Inside the Kevin Keatts media scrum
N.C. State is going to run and use its pressure defense against North Carolina on Tuesday night.
Running with Roy Williams and the No. 12 Tar Heels (11-3) can be a tricky proposition but that’s what No. 15 N.C. State (13-1) does, coach Kevin Keatts said, and it won’t change for the Tar Heels.
“We’re going to play the way we play,” Keatts said. “We won’t change. We have been successful doing that, so we’ll play our game.”
Off to the schools’ best start since the 1973-74 season, Keatts’ style has been effective and the second-year coach split his first two games with the Tar Heels last season.
But, there is one slight change Keatts will make for the first matchup between the two rivals as top-25 teams since 2006: no trash-talking of UNC star Luke Maye.
During UNC’s 96-89 win in Raleigh last February, Maye had six points in the first half. The Wolfpack, which won the first meeting of the 2017-18 season in Chapel Hill (95-91 in overtime), led 37-35 at the break.
Then early in the second half, according to former UNC wing Theo Pinson, one N.C. State player said to a teammate: “You can guard him. He’s not that athletic.”
Maye responded by making 12 of 14 shots in the second half for 27 points. The 33 points for the game remains the career-high mark for the All-ACC senior.
Maye, who averages 14.4 points and a team-best 9.9 rebounds, is back for the Tar Heels and has had his share of memorable moments (and wins) at PNC Arena.
The three primary forwards on N.C. State’s roster last season (Malik Abu, Omer Yurtseven and Lennard Freeman) are no longer on the team.
Keatts joked he didn’t know who provoked Maye’s outburst last year but “hopefully he’s not with us now.” Wisely, Keatts had nothing but praise for Maye.
“Luke played a tremendous game, two tremendous games against us last year,” Keatts said. “He’s very good and he’s having a very good season this year. We respect his game and hopefully our guys are up for the challenge.”
Dorn and Maye
The one N.C. State player who had success in slowing Maye last season, and guarded him for most of the first half of the game in Raleigh, is senior guard Torin Dorn.
Dorn and Maye, both sons of UNC football players, have a good relationship. They worked out for the Charlotte Hornets together in May before both deciding to return to school.
Dorn, N.C. State’s top scorer (14.5 points per game) and rebounder (6.5 per game), figures to be paired up defensively with Maye for most of the game. Dorn will be giving up some size (he’s 6-5, 210 pounds and Maye is 6-8, 240 pounds) but has an edge in quickness.
That’s not anything new for either player. They went to rival high schools in the Charlotte area and have been playing against each other for a long time.
Dorn had 20 points in N.C. State’s win in Chapel Hill last season and 21 in the rematch in Raleigh. Maye had 31 points and 17 rebounds in the UNC loss but was picked on defensively by the Wolfpack.
“We are very familiar with each other’s games,” Dorn said. “That helps any time you play against somebody so much you kind of learn their tendencies and what they like to do. It’s always fun playing against a guy that competes like that.”
Keatts and Williams
The game should be fun, too, if you like offense and high-tempo. UNC is fifth in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted tempo numbers (77.5 possessions per 40 minutes) and N.C. State is 15th (75.3). Both teams rank in KenPom’s top 15 in offensive efficiency.
“When you start the season, you circle these games,” Dorn said. “Rivalries are always big. Guys get up for rivalries. It’s fun to play in them and it’s fun to do well in them.”
Williams has made his hall-of-fame career on running and scoring. The Tar Heels rank No. 5 in the country in raw scoring average (89.9 points per game) with N.C. State at No. 6 (89.2 ppg).
That’s why it can be unwise to play Williams’ style. Keatts, who didn’t use the press much in the game in Chapel Hill but had to more in Raleigh last season because the Wolfpack had gotten behind, understands this.
“You have to do a tremendous job getting back on those guys or they will score easy baskets all night long.”
So running is a go, but trash-talking is a no.