RALEIGH — Three lopsided wins have provided just a small portion of the good vibes surrounding Kevin Keatts' NC State basketball program.
Yes, the Wolfpack has dominated three overmatched teams from one-bid leagues, beating VMI, Charleston Southern and Bryant by an average margin of 26.7 points over the season's first five days.
The news that should really excite the fanbase has come off the court.Though NC State has four seniors on this year's team, that's a good amount of talent ready to step in.
With that on the horizon, Keatts is pushing his current team to a successful start to set the foundation for what appear to be even better days ahead.
Braxton Beverly— NC State Men's Bball (@PackMensBball) November 15, 2017
As for this year's team, the only piece still missing is senior forward Malik Abu, who has missed the first three games while recovering from a sprained MCL suffered last month. Abu was cleared to resume running last week and has progressed to taking shots this week.
"Malik is coming along," Keatts said. "He's starting to move effectively. I don't have a timeframe when he is going to play. But he is getting better."
Abu's return will only make an already good month for the Wolfpack program even better.
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On the court so far, this year's team is using Keatts' full-court pressure defense to stifle opponents. Bryant turned the ball over 27 times, meaning all three NC State foes have turned it over 20 times or more.
Even when Bryant hit its first nine shots on Tuesday night to build a 19-7 lead, the Wolfpack was confident its defense could bring them back.
"Give it up to those guys," NC State guard Torin Dorn said. "They just made shots early. But when you are a pressing team and a trapping team, you just have to stay the course. We turned up the pressure defensively, get the lead down and it went pretty handily from there."
Yes it did. NC State turned things around to take a 10-point halftime lead and roll to a 95-72 win.
Beverly played 16 minutes in his debut, making just 1 of 7 shots after learning he'd be eligible to play less than two hours prior to tipoff. He'll certainly have better nights when things normalize.
Keatts is glad to add him to NC State's backcourt rotation. Dorn, Sam Hunt, Markell Johnson and Allerik Freeman started in the four-guard lineup against Bryant with Lennard Freeman the lone big man.
Career-high tying 26 points for @TorinDorn2 & career-high 20 points for @NardFreeman_ in last night's win over Bryant.— NC State Men's Bball (@PackMensBball) November 15, 2017
Dorn is avg. 18.3 ppg, &shooting 69.7% on FGs this season, while Freeman is avg. 14.2 ppg., & shooting 66.7% on FGs. pic.twitter.com/17wMYiLIle
Freshman Lavar Batts came off the bench to play 18 minutes. Beverly's 16 minutes make NC State even deeper.
"I've got two young guys that are going to be really good basketball players in an NC State uniform when you talk about Lavar and you talk about Braxton," Keatts said. "I'm able to not have to play Al and Sam and Markell so many minutes. I can bring those guys (Batts and Beverly) along slowly. They give us depth. Braxton will be fine. You'll see a different Braxton Beverly where he can make shots and run the team."
NC State's opening flurry of games continues with Presbyterian coming to PNC Arena Thursday night. A win there would give the Wolfpack four in seven days.
After that, the Wolfpack gets a break before traveling to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis where it plays Arizona on Nov. 22.
Facing the No. 3 Wildcats as an underdog might bring an end to NC State's great November under Keatts, but the way things are going that figures to be a momentary setback on the way to ACC play.
This article is written by Steve Wiseman from The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.