Preview: Nittany Lions Look for Second ACC Win Against NC State

By Chad Markulics on December 14, 2018 at 1:41 pm
Nov 29, 2017; Raleigh, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts (right) talks to guard Markell Johnson (11) during the second half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at PNC Arena. The Wolfpack won 85-78.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
NC State
NC State Wolfpack
8-1 (0-0 ACC)
2:00 p.m. ET – Saturday, Dec. 15
KenPom Rank: 27
KenPom Line: NC State -2

December basketball always has a doldrums-y feel to it, but that won't be the case on Saturday in Atlantic City. Penn State (5-4, 0-2) will take on NC State (8-1) in the Basketball Hall of Fame's Boardwalk Classic, the latest opportunity for the Nittany Lions to notch a quality win against an ACC opponent. 

The Wolfpack's only loss was a four-point defeat coming in the Big Ten/ACC challenge at Wisconsin. Kevin Keatts took his team to the NCAA Tournament in his first season and looks set to repeat that feat in 2019. He's proven to be a talented offensive mind - NC State finished 21st in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2018 and currently sit 14th nationally, led by a glut of talented wing players. Penn State's ninth-ranked defense (per KenPom) will give Keatts and the Wolfpack their toughest test this season.

Projected Starters
Penn State   NC State
Rasir Bolton - 6'2" - Fr. 1 Markell Johnson - 6'1" - Jr.
Myles Dread - 6'4" - Fr. 2 C.J. Bryce - 6'5" - Jr.
Josh Reaves - 6'5" - Sr. 3 Devon Daniels - 6'5 - Soph.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Jr. 4 Torin Dorn - 6'5" - Sr.
Mike Watkins - 6'9" - RS Jr. 5 Wyatt Walker - 6'9" - Sr.

Mike Watkins made his first start of the season against Colgate last Saturday and produced an 18-point, 16-rebound effort in just 23 minutes. The conditioning isn't quite there yet, and it affected some of his defensive rotations - but there's no denying the impact he made in a game that Penn State didn't settle until crunch time. With Watlkins and Rasir Bolton inserted into the starting five recently, don't expect the lineup to change much for the rest of the season barring injury.

Scouting Report

NC State is defined by their depth this season. Nobody in the rotation is playing more than 70 percent of available minutes, and 10 players are averaging at least 13 minutes per game. Naturally, this allows Keatts to play at a blazing fast pace. The Wolfpack have scored 80 points in all but two games this season, pushing the tempo and shooting with acumen all the while. They shoot 40 percent from deep as a unit and 56.1 percent from inside the arc. The latter is especially impressive considering they don't feature their big men, Wyatt Walker and Ohio State transfer DJ Funderburk, very much on offense.

They do feature Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn plenty, however. Penn State did a decent job against Virginia Tech's Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker - they'll need a similar team effort to slow these two down. Johnson has been one of the most efficient point guards in all of college basketball, shooting a blistering 60 percent from the floor and assisting on 30 percent of his team's buckets when he's on the floor in this high-octane offense. Dorn is a complete player, averaging 16.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, all team-highs. He had just 6 points in NC State's home win against Penn State last season, no doubt that will have been on his mind some in the 10 days since the Wolfpack's last game on Dec 5.

Keys To the Game

As Penn State's defense has remained rock solid all season, this game will hinge on the Nittany Lions finding offense against an average NC State defense. In all likelihood, that offense will have to be found at the free throw line. The Wolfpack foul a ton - their opponents have gotten to the line on 43.7 percent of possessions, 320th in Division I basketball. Luckily, Penn State is more than capable at the free throw li- *presses finger to earpiece* what's that now? Oh, right.

NC State is also very adept on the glass, while the Nittany Lions have been merely adequate. Rebounding won the Virginia Tech game, and a similar effort to get second and third chances will be needed here against a great offensive team.

Penn State's freshmen will continue to be the big variable in the equation for success. Chambers hasn't gotten all of Bolton, Myles Dread and Myreon Jones to hit their stride in the same game, and with Bolton joining Dread in the starting lineup it's become more crucial than ever that those two perform. Safe to say Bolton has broken out of his funk after making seven threes against Colgate, but Dread has made just four of his last 25 attempts from three dating back to the Cancun trip.


Penn State could really use this game after the 0-2 open to Big Ten play, and they've beaten a better team already this season in Virginia Tech. On paper, at least, the Hokies were a much better matchup stylistically. That game was also at home. NC State is long, athletic and well-coached. The Nittany Lions will have to bring something to the table that they haven't yet this season, and I don't quite see that happening. NC State 75, Penn State 69.