Luke DeCock

To open a season of small ball, NC State goes big, if only for a tantalizing moment

Last week in Charlotte, at ACC media day, Torin Dorn was asked how it felt to be the smallest power forward in the ACC.

“Maybe I’m the fastest power forward in the ACC,” Dorn shot back.

Maybe he won’t have to be a power forward at all. Or at least not all the time.

Dorn is the most equipped among N.C State’s guards to handle bigger players in the post which makes him a de facto power forward in the Wolfpack’s usual four-guard lineup, a very stretched 4, to use the parlance of the times.

That four-guard lineup is a matter of necessity as much as choice given the smallish state of the State roster, but perhaps the biggest surprise out of N.C. State’s season-opening 105-55 win over Mount St. Mary’s was how effective the Wolfpack was with both of its bigs on the floor at the same time.

Kevin Keatts went with that look for more than five minutes of the first half and it showed what might be termed unexpected potential. It was a brief glimpse of a way the Wolfpack doesn’t have the bodies to play very often, more tantalizing than anything else, with Wyatt Walker and D.J. Funderburk together.

“I think I’ll play that lineup a lot,” Keatts said. “D.J. is really not a center, so we can switch all the screens with him. We went five guards at one point. We’re trying to figure out what lineups can play together. But I like our versatility.”

Get Sports Pass for ACC basketball

Follow Joe Giglio, Steve Wiseman, Jonathan Alexander, Chip Alexander and Luke DeCock. Sign up for The N&O's digital sports-only subscription for only $30 per year.

Walker, the grad transfer from Samford with the as-yet-unnamed hybrid ponytail-man-bun coif – “It’s the only way I can keep it out of my face” – will inevitably be your father and father-in-law’s favorite player. The impossibly skinny Funderburk, a junior-college transfer, might not have much of a body but is certainly willing to throw it around with abandon.

Given the lack of other options in the post – freshman Ian Steere didn’t make it off the bench until the final minutes, with the game out of reach – and the necessity for either Walker or Funderburk to be on the floor pretty much at all times, Keatts isn’t often going to be able to use both of them as often as he would like. But he might just try.

“It’s funny, a lot of people say they aren’t going to see two bigs on the floor, but we don’t have a certain game plan,” Funderburk said.

“I say, keep doing it,” Walker said.

In most other ways, N.C. State was exactly as expected. It took Keatts less than six minutes to put a lineup on the floor without a single player from last season as transfers C.J. Bryce and Devon Daniels combined for 26 points. And Dorn, in the least surprising development of the season so far, led the way with a career-high 28 points while playing just about every position on the floor.

He was out there during that run with the two bigs in the game – on the outside, refreshingly, even if he’ll be expected elsewhere almost all of the time. Dorn, who thinks of himself as a guard even when he’s asked to be, in his words, “a quote-unquote forward,” liked that lineup.

“I did,” Dorn said, then grinned the kind of smile you see after a 50-point win. “I liked all the lineups.”

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock
  Comments