Redshirt freshman forward Manny Bates attacks the rim against Detroit Mercy on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019 at PNC Arena. Bates recorded eight points and seven blocks as the Wolfpack won 84-65.

The NC State men’s basketball team has now played seven games this season and is about to enter a rough stretch of tough opponents including Wisconsin and Auburn. Let’s take a look at how the team has looked so far, and what we have learned about the team through its first seven games.

This team plays hard until the clock runs out…

Head coach Kevin Keatts’ teams have always typically played at a strong level, but seeing this year’s team battle back from being down 16 points at halftime of the Memphis game, and then trailing by as much as 20 points in the second half was impressive. The Pack only lost by five points in the end and despite Memphis being without James Wiseman, the team still played an impressive ranked team led by guard Boogie Ellis down to the wire.

...but needs to close games out better and smooth things over

Both losses this season suffered by the Pack could have easily been victories had the team closed out the game the same way they got in them in the first place. The Wolfpack led by 15 points at one point in the Georgia Tech game, but had a terrible second half, squandering the lead and allowing the Yellow Jackets to force an overtime period. 

The Pack led 81-80 with 35 seconds left, but fundamental breakdowns that comprised of a sequential turnover, an allowed offensive rebound and then foul allowed Georgia Tech to take two free throws and make both to ice the game.

Then in the Memphis game, the team only trailed by three until it came up with a sequence of plays in just a span of a couple of minutes that included missing two ill-advised 3-pointers, committing two fouls and a turnover that put the team in an impossible spot for the rest of the game.

If the Pack can clean up its fundamental errors, it will be a force to be reckoned with, and had the team come away with wins over both of these teams, it would likely be facing a ranked position going into this week.

Bates is a ferocious defensive presence

The emergence of redshirt freshman forward Manny Bates has been intriguing to watch to say the least, but the scope of his defensive presence is not talked about enough. Bates is averaging an absurd 3.4 blocks per game, and just 1.1 turnovers and 2.4 fouls, outstanding marks for a freshman player. This is not to mention Bates’s five in-conference blocks, and the fact that he ranks second in the ACC in blocks per game.

Bates brings strong defense all-around, and is able to extend to the perimeter with his lateral quickness and switching ability, rare traits for a freshman center that had been hampered by injury. Bates boasts a ridiculous 88.8 defensive rating, and 107.6 offensive rating per 100 possessions, with his defensive rating leading the team. Bates also posts an 18.1% block percentage, meaning that Bates is blocking 18.1% of opponent shots that he contests.

Johnson shooting poorly, but making solid plays

Senior guard Markell Johnson has struggled to find a rhythm in six games played for the Pack, shooting just 38.7% from the field and a horrid 22.2% from deep on six attempts per game. Despite this, Johnson is still impacting his teammates and making them better by making good decisions on the ball. Johnson leads the team in assists with 6.7 per game and has a 35.6% assist percentage, meaning that when Johnson is on the floor, 35.6% of assists are coming from him.

Johnson will likely pick up his play as he continues to get healthier after missing the opener due to injury. For now though, his only saving grace is his passing and defense, as he is posting a team-worst 97 offensive rating, of qualifying players.

Perimeter defense beginning to trend in a bad direction 

The Wolfpack has allowed opponents to shoot 47.4% from downtown in its last three games combined. This figure includes a win over Little Rock, who shot just 4-18 from deep, and if that team is removed, Memphis and Alcorn State shot a combined 60.0% from 3-point range. The Wolfpack is holding opponents to 37.5% from deep this season, but this number is still relatively high for having played mostly out-of-conference opponents, and this sort of scoring by opponents could get out of hand as NC State begins to take on a tougher part of the schedule.

Braxton Beverly is an enigma

Beverly has started all seven games for the Pack and is shooting 40% from deep, but 33.3% on 2-pointers. His defensive rating is at a career-best 102.3 rating, and he is doing the same type of thing on offense with much better deep shooting, but worse mid-range shots. His defensive box plus/minus is -1.8, a career-worst number, and all of these numbers make it hard to accurately measure what kind of impact he has had on this team so far.

The team needs to go at least 2-2, preferably 3-1, in its next four games to make a statement

Next up for the Pack, the team will take on the Wisconsin Badgers in PNC Arena, followed by three difficult road games, at Wake Forest, UNCG and the 14th-ranked Auburn Tigers. In order to make some actual noise and get quality wins that the team lacked last season that led them to the NIT as opposed to the NCAA Tournament, the Pack should aim for a 3-1 record over these teams if it stands a chance of making the tournament.

The schedule for the Wolfpack is relatively rough, but starting off these next four games with a win over Wisconsin, who defeated the Pack last season in heartbreaking fashion, and Wake Forest, who always plays the Wolfpack hard despite starting their season off roughly, would bode well for this teams’ postseason hopes. Going 1-3 or winless is not an option, and 2-2 still runs the risk of the Pack failing to capture any wins of significance.

The Pack defeated Auburn last season, so it will be interesting to see if they can pull off a win against the team again this season, a team that is now ranked and would give the Pack a huge win.

The game against Wisconsin begins at 9:15 p.m. on Wednesday, December 4 at PNC Arena, with the game being streamed on ESPN2.