Needless to say, the 2020-21 NCAA men’s basketball season was interesting. Filled with cancellations, postponements and a shorter schedule than recent years, it was unlike any other. The unknowns dominated all of college basketball and many questioned if it was doomed to repeat the 2019-20 ending, having no tournaments or play at all, but nonetheless, the teams, players and conferences persevered.
The NC State men’s basketball team had a season of ups and downs. It started the season on a great foot, going 6-1 and beating rival UNC in the process. But things quickly turned and the Wolfpack faced mediocracy once again in ACC play for much of the season, remaining around .500 throughout.
Toward the end of the season, things started to look up though, the Wolfpack finished its campaign winning five straight ACC games in the lead up to the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. It hoped to take that momentum into the first round as it faced fellow big dance hopefuls, Syracuse. In a game that seemed over after the first half, the Wolfpack’s season came to a close, finishing with a record of 13-10 overall and 9-8 in the ACC.
Although the season did not live up to the hype, NC State fans saw quite a few bright spots and learning moments in the not-so-normal year. The Wolfpack’s season may not be over if it is offered a bid to play in the NIT, but here are some takeaways for the regular season and ACC Tournament.
Freshmen starting to shine
One thing that this season proved was that the future of NC State basketball should be in good hands. Three freshmen guards, Shakeel Moore, Cam Hayes and Dereon Seabron, made their mark on the team toward the end of the season, propelling the team through its five-game ACC win streak. The young guards should be returning next season and looking to fix what was left to be desired this season.
Hayes averaged 12.8 points in the last five games of the regular season while scoring a career-high 20 against Notre Dame. Seabron and Moore had great finishes to the season as well and took advantage of their newfound playing time. With junior forward Jericole Hellems and redshirt sophomore forward Manny Bates hopeful to return for another season, the Wolfpack will look to combine for an interesting dynamic of young and old in the 2021-22 season.
NC State head coach Kevin Keatts will certainly be unsatisfied with the ending to this season, but he showed resilience throughout this difficult season. Keatts has an overall record of 78-46 at NC State and has proven that he has the capability to take teams to the next level. Although much of the season did not go as planned, the ability to take down tough opponents, like the win over Virginia, and create streaky good runs, such as the one at the end of the season, have the Wolfpack hopeful for what’s to come. Keatts will look to build off of the young freshman core in the coming seasons.
The bulk of the year’s issues on the court came when NC State’s leading scorer, redshirt senior guard Devon Daniels, suffered a season-ending ACL injury only 12 games into the regular season. Daniels was averaging a career-high 16.5 points along with 5.2 rebounds. Losing the on- and off-the-court leader was a huge blow to the Wolfpack. Daniels was looking to be a star in the ACC this season and had increased his production over the last three seasons.
Soon after this injury, 6-foot-10 redshirt senior forward D.J. Funderburk was sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols. Losing stars for even a short period has the capability to throw the rhythm of a team off, and NC State felt those effects as it’s bench was stretched thin.
ACC Tournament disappointment
As said before, NC State went into the ACC Tournament on quite a bit of momentum. Other than its last home game against No. 22 Virginia Tech (15-6, 9-4 ACC) being canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test within the Hokies’ program, the Wolfpack looked like it could not be stopped.
After securing the ninth seed in the bracket, it looked like the team could make a run. Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, Syracuse was also hoping to get off the NCAA Tournament bubble through the ACC Tournament and continued the regular season theme of beating NC State. The Orange took off after halftime and never looked back, outscoring the Pack by 16 in the second half. Syracuse completed a three-game season sweep of NC State, seeming to be the kryptonite of the young Wolfpack team.
The loss in the ACC Tournament meant that NC State has been essentially eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention. The Wolfpack could potentially participate in the NIT, although the competition has been trimmed to 16 teams, instead of the normal 32-squad bracket, decreasing the odds for an NC State invitation. A chance to continue its season would be helpful for the team and would give much-needed tournament experience to the freshmen and future stars of the team.