My thought coming into this college basketball season was that this NC State Wolfpack team was going to surprise a lot of people. My expectation was to write about them regularly and even have a Game Chatter or two, especially when the Pack played UVA, the alma mater of two former Mets360 writers.
But then Covid has disrupted the college basketball season even more than the college football season, which caught me off guard. In football State had to push back its first game but other than that, did not have any disruptions to its schedule. When you figure that there are roughly 90 people on a football team – not to mention all of the support personnel required – that gave me a false level of confidence for basketball season.
State has had numerous player absences due to Covid plus four games outright canceled and three others postponed due to the virus. It’s tough to remember when they’re actually scheduled to even play.
Last night they played Wake Forest and perhaps for the first time all season, they had all of their players eligible to play. After falling behind 8-2 early, State built a double-digit lead, despite not playing particularly well. They shot well from behind the arc but there were way too many turnovers and rebounding was a surprising issue, given the respective rosters.
They led by 14 points midway through the second half but things came to a screeching halt when senior Devon Daniels went to the floor and stayed down, even though it was hard to see what caused the injury. He did not return to the game and his status is still unclear around noon the following day. Reports right after the game indicated it might take up to 48 hours to determine the extent of the injury to Daniels’ left leg.
Daniels is the team’s best player. He’s not afraid of doing anything on the basketball court, including taking the tough shot or guarding the other team’s best player. Yes, he tends to dominate the ball a bit too much and his teammates too often defer to him. But there’s no denying his ability to take the ball to the basket against any defender. He scored 20 points before leaving with just over nine minutes to play in the second half.
And State struggled offensively without him on the floor.
Prior to the injury, State was playing the type of game that we’ve been waiting to see since Kevin Keatts took over the program. They utilized 10 players and picked up defensively all over the court. The defensive pressure helped force a ton of Wake Forest turnovers, although it’s not like Wake needed a bunch of help to throw the ball away.
But without Daniels, both the players and coaches seemed uncertain of just what to do. The big lead allowed them to weather the storm and they finished with a five-point win, snapping a four-game losing streak. But instead of it being a joyful night, it brought up a big worry.
Still, it’s hard not to recall Dereck Whittenburg back in the 1982-83 season. Then #19 ranked State was playing top-ranked Virginia and Whittenburg was having a great game. He had 27 points in the first half and State held a double-digit lead. But then Whittenburg injured his foot and had to leave the game. Virginia ended up winning by eight points. Whittenburg missed 14 games but came back at the end of the year and helped guide State to an NCAA Championship.
It’s wishcasting of the highest order to think that history will repeat itself here. But State learned to play without one of its top players and became a better team in the process. And they were able to incorporate Whittenburg back into the offense when he returned to the court. Those things could happen now, if Daniels has to miss a few games.
State has two potential impact guards in its freshmen class, who need more playing time. It figures that if Daniels is sidelined that it will lead to more playing time for Cam Hayes and Shakeel Moore. Hayes got off to a great start before being sidelined with Covid. His play has been spotty since his return and his minutes have gone down. Moore seems to play well whenever he’s on the court. Both should be the recipient of more playing time.
Of course, the concern is that Keatts will give most of Daniels’ minutes to Braxton Beverly. At his best, Beverly brings good decision making and strong outside shooting. But he’s always a defensive liability and, quite frankly, he’s almost never at his best when it comes to shooting. Keatts needs to suffer the growing pains with Hayes and Moore. Last night, all three played an equal number of minutes. Beverly and Hayes each logged 20 minutes while Moore totaled 18. Without Daniels, Hayes and Moore should each play significantly more minutes than Beverly.
Covid has ruined what seemed like a breakthrough season for State. The injury to Daniels just throws everything into an even more uncertain outcome. Keatts can choose to play it safe by giving more minutes to the senior Beverly. But here’s hoping he opts for the greater upside with Hayes and Moore.