The beginning of the college basketball season has a funny way of always sneaking up on you doesn’t it? While most fans have both eyes squarely focused on football, it’s time to tip off another year of hoops.
For the Jackets, that means opening things up on the road against NC State, a big challenge and stark contrast to the cupcake game that typically accompanies opening night. This scheduling quirk arose due to the two additional ACC games that were added to the schedule prior to this season. It will be an opportunity for the Jackets to test themselves from the outset and could provide a lot of momentum heading into the campaign if things can go their way tonight.
It was a busy off-season as we know for Tech, filled with transfer news and a hammer drop from the NCAA. The team also played two exhibition games with results at both ends of the spectrum.
NC State’s off-season can be characterized as much calmer but did feature the loss of its leading scorer and rebounder from 2018-19 in Torin Dorn. The Wolfpack figure to be a perimeter-oriented team this season led by sharp-shooting senior guard Markell Johnson who averaged 12.6 points per game on 42% shooting from behind the arc to go along with 4.2 assists per game ’18-19. Other key returnees include guards C.J. Bryce, Braxton Beverly and Devon Daniels.
The Wolfpack’s already thin front court will be tested significantly tonight as all-name team member, DJ Funderburk, is out serving a suspension and Jericole Hellems may not play because of an injury suffered in an exhibition game. Coach Kevin Keatts may have to rely on some younger players to provide minutes in their stead. The Jackets will not be at full strength either with Jordan Usher out for the first six games of the season due to the timing of his transfer decision.
NC State is coming off a season in which it just missed out on the NCAA tournament. Overall, the Pack have been excellent offensively under Keatts, with last year’s team finishing 29th out of 353 teams in points per game and 42nd in offensive rating. Of course, the Jackets are just the opposite, preferring to slow things down and win games with their defense and interior play. This game will center around those contrasting styles and the battle for spaces on the floor. NCSU will look to take advantage of the Jackets questionable depth on the wing and space things out with its plethora of guards while Tech will need to use its size to pound the Pack in the paint and on the boards. Whichever team can better play to its strengths should come away with the win.
Last year the Jackets won the only contest between the two teams, a 63-61 nail biter in Raleigh, as Jose Alvarado found James Banks for a game winning dunk in the final seconds.
Who do you think will win?
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