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Top 5 Reasons for Kevin Keatts' ACC Tournament Run

Well now, this has been a fun few days, hasn't it? Turns out it's fun to win at sports matches. Kevin Keatts has got his NC State team humming at a level not seen in months, maybe not even all season? In three successive days at the ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Keatts and crew have dispatched lowly Louisville, sour Syracuse, and dopey Duke (this site is all class).

NC State has reached the semifinals of the conference tournament, making it the first team ever to go from Tuesday to Friday. As the Pack were the #10 seed, they dropped all the way to begin playing on the first day of the tournament. They are now in the semifinals for the first time since 2014, and have a chance to appear in the finals for the first time 2007. Were the players on this team even alive then?

But how has this happened? Let's go through a few reasons that could be leading to this resurgence, as we enjoy it while it lasts since it could end any moment.

#1: There's a Teen Wolf scenario happening

Okay, hear me out. There might be some sort of mystical elements at play here. I know, I know, it seems far fetched because as of today we're smack in the middle between two full moon phases. Usually, you'd need the moon to activate the players' latent wolf gene and then can it show itself during times of duress. Well, there's nothing more duressed than having your backs against the wall and playing to keep your season alive day by day.

I think these are pretty much the same. Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

What's that? You've never seen the 1985 cinematic masterpiece "Teen Wolf"?? Well, if you've ever asked yourself or a parent what movies were like in the 80s, just throw this gem on. Michael J. Fox had this movie AND Back to the Future come out in the same year! I wonder what he's most known for...I'll bet it has to be the one where the wolf dunks a basketball.

Potential wrenches in this plan are the lack of red eyes (that we can tell), pointy teeth, and the significant lack of wolf fur. Maybe that's what's under Michael O'Connell's one-leg sleeve. But come on. There has to be SOME sort of explanation, right? It can't be as simple as strategy, choice and motivation. NC State has played an ENTIRE regular season and now look like a different team. The only answer, clearly, is magic.

The Wolfpack team members are reaching their true potential by elevating into actual wolves. This is how I picture their transformation looking like:

That goes pretty hard, doesn't it? Well, so does this next guy.

#2: Mohamed Diarra (the real answer)

Okay so this is the real answer. I could post a bunch of clips but it would end up just being this whole highlight reel here:

Most impressively, he's been playing while fasting as he is in the month of Ramadan. The toughest such game was Louisville, since it had a 4:30pm tipoff, meaning he had to play the whole game with no water. Through18 minutes, He "only" had 4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals and 2 blocks, but the stat sheet doesn't show the impact that he had with his high energy hustle plays.

The game times for both Syracuse and Duke helped him, as sundown in the DC area is around 7:15pm currently. He was able to break his fast, hydrate, and get back in the game. Kudos to the NC State training staff for helping facilitate him through this, and he repaid in kind with his intensity.

His performances against Lousiville (32 minutes, 8-14-6-2-1) and Duke (37 minutes, 14-16-2-3-4) are some of his best in a Wolfpack uniform. He was all over the floor against Duke, and knocked in a three for good measure.

Good news for him is that the late 9:30pm tipoff tonight means he'll be able to eat and fully hydrate prior to the game. Honestly, let's hope that doesn't throw off the mojo. Somebody tell him not to change his socks.

#3: Free Throws

Somehow, the Pack have been getting to the charity stripe much better this week. Side note: I keep wanting to say "this weekend", because my old mind thinks of the ACC tournament as a weekend event. It still kind of is, but the finals being on Saturday now will never not be weird. NC State has been playing for basically an entire work week. Annnnyways, here is the free throw disparity during the last three games:

NC State free throws



33 / 40

11 / 11


20 / 24

5 / 6


11 / 20

8 / 14

In their last three regular season games, NC State did not reach 20 free throw attempts once. Against Duke yesterday, the Wolfpack making only just over half their free throws nearly cost them the game. Luckily, Duke didn't fair much better. The referees were by and large allowing them to play. Duke players are always funny when the look up all confused after not getting calls they normally get. This was surprising considering both TV Teddy AND Jamie Lucky were officiating.

#4: Somehow learning to rebound

In the last matchup against Duke, NC State got their clocks cleaned on the offensive glass. They were competitive in that game, but the lack of rebounds sunk them in the end, with Duke outscoring NC State 23-14 in second chance points en route to a 15 point loss. This time around, NC State did get outrebounded but was +10 in second chance points against the Blue Devils, this was the difference in their five point victory.

There was probably none bigger than this putback dunk by Casey Morsell:

At this point in the game the Pack were nursing a small lead. Plays like this helped spark them to a run and put the momentum in their favor. This is a work of art.

NC State has been getting beaten hustling for loose balls all season, it has been one of the myriad things holding them back. This was not the case against Duke, as they pressed the issue and came up with many of the 50/50 balls.

#5: Passing (a novel concept)

I think playing the opening round game against an inferior opponent with their leading scorer injured forced the Wolfpack to band together and find a way to win without solely relying on DJ Horne. It helped that Louisville is one of the worst teams in the nation, so the Pack were able to work on banding together against a relatively hapless opponent. They still had to scrape together a nine point win, but that seemed to have galvanized them.

A common theme in this ball movement is official TRT favorite Diarra. It's great to see how unselfish he is, oftentimes passing the ball with no dribbles. Here, he could have taken a contested layup but gave it up to the streaking Morsell for the dunk. This sequence was also started by great vision by O'Connell on the outlet pass.

Again, Diarra. When the defender flashes for the DJ Burns double team, he turns his back and loses track of Diarra, who crashes in for the board. O'Connell smartly slides along the baseline to get himself into a spot where Diarra can find him underneath.

The zone shifts towards the side where Burns is to avoid him posting up, and he drills one of his patent-pending skip passes to Jaden Taylor for the triple.

NC State used a lot of high-low action to beat Syracuse's zone, with Diarra as the linchpin. My favorite play of this game is this one, where four WOlfpack players all touched the ball and score without a single dribble. This is art.


Will we see more of this high energy play against Virginia in the semifinals? Who knows, but it will require all the best of these past three games to have a chance at the Pack's first ACC title since 1987. I know for sure these players weren't alive then, I barely was, and I'm old.



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