was able to score a lot of points in the secondary break because he pushed the ball and found the open man, oftentimes for a spot up 3.

Michael O’Connell had an impact on this team in other ways that you may not have considered. When he became a starter, that freed DJ Horne up to score without having to worry about being the primary ballhandler. That is the point in the season where Horne started showing his offensive skills. Without O’Connell at the point, we would not have gotten to see DJ Horne blossom into the star he was. O’Connell also started scoring more when it was needed, but he knew when to just be a facilitator depending on the flow of the game.

A couple more observations about MOC from my perspective. He plays with so much determination and heart and he plays as hard as he can. He is feisty, and he is also fearless. How many times in the postseason did he make a huge shot near the end of the game? He wanted the ball and he was aggressive and almost became superhuman at times. NC State wouldn't have even made it to the ACC championship game without the “hail Michael” as I'm calling it against Virginia. It was an unbelievable shot and he took it without even thinking about finding someone else. He was confident and he played so well in the postseason. He even tried to play hurt against purdue in the final 4 but he just couldn't do it.

I think Michael O’Connell is going to be really good next season and I am really glad that he is coming back. He will score more, and he will be one of the most experienced players in the ACC. I fully expect him to be all ACC in some capacity and I hope he proves me right. Some believe that he won't get shots as easily this year because DJ Burns won't be throwing it out of the double team to him, but I don't agree with that. He will get his shots and he will be a formidable scoring threat for Kevin Keatts next season. I wrote in my preview at the first of the year that I wasn't sure how he would fit into the style and to the team. Turns out very nicely, and I am very glad I was wrong. He has become one of my favorite players and I'm excited to get to see him in a Wolfpack uniform again come November.



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