Kevin Keatts heads into the NCAA tournament with two issues he'll have to address, neither of his own making, both inherited and only one he can do anything about.
The first, for him, is merely awkward. Keatts said again last month that N.C. State was “100 percent not involved” in the Federal probe into college basketball, having no idea that the university had received a grand jury subpoena from the investigation a month earlier, news that came out Friday.
There's really nothing Keatts could or can do about that; even under a cloud of confidentiality, if university lawyers didn't feel the need to tip off anyone in the athletic department that they might not, you know, want to be completely unequivocal about their denials, Keatts was inevitably and unfortunately going to be left hung out to dry.
“When I was asked on the conference call in February, I was unaware of the subpoena and I'm not really allowed to comment on that,” he said Monday.
Which is fine. This will dog N.C. State throughout the tournament the same way it will Arizona and Miami and Auburn and all the other schools swept up into the net, but there's really nothing Keatts can do about it beyond what he said Monday.
There is something he can do about his other big issue, and that's the lack of postseason experience among the players he inherited, especially in the NCAA tournament. There are six players on the roster who have never won a postseason game of any kind, conference or otherwise. Sam Hunt is 0-4 in his career, Torin Dorn 0-3.
There are three players with NCAA experience, and their record in those games is actually pretty good: A combined 7-6 among Al Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu and Lennard Freeman. (Their coach is 0-2, having lost close games to Duke and Virginia in the past two years.)
Collectively, though, this nine-player group is 15-30 in postseason games, having missed out on a chance to add a W and run that record last Thursday against Boston College, a game N.C. State started extremely slowly. Keatts attributed that to poor shooting more than tournament inexperience, but his players acknowledged some growing pains.
“That was a big lesson we learned and I feel like we learned from it and can move on and make a jump for the next game,” Hunt said.
If they learned anything from the Boston College game, and a furious comeback that fell short, it's that there are no second chances this time of year. The three days off they had afterward should have driven that point home.
What's striking about that record is how few opportunities most of these players have had in the postseason. This is a group that, as it was at the beginning of the year, is still learning how to win, except now it's in a different phase of the season, and has to learn again.
Just as the Wolfpack had its stumbles in the fall, it had its tremendous successes as well. The big wins over Arizona and Duke and North Carolina got them this far; they'll be almost wiped out and forgotten by whatever games N.C. State can win now. They're all big at this point, the biggest.
So while the FBI investigation remains outside of Keatts' control, he can do what's within his power to steer this team to a win over Seton Hall and possibly beyond. Given what this team has already accomplished, it won't be scared playing Kansas within the borders of Kansas, if it gets that chance.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock